Writing Your College Application Essay(s)
Once the brainstorming is completed and you have the actual application questions in front of you, it’s time to begin writing your essay(s).
Probably the most essential element of writing your essay is to do it with flair — keep the reader engaged, showing rather than telling.
Here are some more tips for writing your college essay:
- Answer the Question. If you don’t answer the question — respond to the prompt, your essay will actually have a negative impact on your application.
- Be Original. Even seemingly boring essay topics can sound interesting if creatively approached. If writing about a gymnastics competition you trained for, do not start your essay: “I worked long hours for many weeks to train for XXX competition.” Consider an opening like, “Every morning I awoke at 5:00 to sweat, tears, and blood as I trained on the uneven bars hoping to bring the state gymnastics trophy to my hometown.”
- Be Yourself. Admissions officers want to learn about you and your writing ability. Write about something meaningful and describe your feelings, not necessarily your actions. If you do this, your essay will be unique. Many people travel to foreign countries or win competitions, but your feelings during these events are unique to you. Unless a philosophy or societal problem has interested you intensely for years, stay away from grand themes that you have little personal experience with.
- Don’t “Thesaurize” your Composition. For some reason, students continue to think big words make good essays. Big words are fine, but only if they are used in the appropriate contexts with complex styles. Think Hemingway.
- Use Imagery and Clear, Vivid Prose. If you are not adept with imagery, you can write an excellent essay without it, but it’s not easy. The application essay lends itself to imagery since the entire essay requires your experiences as supporting details. Appeal to the five senses of the admissions officers.
- Spend the Most Time on your Introduction. Expect admissions officers to spend 1-2 minutes reading your essay. You must use your introduction to grab their interest from the beginning. You might even consider completely changing your introduction after writing your body paragraphs.
- Don’t Summarize in your Introduction. Ask yourself why a reader would want to read your entire essay after reading your introduction. If you summarize, the admissions officer need not read the rest of your essay.
- Create Mystery or Intrigue in your Introduction. It is not necessary or recommended that your first sentence give away the subject matter. Raise questions in the minds of the admissions officers to force them to read on. Appeal to their emotions to make them relate to your subject matter.
- Body Paragraphs Must Relate to Introduction. Your introduction can be original, but cannot be silly. The paragraphs that follow must relate to your introduction.
- Use Transition. Applicants continue to ignore transition to their own detriment. You must use transition within paragraphs and especially between paragraphs to preserve the logical flow of your essay. Transition is not limited to phrases like “as a result, in addition, while . . . , since . . . , etc.” but includes repeating key words and progressing the idea. Transition provides the intellectual architecture to argument building.
- Conclusions are Crucial. The conclusion is your last chance to persuade the reader or impress upon them your qualifications. In the conclusion, avoid summary since the essay is rather short to begin with; the reader should not need to be reminded of what you wrote 300 words before. Also do not use stock phrases like “in conclusion, in summary, to conclude, etc.” You should consider the following conclusions:
- Expand upon the broader implications of your discussion.
- Consider linking your conclusion to your introduction to establish a sense of balance by reiterating introductory phrases.
- Redefine a term used previously in your body paragraphs.
- End with a famous quote that is relevant to your argument. Do not try to do this, as this approach is overdone. This should come naturally.
- Frame your discussion within a larger context or show that your topic has widespread appeal.
- Remember, your essay need not be so tidy that you can answer why your little sister died or why people starve in Africa; you are not writing a “sit-com,” but should forge some attempt at closure.
Need help with any of the terms described on this page? If so, find the answers in our High School College-Bound and College Planning Glossary.
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