In your applications to colleges, you will present your record of academic achievement and your vision for future study. Your record will consist in part of your high school G.P.A. and standardized test scores. The way for you to make an impression on admissions officers that goes beyond the numbers and conveys you in full human reality is to write a strong college application essay. The essay shapes how people reviewing your application will perceive you. It gives a story for them to fit with your name.
Below I offer some advice on how to write this essay, so important a part of your college application.
Start early. Begin your essay during the summer before your senior year. Doing so will give you the luxury of time, which will help you to relax, be playful and explore different possible topics to find the one that feels right. Writing is a process and by starting early you give yourself the time to go through a complete process, from brainstorming to revising.
Choose your topic wisely. If you’re filling out the Common Application, then you’ll pick from these Common App essay prompts. If you’re filling out the Coalition for College application, you’ll choose from these Coalition essay prompts. Whichever list you are picking from, take your time deciding on a prompt. Choose a topic that lets you describe an experience that matters to you, something you care about. The best essays by students I’ve worked with reveal a passion and investment in the experience they convey. They are honest and they come from the heart.
Write with honesty. Look within, speak with honesty and feeling, go to the root. Don’t try to emphasize your qualifications. This essay does not make a pitch like a job letter. Don’t worry over what the admissions committee might be looking for. You have something meaningful to offer. While it may help to read some examples of other people’s college essays to get a feel for the form, trust your experience, passions, and way of putting things.
Write about a challenging experience. Don’t shy from writing about an experience that challenged and tested you. Perhaps everything did not go perfectly—that’s okay. What matters is how you worked through it and what you learned from it. Depicting yourself working through the unexpected or unforeseen is compelling. What’s important is how the experience reveals something important about you.
Give yourself permission to write that first draft. Be patient. It’s difficult to hit the nail on the head on your first attempt. Best to let the words come out easily on to the page. Don’t try editing your words as they come out. Don’t judge them harshly. The most important thing is to get that first draft down on paper. Leave getting the word choices and details just right for the revision stage.
Share your drafts with others. Open up the process. Receive feedback and input from family or friends. Read your work aloud as you share. Talk to your readers about what you’re trying to say and write down your ideas. Talking this way with others will jump start your revision process. Consider also recording your draft as a voice memo and listening to it. You’ll get greater feel for how you sound—and how you want to sound.
Think about your readers. They will be members of an admissions committee furiously reviewing applications and combing through application essays. They want to be able to envision what kind of member of their college community you’ll be, and your essay should help them do that. In writing your account, stay on point. Don’t dilly dally or try to be cute.
Be sensitive to the self-portrait you create on the page. Every writing choice you make plays a part in the self-portrait you create on the page. Word choices, descriptive details, what you include and leave out—all are part of how you affect the reader. These decisions are best left to the revision process, after you’ve got your rough draft down on the page. Take the time to write a second draft and a third. In each draft, refine details and word choices.
Proofread your final version. When you’ve finished revising, put the essay aside for a day before proofreading it with fresh eyes. Have someone else check the essay for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Make sure the essay is free of typos.
Celebrate a job well done. Give yourself a reward, treating yourself to a favorite food. Relax watching your favorite movie or playing your favorite game. Take pride in what you’ve achieved. This is not an easy essay to write and having done so effectively you’ve strengthened your application.
If you think you could benefit from coaching, please be sure to reach out. I would be happy to help you write a successful college essay. My fee is $125 per hour, and with most clients, one Common or Coalition application essay takes about 5-8 hours of my time (in addition to your own), depending on your goals and needs.