As a student, you may soon have to write one of the most important essays of your life. No, this essay won’t be part of a final exam, and this essay won’t even be written for a particular course. Instead, this essay will be part of your college application.
If you decide to continue your education, your college application essay may well determine whether or not you are accepted at the college of your choice. Obviously, then, you want to do a good job. Here are four guidelines to keep in mind.
Start Early. Good writing takes time. The last thing you want to do is write your essay the day before your application has to be postmarked or received electronically. Ideally, you should begin the writing process at least a month ahead of your deadline. This will give you plenty of time to brainstorm ideas, gather thoughts, write a first draft, get feedback from others, revise your essay, and proofread the final version. If you’re really struggling to get started, you may want to look at sample application essays you can find on the Internet.
Write About Something You Love. Obviously, each college has its own essay guidelines, but most are general enough to give you some choice and some freedom to express yourself. So instead of pretending to be interested in a particular topic that you think will impress the admissions officer, choose a topic that you really understand and love. This will allow you to write a much stronger essay. Typically, the essay question or writing prompt will ask you to write about some aspect of your past, your present, or your future.
Essays that focus on the past will usually ask you to write about a person, an event, or an experience that influenced you in some way. If you write this type of narrative, make sure you use plenty of transitional words or phrases (such as first, later, eventually, etc.) to move your reader smoothly through the story. Also, try to avoid clichés or colloquial expressions such as the following: “She will be a forever friend”; “The event just blew me away”; or “The experience was totally awesome.”
Essays that focus on the present may ask you to describe yourself, your family, your favorite activity, your heroes, your philosophy of life, or your opinion on a current controversial issue. When you write description, you may be tempted to pull out a thesaurus to impress the college admissions officer with your vocabulary. If you use a thesaurus, make sure you also use a dictionary to determine the precise meaning of the word you’re considering. Using a word incorrectly or using a word that doesn’t fit with the rest of your essay may be even worse than using a cliché or a colloquial expression.
Finally, essays that focus on the future may ask you to explain what you hope to accomplish at the school you’ve chosen or what you hope to achieve with the education you obtain there. Obviously, you should be as specific as possible and be aware of the school’s strengths. Thus, you should be familiar with the school’s catalog or web page, and you should have a clear idea of both your short- and long-term goals. Try to present yourself as a serious student with a definite plan rather than as another average student who is simply climbing the next rung on the educational ladder.
Explain What Makes You Unique. Your application and the transcript that accompanies it will tell the school about your grades, your accomplishments, and your activities. Your essay, however, is the only chance you have to set yourself apart from all the other applicants. So, if you volunteered at a local day-care center, try to explain your motivation for doing so. Or if you played football, let the admissions officer know why the game is important to you.
Edit Thoroughly. Once you finish your essay, make sure you get some constructive criticism from a parent, a teacher, or a trusted friend, and make all the appropriate changes. Then, run your essay through the spell checker and the grammar checker on your computer, and proofread your essay meticulously. After all, your essay should demonstrate not only your thoughts but also your ability to express those thoughts logically and correctly.