7 Tips for Creating a Stellar College Application Essay
College applications are littered with impersonal numbers: GPA, SAT score, class rank, and more. The personal statement or essay is your one opportunity to showcase your personality and set yourself apart from similarly qualified applicants.
To achieve this it’s important that you demonstrate not only your passion for learning—but also the unique ways in which you gain knowledge. Show your readers a time or idea that helped shape your perspective and influenced your intellectual advancement. A great way to understand this better is to read how Stanford defines “intellectual vitality.”
By setting this stage, and following the tips and tricks below, you’ll impress any admissions committee.
1. Address the prompt.
Carefully read the prompt to ensure that you are fully addressing the topic. If it helps, you can underline or circle key words and phrases to help you break down each component of the prompt. If the question has multiple parts, be sure that you address all of them.
Many colleges provide several topic options. If that’s the case, choose a topic that you can approach creatively or that gives you the chance to present a unique idea, perspective, or experience.
2. Be different.
Admissions officers read thousands of essays, so you want to select a topic that is memorable and different. Did you emigrate from another country, or are you a world traveler? Do you speak multiple languages? Have you mastered an unusual skill? Or have you conquered unique challenges and obstacles in life?
Maybe you answered no to all of these questions, and you feel like you have nothing original to say. You can make your essay stand out in other ways instead. Approach the topic in a way that most other students wouldn’t consider. Use a creative analogy. Describe a relevant experience from your life that is interesting, funny, or otherwise memorable. Don’t be afraid to take a risk with your essay—as long as it’s relevant and appropriate.
3. Carefully plan your essay.
You will need to brainstorm, plan, write, revise, and edit your essay, so consider how long this process will take and allow yourself plenty of time.
Instead of running with the first idea that comes to mind, brainstorm a few different options. Map out how you want to organize your essay and the details, anecdotes, and examples you’d like to include. Planning your essay can reveal any weak points or details that might not fit. It also helps you write a high-quality, organized essay that makes sense.
4. Let your first draft flow.
Your college application is important, so it’s easy to overthink and end up paralyzed by writer’s block. Once you have a plan for your essay, sit down and just start writing.
Don’t put pressure on yourself to create a perfect first draft. There’s a reason we call the first attempt a “rough” draft. The goal is simply to get your ideas on paper. Don’t agonize over word choice or grammar just yet. Once you know what you want to say, you can go back and revise how you said it.
5. Write in your own voice.
Don’t try too hard to use impressive vocabulary or say what admissions officers want to hear. While there’s nothing wrong with throwing in a nice high-level word here and there, you want to sound like your genuine self. Anyone reading your essay should be able to almost “hear” you speaking. They should get a sense of who you are from the essay, so don’t bury your voice in over-the-top vocabulary words or formal sentences.
6. Show, don’t tell.
Including vivid details and descriptions is a great way to help your essay stand out. Instead of telling the admissions officers that family is very important to you, come up with an anecdote that illustrates this point. Tell the committee a story about a family vacation, tradition, or even hardship to convey the importance of family in your life.
Although including anecdotes is recommended in a college essay, make sure you also spend some time reflecting on these experiences and how they have influenced or shaped you.
7. Revise, edit, and ask for a second opinion.
Have your English teacher, relative, or friend who’s an excellent writer read your essay and give their honest opinion.
You can get additional feedback by uploading your essay on WriteLab. WriteLab’s software will ask you questions and give you feedback on your essay’s grammar, clarity, logic, and cohesion. You’ll be prompted to eliminate unnecessary words and clarify unclear information to create the best possible version of your essay.
Be willing to make changes and write multiple drafts. Check your spelling and grammar and read your essay aloud to make sure it sounds right and flows smoothly. You only get one chance to apply to schools, so make sure you send your absolute best work that highlights what you’ll bring to their institution.