With so much information about college application essays available on the Internet, it is difficult to differentiate good advice from bad. Also, it is important to understand that an essay that works for one person may not work well for another. Your application essays, both the personal statement and college supplements, must reflect your values rather than someone else’s. If you try to emulate another person’s essay, even if that person was successful in gaining admission, you are likely failing to write about the things that make you a worthy candidate to colleges.
Don’t make the mistake of trying to emulate essays from successful college applicants. For every successful essay that you see, there are 1000 that you don’t see. Further, you know nothing about the applicant himself. Perhaps his essay was only passable, but he had a perfect 4.0 GPA and 1600 SAT score or was a world-class musician. To think that one essay has captured the formula for success is like using the moon to prove that there is no intelligent life in the universe.
Just because one girl wrote a now-famous essay about Papa John’s Pizza and got into Yale doesn’t mean that you should write about Burger King to get into Columbia. Just because one student wrote about Costco doesn’t mean that you should write about Walmart. It doesn’t work that way. The main objective of the common application essay and college supplemental essays is to reveal some characteristics about you that makes you an attractive candidate. Focus on these five tips for writing a winning college application essay.
Tip #1: Write Stylistically.
Style is as important as substance. College admission officials read so many essays that yours needs to stand in order to be noticed. Your essay should not only be great—it should sound great. There are many ways you can accomplish this. Great writing, like great music, has a beautiful flow and logical structure. This is where a writing coach or a college admission expert can help you.
Bad: “I think that everyone should experience as many things as possible.”
Good: “Experience provides a necessary ingredient for personal growth. Whether flying an airplane or piloting a submarine, the journey means far more than the miles traveled.”
Tip #2: Be Original:
Do not use your essay to re-create your list of activities or accomplishments. One of the worst things you can do is discuss the same thing in your essay that you have listed in your activities or honors section. In questions that ask you to elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities, focus on one aspect of one activity that has a different twist from what is written into the short description in the common application’s activities section.
Bad: “The next thing I did was to get my pilot’s license.”
Good: “The first time I climbed into the pilot’s seat after obtaining my license, I cautiously started the engine and gingerly pulled back on the yoke.”
Tip #3: Be Descriptive.
Show don’t tell. Yes, this classic advice about writing is critically important to your college essays. Make sure your essay is full of anecdotes rather than boring descriptions. Then, it is perfectly acceptable, even advisable, to discuss your observations, your feelings, or your responses.
Bad: “I am a natural leader.”
Good: “When I was elected leader, I immediately recognized the importance of this honor.”
Tip #4: Be Humble.
If you deserve credit, you will get the credit you deserve simply by the examples you choose, or the accomplishments you have achieved. You must walk a fine line between being proud and being braggadocios. Guide the readers; don’t push them. Let the admissions officers decide how they feel about you rather than you telling them how wonderful, magnanimous, generous, and kind you are.
Bad: “Everyone told me I was a hero. That felt really good”
Good: “When they said I was a hero, I said that I merely did what anyone would have done given the same circumstances.”
Tip #5: Be World-Wise:
Colleges appreciate students who focus on important issues of consequence. Therefore, you should not write about small incidents that happen in or around school, but rather you should write about issues that have importance to the world, your community, or humanity in general.
Bad: “Recently, a kid at my school was caught cheating on a paper.”
Good: “Recent attacks on journalists in the Middle East and America should be seen as a threat to freedom around he world.”
In general, your essays should demonstrate that you are authentic, likeable, and admirable. Colleges don’t like to make mistakes, so use your essay to convince them that accepting you is the right decision to make.