As if the grades, test results, and extracurricular activities weren’t enough, you’ve got a college admission essay to write. Through your writing, a college needs to understand who you really are: your values, how they factor into your daily life and adopted responsibilities, and how you think they contribute to a grander goal. So, how do you pull that off?
Offer new information. In your transcript and resume, colleges already get to see your accomplishments. Use your essay to offer the why and how of what you did. Take this opportunity to reveal what really motivates and interests you. Add feeling to the essay. It allows readers to connect with you and better understand your personality.
Keep it simple. The best admissions essays leave readers with a clear idea of who you are: a math whiz, a musical talent, a community leader, an environmentalist. That means that you don’t have to include everything. If you introduce yourself as an award-winning animal lover who does ballet, works in a nursing home, and loves to cook, that’ll be harder to remember than choosing your favorite of the five identities and focusing on that.
Work around a theme. A strong central theme helps keep the story simple and focused. Themes might include the power of words, self-awareness, empowerment, family, and identity. Treat the theme as a thesis statement and make sure the theme is (relatively) obvious. Admissions officers will not dissect thematic details like you do in literature, so coyness isn’t your best friend here.
Keep in mind the purpose of the essay in the eyes of the admissions officers. Colleges crave students who will thrive on their campuses, contribute, and succeed beyond their graduation. So, with your essay, show your positive qualities that satisfy these desires. What are your most admirable traits? Are you a leader, problem solver, creative thinker, teambuilder, motivator? Share the positive attributes that make you unique. Recognize, explain, and promote these qualities to give colleges a reason to accept you over another applicant.
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Write a unique narrative. You’re a unique person. Avoid being generic. Take the paragraph below as an example of showing off one’s uniqueness: when and why this student acquired her first violin.
“I impatiently rummaged through my Hello Kitty backpack. It was almost my turn to present the show and tell activity of the week. As I anxiously anticipated the reaction of my Kindergarten classmates, my youthful exuberance was silenced by the sound of a violin brought in by another student. I remember how I ran home begging my mom to take lessons. After a few weeks of harassment, I started to learn the violin.”
Notice the difference between this paragraph above and a statement like “I got my first violin when I was 5 years old after I asked my mother for one because I liked the sound of violins.” Vivid language conveys who you are, and how you think as an individual!
Think about your reader. If you’re bored of writing your own story, think about how admissions officers feel as they read thousands upon thousands of essays. Reenergize them by writing about something you’re passionate about, and writing about it with passion. Affection for a subject is contagious!
Describe, don’t state. If you say that you’re an entrepreneur and that you’re a good candidate for an undergraduate degree in business, admissions will respond: why? Who says? But if you demonstrate some good business savvy by saying you’ve identified a problem, started your own small business to fix it, launched a website, made headlines, struck a deal with a major distributor, and sold for thousands of dollars of the product, then they will see that you’re an entrepreneur — and, even better, that you can concisely describe the evolution that took place.