How to Write a College Essay: 8 Tips From An Expert - Knovva Academy
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Learning how to write a college essay that will gain you admission into your dream school can feel like you are applying to a superhero academy. How can one essay encapsulate the essence of who you are, your strengths and “heroic” qualities, with perfect grammar, syntax, and punctuation? Add in the fact that most schools require multiple supplemental questions and additional essays, plus the Common App essay, and it can all make you feel like going back to bed and pulling the covers over your head.

But don’t panic! 

The advisors at Knovva Academy have taught countless students how to write a college essay, and not just any essay, but an outstanding essay. This is what we do. With our help, the process can actually be fun.

In this article, we’ve included eight tips and tricks to help you write an effective essay for college admissions.

How to Write a College Essay - student writing on paper

How to Write a College Essay

Tip #1: Have a unique point of view.

The number one aspect that all colleges are seeking in college essays is… drum roll please… a unique point of view. Many students make the mistake of thinking they need to “sound smart,” or write in a formal, academic way, but the exact opposite is true for the college admission essay. 

Colleges are looking for innovative minds, students who think outside of the box, so you want to tap into what sets you apart from other people. For example, when I applied to Harvard, I wrote about my belief in the value of education. But then I realized it was too broad a topic, and didn’t show them who I was. I rewrote the entire essay a few hours before it was due about growing up with the fantastic stories of my Mexican grandmother and how that led me to theater, my work teaching dance and music to terminally ill children, and my years of performing middle eastern dance all over the world. I showed my true quirky self in my essay, and I was admitted. 

How to Write a College Essay - What is your story?

Tip #2: Don’t forget the hook.

College admissions staff read thousands of essays, so it is vitally important to hook the reader from the very first sentence. Just like writing a great essay, writing a powerful opening is a skill that can be learned. 

You can start by noticing when an article or story captures your attention. How did the writer hook you? What was the opening sentence? Write down the sentences that intrigue you to get your creativity flowing for your own essays. Another thing to remember is that college essays are typically fairly short. That means you have just one or two pages to tell the whole story. This makes the hook all the more important. You don’t want to waste precious real estate with a long, rambling introduction. Get right to the point–the admissions staff will thank you.

How to Write a College Essay - girl writing

Tip #3: Reveal something new about yourself.

The middle of your essay should illuminate something new about you that hasn’t already been said in your resume and transcripts. If your transcripts show a passion and skill set that is mathematical or scientific, you should write about something else for your essay: skateboarding, playing in a band, your passion for English or art.  On the flip side, if your transcripts and application heavily showcase your skills in art, use your essay to show another side of yourself, such as your passion for robotics, traveling, or spending time with family.

For example, one student was first in her class every year and excelled in Astrophysics and science. She wrote a funny, exuberant admission essay about something as seemingly mundane as shopping at Costco, while somehow smartly weaving in her love of science. This essay showed another side to her. Her academic achievements were evident and they spoke for themselves, so writing an essay reiterating them would have felt redundant and unnecessary. This essay instead added some new flavor to her list of achievements, and she was admitted to seven Ivy League schools.

How to Write a College Essay - girl writing on paper

Tip #4: Showcase your commitment to service.

Are you passionate about community service and making the world a better place? By weaving your dedication to service into your essay, you can show the admissions committee your heart, and how you take action to make the world around you better. 

In my experience as an advisor, many students will say they haven’t done any service. But, once I start mentioning examples, every single student I’ve worked with has something meaningful to share. For example, some students have participated in Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, while others spent time coaching a sports team for children with disabilities. 

It could be as simple as carrying groceries for an elderly neighbor, or raising money for the local animal shelter. Maybe your service story incorporates your passion for science, like one student who used a 3-D printer to create a utensil that helps people with arthritis hold their silverware. Service stories give colleges a glimpse into your soul, and how you take action to help others.

How to Write a College Essay - people cleaning up community service

Tip #5: Connect with your culture.

Diversity is a buzzword nowadays, but what it really means is your own unique culture. For you personally, this could encapsulate family culture, religious culture, educational culture, community culture, or learning differences. Maybe you grew up with scientist parents, meaning you were raised surrounded by experiments and the tools to try things out. Or perhaps you grew up traveling all over the world, or with family living in different countries that you visited annually. When thinking about these experiences, reflect on how they illuminate who you are. 

Find a unique and memorable way to showcase your cultural experiences in your essay, and connect that back to who you are as a person. Here’s an example: maybe you discovered your love of hot sauce while exploring different peppers and spices in the various regions you traveled to with your multicultural family. It just so happens that one student did exactly this. She wrote about traveling to remote villages exploring peppers and spices, calling herself an “aspiring hot sauce sommelier,” and her essay helped win her admission into nine of the top schools in the country.

Perhaps you grew up in a Mexican Mormon family with psychic readings at your family gatherings (like I did), or shopping at Costco is a centerpiece of your week. Your diversity is your unique culture, and showing that piece of your personality is a great way for the admissions council to get to know you.

How to Write a College Essay - traveling and culture

Tip #6: Demonstrate your ability to lead.

Does this mean you must run for school office or start an organization in your community? No. If you are inspired to do these things, by all means do, and then write about them. However, leadership can happen in any situation where you take the lead to solve a problem. 

You can showcase your leadership skills at your home, school, church, or with your younger siblings or with your grandparents. If you organized and worked with others, overcame obstacles and persevered, write about how you can collaborate, direct, and inspire others. These are all positive attributes in the educational world, and things admissions officers are looking for in their new students. To gain more leadership skills, consider joining a leadership program for high school students.

College Planning - leadership program

Tip #7: Include a memorable ending. 

Let us clarify: don’t save your best material for last. Start with it (see our first point about the hook), and then use your ending to connect back to the beginning of the essay. This does not mean you should simply repeat the beginning verbatim–it means finding a creative way to connect the two. 

If you start out talking about hot sauce or pink hair or playing the piano with your grandfather, end by connecting these to the bigger picture: what you want to study in college, pursue as a career, or passions you want to explore. Whatever you do, you want to ensure that once the application reader is finished with your essay, they remember it.

How to Write a College Essay - typewriter - write, edit, rewrite

Tip #8: The key lies in storytelling. 

The cornerstone of a powerhouse college essay lies in telling a fascinating, well-written story that illuminates who you are in your own unique way. You aren’t like anyone else in the world, and that is your superpower. Find ways to weave stories into your essay, much like we did throughout this blog post. The more stories you can include (in a cohesive, constructive way), the more your essay will magnify you as a candidate and help you stand out from the crowd. 

And if you need help tying all of these tips together into one fantastic essay, contact our team at Knovva Academy. Our instructors at the college essay writing course are here to help you every step of the way. You’ll learn how to write a college essay that gets you into your dream school.

How to Write a College Essay - notebook with edits

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