While grades, strength of curriculum and admission test scores are the top factors in the college admission decision, a majority of colleges and universities believe the essay to be of considerable or moderate importance in determining which academically qualified students they would choose.
In general, it’s the only part of the application where you have the opportunity to show the college who you really are. Most of the other parts of the application are just lists and statistics: GPA, courses taken, a list of extracurriculars, maybe some work or volunteer experience. This stuff matters…but it doesn’t make you special.
Here are some college application essay dos and don’ts for students to keep in mind as they complete their applications this fall.
DON’T use the personal statement essay to repeat your resume.
This can’t be stressed enough. The personal statement is your opportunity to reveal something about yourself that can’t be found anywhere else in your application – use it!
College admission officers look to the essay for evidence that a student can write well and support ideas with logical arguments. They also want to know something about the personality of the student.
How to Pick the Right Essay Topic
Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
When developing a topic that reveals something new, find a way to frame the story or idea that shows a slice of your life or the event. Be descriptive and give details that appeal to the senses – taste, touch, smell, etc.
DO show a slice of your life.
Really, the success of your essay will come down not to what you write about, but how. In general, it’s much easier to stand out on the basis of how you approach your topic than what you say.
Your writing should be sharp, focused, and relevant. And of course, whatever you write, make sure it actually addresses the prompt. Make sure you’re answering the question, making the point, or illustrating the feature that you’ve been asked to. Be creative, but also be concise.
DO show your knowledge of the college.
When tailoring responses to individual college prompts, it’s important to use specific details you’ve learned through visiting and research. Not only does this show colleges that you’ve have done your homework, but it also demonstrates your interest in the college – and colleges want to admit students who are likely to enroll.
DON’T wait until the last minute.
If you’re applying to 10 colleges and wait until two weeks before applications are due, you’re going to have a lot of writing to complete in a very short amount of time. Waiting until the last minute leads to stress and rushed essays that don’t accurately convey your message. Give yourself plenty of time to brainstorm, draft, revise, and get feedback on your essays.
Proofread, proofread, proofread. Sadly, one of the easiest ways to stand out is to have correct spelling and grammar. Don’t let stupid mistakes pull down the quality of your essay. Proofread this thing more than any essay you’ve ever written.
Get a second, third, and even fourth opinion. Once you’ve proofread and edited the essay till you’re sick of it, let a few people you trust look over it. Anyone who knows about writing will do. If they’re willing, get one of your English teachers to read it. These people will point out things you never would have noticed on your own.
Essays are an important component in the college application process. While the essay alone won’t gain you admission to your top-choice college, a poorly written one can send you to the “no” pile pretty quickly. Take your time with your college application essays and seek guidance when you need it!