Wednesday, August 19, 2015

6 Tips for Writing Compelling College Application Essays

This article first appeared on on August 19, 2015.

The college admissions essay (also known as your personal statement) is your chance to show who you are beyond your grades and test scores.
Embrace the opportunity to give the reader a sense of your personality.
Decide what characteristics you want an admissions officer to remember before you brainstorm and choose your essay topics.
Remember, this is a personal narrative—not the sort of expository essay you write for a class assignment, and definitely not a restatement of your activities and accomplishments in paragraph format.

Tip #1: Learn by Example
Read a lot of examples of well-done college essays. You will get that chance to do so if you follow this column for the next five weeks.

Tip #2: Avoid These Overused Topics
  • The Trip and/or Outward Bound (how I broadened my horizons)
  • My Favorite Things (a list of fluffy things that tell you I’m nice)
  • Miss America (how I will work for world peace)
  • The Jock (how I learned the noble value, the great lesson)
  • The Three D’s (discipline, determination, diversity)
  • Tales of My Success (how I overcame adversity to win the day)
  • Pet or Relative Death (how I learned to value life)
  • The Autobiography (I was born at a young age).

Tip #3: Drafting Do’s
  • Tell a story only you can tell
  • Write in first person, present tense
  • Make it a slice of life – a moment in time
  • Show, rather than tell
  • Provide rich sensory detail
  • Use metaphors
  • Be very selective with adjectives
  • Get the story on paper without editing (that comes later).

Tip #4: Hook the Reader with a Good Lead
Here are a few options:
  • The Anecdote (dive into the story, almost mid-stream)
  • The Why? (make the reader ask the question)
  • The Shocker (takes the reader off balance)
  • The Curmudgeon (refutes conventional wisdom)
  • The Split (there are two types of people…)
  • The Confession (become the reader’s confidant)
  • Stating the Obvious (that was hidden).

Tip #5: A Good Ending
  • Ties to the lead – but adds a deeper insight
  • Is not “moral of the story-ish”

Tip #6: Revising
  • Make sure the tone sounds like you (read aloud)
  • Cut weak and waffle words (clearly, somewhat, rather, kind of)
  • Cut (who, what, which, that, thing)
  • Cut needless restatements
  • Swap lazy uses of “to be”
  • Swap vague verbs - become, get, do, have
  • Swap passive verbs – use active voice
  • Prefer punch over perfect grammar.


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