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College Essay

Published on March 30, 2019 | College
Tips and Tricks on How to Write a Good College Application Essay


A great college application essay is your ticket to getting accepted into leading universities around the world. The way you present yourself and state your case as to why a college should accept you to a particular program are the paramount aspects that a college/university considers when assessing your application. We have compiled here advice that can help you get started on crafting that great college application essay.

What does your college application essay do and why is it necessary?

It’s a slice of your life’s story that represents you as a person much better than any of your test scores, grades and certificates ever could. It needs to show admission officers exactly what kind of person you are and why you want to pursue a particular program. You’ll have to be extremely selective in choosing what you’d want to share – personality, goals, influences, challenges, triumphs, life experiences, lessons, etc. Think of the essay as a megaphone for the brand of “YOU”. The essay allows the officers to take a peek behind the wall of academia and merits to the person on the other side. It helps in giving them an idea of who and what sort of person you are. What exactly you chose to share and in what light you recall or remember it, forms the crux of your application essay. One needs to think of the college application essay as the autobiography of a person who wants to learn more, achieve more in life. It should exhibit intelligence, sound choices and taste, requisite knowledge and also common sense and logic. In short, your essay best sells the brand of “YOU”.

Do your research on the following points before you start writing your draft:

The field:  Get a hang of all the related articles in this field. Also, think of the period when you became interested in the field and why? What path in that career field interests you right now?

The program: Why is this the program you want to be admitted to? What is special about the faculty, the courses offered, the placement record, the facilities you might be using? If you can’t think of anything particular, read the brochures they offer, go to events, or meet with a faculty member or student in the program. The best way you can gain an insight into the program is by talking to an alumni. 

Yourself: What stories would help your reader understand you? What makes you stand out? What motivates or interests you? Do you have special skills, like leadership, management, research, or communication? Why would the professors want to choose you over other applicants? Be honest with yourself and jot down these pointers.

How do you write your college essay?

The college essay has to include a personal story and your reflection that provides insight into how you think and act and respond to a situation. Let us try to achieve this through some steps.

  1. Understand the question/prompt.

Take time to read, reread, analyze and truly understand the prompt or the question given by the university/college. The completed essay has to be focused enough to address the prompt /question raised while also letting the officer know about how you relate to the raised question. So that in addition to an answer they are also able to learn a little about yourself. The topic /question is designed to challenge you and find out how creative you are about your insights. When you start brainstorming, ponder upon what it is that you’re trying to convey or accomplish? Is the essay prompt asking you to inform? Defend? Support? Expand upon? In case it doesn’t already try relating yourself to the question by asking, “How does this—or how could this—apply to me?” What do you think they would want to know or should know about you? How does that information relate to your ability to excel in college? Next, leave the prompt for a while and then return to it. Do you see something new?

  1. Brainstorm

Think of the numerous possible angles by which you could address the topic/question. It helps to have explored all ideas and tangents about the topic before actually writing about it. Remember “Scientia potentia est”

Research on the topic/question. However, this is internal research. Dig into your memories, experiences, conversations, and writings to be able to express yourself in the essay through the most personal and relatable manner possible. You should be able to provide strong examples that demonstrate your strengths and skills. Ask yourself how your friends would describe you and what sets you apart from the other candidates. Write down everything. This is the raw material from which you will have to sculpt your essay. Sift through, classify and sieve the data with respect to their potential to highlight who you really are. The essay has to demonstrate who and how you are as a human being and a student while also touching upon who and how you’d like to be as a human being and a student later on in life. It has to tell a story.

  1. Outline your essay

Create a blueprint (skeletal structure) of what you are going to write keeping in mind the topic and all the research and brainstorming you have done. Break down the essay into sections and think about how you are going to tackle each section. Ask yourself if you have all the information required to elaborate on the prompt and yourself.  If you have everything you need to sell yourself as a brand, from your tone and style of writing to the actual content you’d prefer to share.

To present a story in the linear format, you have to break down your selected anecdote or experience so that it structurally has a beginning, middle and an end. This allows for coherent and easy reading. Plan the introduction to your essay. Dr. Anna Wulick of  Columbia University suggests finalizing the following details before writing your introduction– (i) the story you want to tell, (ii) the point you want that story to make and what the story is intended to reveal about you. Last but not least like all great pieces of writing your essay must have a killer opening line/anecdote/quote/question that will hook the reader in and make them want to know more about you. Also, identify the tonal treatment of the essay- is it going to be humorous? Serious? Optimistic? Remember to stick through to this tonal treatment throughout the entirety of the college application once you have decided upon it. Be true to your style and voice of writing.

  1. It’s time to write!

“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.”― Neil Gaiman

Now, assimilate all the information and self-realization that you’ve gathered through the above-mentioned steps and write that great college essay. Remember, the first draft is going to be difficult to write but you will be thankful for all the brainstorming and research you had done. Focus on the topic and the story you have chosen. Follow both from start to finish. Write using very specific details to describe your idea or story and refrain from using generic, predictable, clichéd phrases. Cite examples from your life to affirm your insights on life and take on things. Admission officials are smart and experienced. They can smell recycling and plagiarisation from a mile away. So don’t write what you think they want to hear. Be yourself and original. After the first draft, edit, and rewrite. Try to find more efficient ways of writing what you want to write about. Use simple language-you need not impress upon the officers how much you know.

  1. Proofread

Carelessness is not a quality you’d want a college admission officer to notice on your college essay. Proofread and edit your essay for grammatical errors and typographical mistakes. There will be multiple sentences that could perhaps add up the same meaning. Edit ruthlessly to achieve the leanest version of your essay. A college essay is usually around 500- 700 words long. Unless however, universities/colleges mention otherwise. The length of the essay and word usage aren’t factors that affect your selection criteria. So keep it short and sweet.

Keep the essay aside for some time and then come back to it and read it again linearly and backward to check for errors. Do this multiple times. Do not use abbreviations, acronyms, and slangs. Give your essay to multiple friends and members of your family of all age groups to get an idea of how the essay is perceived across the board. Perhaps you could also seek the assistance of one of your professors in writing and proofreading of the essay. Check also for consistency of tenses, tone, and language.

Remember that your college essay is not a charge sheet in which you have to exemplify the crimes and achievements of your life. It’s a megaphone to announce your personality and what you want to be. Be truthful, concise, lively, energetic, and passionate in your essay, how you feel will reflect in your writing. And then perhaps an educational institute of your preference will witness you for the unique individual that you are.

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