College Admissions: 6 Tips for Writing Compelling College Application Essays
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
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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