College Application Essay Tips

The myOptions Team

You’ve gone on campus tours, taken standardized tests, requested your recommendation letters, now it’s time to summarize 17ish years of your life into 600 words, NBD. College application essays probably feel super daunting, but really they are designed to be your chance to shine beyond your GPA and test scores. Before you put pen to paper (or your fingers to the keyboard), check out our tips for conquering your college application essays.

You and your voice should be the focus of the essay.

Always remember this is one of the few opportunities you have to #humblebrag about yourself. You are trying to show the reader why you’d be a good fit and make a valuable addition to their campus community. Most college-bound students haven’t summited Everest or cured cancer, so choose something ordinary that you are passionate about and make it extraordinary. Choose a topic that you are passionate about, not what you think the reader wants to hear, and you will find the words flowing with much greater ease.To quote good ole Dr. Seuss, “there’s no one alive who is youer than you.” You can pretty much write about anything (within reason) if it is well executed. Check out this girl who got accepted to Yale and wrote her essay about pizza.

Stay on topic.

You never want your reader to lose sight of the original topic you chose. It’s easy to get carried away and go in a million different directions when you feel inspired about what you’re writing. A good way to do this is by giving yourself a visual reminder, copy and paste the prompt as the header of each page of your doc so it can be easily referenced. You can also check yourself by providing a copy of your essay without the topic listed to someone who is helping you review your essay and see if they are able to guess what the topic is. If they guess something completely different than the topic, you may want to reel it in a bit.

Your audience is not your bff.

You may be used to adding certain stylistic elements or opinion into your papers for English class. With your college essay, remember that it is a complete stranger who will be reading this. You don’t know their life experiences, their preferences, or opinions, so make sure what you can write can be universally enjoyed from all viewpoints. If you have a feeling in your gut that something you are writing is risky, then it probs is. This is why it’s also important to have multiple reviewers with different perspectives than your own to offer their insight.

Use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation!

Remember that your college admissions essay should be a demonstration that you are ready for college-level coursework. Nothing discredits an applicant more than simple grammatical errors. Resourcefulness is also a huge indicator of college success so even if writing isn’t your thing, utilize the tools available for you. Grammarly is a great extension you can install on your browser that checks your grammar while you’re writing. It doesn’t catch EVERYTHING, but will definitely cut down on silly mistakes. If your English teacher is accessible, have them check over your essay as well. Everyone makes silly mistakes when writing no matter how great a writer they are, so it’s always important to have multiple layers of review to ensure a well-written final product.

Be clear and concise.

We all have the one friend who takes 6 years to tell a story that can be summed up in 30 seconds...don’t be that friend. If you are someone of many words who has a lot to say, you may struggle with condensing these for the purposes of your college essay because most will impose world limits. If this sounds like you, no worries, pour out all of your initial thoughts and feelings in your first draft, and use the tracking feature within word or in your google doc to slowly eliminate “fluffy” phrases to get you down to that desired word count without losing sight of the purpose of your essay. Another thing to remember is to avoid over-flowerly language and run-on sentences. The reader of your essay shouldn’t need a dictionary to read your essay, they will also be able to tell if you used to make your essay sound more sophisticated.

Review yourself, revise and ask others to review.

Before hitting submit, be sure you and others have checked, double checked, and triple checked your work. You can only read your own work so many times before it will start to blur and look like jibberish. Besides silently reading your essay, another form of self-review is to go in a private place and read your essay aloud to yourself. If you’re out of breath by the end of your sentences, chances are you have some run-on sentences to take care of. This will help you catch silly mistakes that you made and gauge the overall flow of your work. Before you begin drafting, it’s also a good idea to identify your college essay squad who you trust to review and provide feedback. You’ll want to inform everyone who you’ve recruited to help of the date you intend to submit your essay and provide them a copy well in-advance of this date to give them ample review time. Some clever ways to get feedback include Facebook groups for peer review, collaborative google docs etc.

Great essays aren’t born overnight.

Writing truly is a process and your essay will go through several different versions before you hit submit. Be patient with yourself. Build in time to walk away from your essay to gain additional perspective. If you’re suffering from writer’s block, like the majority of us do check out our tips for conquering it. Remember, you have an important story to tell that the world wants to hear, now go write your heart out!

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