Rocking Your College Essay

Students are often intimidated by writing a college essay; perhaps they are self conscious about their writing skills or just not sure where to start. As they say in The Sound of Music, the best place to start is the beginning! If the application has more than one prompt option, choose the one that you’re able to relate to best. Consider which topic will give you an opportunity to show the college a side of your story and personality that’s not already expressed in your application.  

Once you’ve decided on a prompt, begin brainstorming! This can be done in the form of an outline or by simply writing down a list of ideas.  After you have a rough idea of the message you want to convey, take the plunge and start writing. Typing those first few words can be the hardest part - don’t overthink it, just put something down on the page. For the first draft, don’t worry about word count, spelling, or grammar - just write what comes to your mind.  When you have written as much as you possibly could for the first draft, put it aside for a few days.  This will help start the editing process with a fresh viewpoint.

While editing, focus on developing strong introduction and conclusion paragraphs.  The first few sentences of your essay are going to be most important.  Admission counselors read hundreds of essays every application season and an intriguing initial sentence can help grab their interest.  This may mean starting off with a question, statistic, or quote to pull the reader in. Glance through how you’re starting your sentences - are they all “I” statements? If so, how can you vary them? Think about the flow of your essay.  Do you have enough transitional statements? Are you using descriptive words, strong verbs, and details to really “show, not tell” the story? You may find reading your essay out loud helps you find sentences that sound awkward and need to be fixed.

Once you are satisfied with your essay, give it a final glance to proofread and to double check that it meets all of the college’s requirements. Then give your essay to someone else to read to check for any remaining sequencing or grammatical issues.  It’s recommended that this is a teacher, college counselor, or someone else with experience reading college essays. Remember that this is your college essay and it should be your voice - feel free to politely decline any advice they offer.

Using these tips will help you develop a strong college essay and hopefully have some fun during the writing process.  Take a deep breath and start tackling those prompts!