9 Tips for an effective application essay for college


Application essay for college is a matter of increased concern (sometimes – paralyzing fear) among high school students. Although you might hear every now and then that application essay is nothing to worry about, as “you just have to tell about yourself”, everyone who has tackled the task has already understood it is not that easy.

Here are 9 tips to make sure your essay will impress admission officers and will not end in the “no” pile.

1. Do not confuse application essay with a CV

Application essay is one of the components of the application process considered along with students’ grades, extracurricular activities and letters of recommendations.

Please, think about this once again. Your grades and your accomplishments are already presented. Do not repeat anything, which was presented in other application materials. Essays are meant to tell something different to help a university decide what person they should better accept into their community from among applicants with similar scores.

The task here is to show your personality, not your accomplishments!

How can you do this? There are several strategies to help you.

– Brainstorm all of essay prompts. Specifically, try to think about your life experiences that you could use in a response to a prompt. It will help you reflect on your life and define what you need to tell about yourself, no matter what prompt or topic you will eventually choose. In an admission essay, you have to reflect and analyze rather than simply tell. Therefore, it is good to think about what you learned from the experience and choose the topic considering what insight is stronger and more relevant for the future rather than considering what story is more interesting.

Common Application prompts to apply for college admission in 2018-2019

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

– Write down three adjectives or phrases that define you. Choose what is positive and intelligent. Then, write down two or three lines with the life examples that support your three words.

– Ask your closest and oldest friends what stories they tell about you, what words they associate with you. This can give you marvelous ideas what to write about.

Watch experts share tips on application essays for college (Montage of CollegeBoard)

2. Do not invent

Some students may go too far inventing stories about themselves for the college application essay. Sometimes, the information may turn out to contradict the information admission officers already have. For example, you may present a great essay about your experience of the extracurricular activity and its meaning for your future life, but if there is no such activity listed in submission documents, it will probably generate more questions than answers.

This also relates to stories about traveling and volunteer work abroad or internships in big companies. Many students invent such stories in the attempt to impress. However, it is a mistake to believe that you need this to have advantages over your peers and their essays. The truth is, it does not matter what has happened to you, what matters is what kind of person it has made you to be and what inferences you have managed to make.

A good proof is the examples of successful essays often pointed to by the universities themselves. The experience of discrimination, the experience of working in MacDonald’s, crashing into the car all made winning topics for admission essays for one simple reason – the authors managed to reflect on their strengths and showcase them in a concrete example.

3. Do not write general ideas without examples

You are allowed to philosophize in your essay, but you have to make sure your ideas and thoughts relate to actual life events. This is the peculiarity of this type of essay, otherwise called “personal statement”. If you write about your attitudes and ideas, you do not choose credible sources and do not cite smart people to support your writing – you demonstrate you have managed to reach such conclusion in the course of your own life.

4. Do not write too much

Don’t try to cover all significant events of your life. Just focus on one or two, but develop them, discuss your feelings during the event, describe why it is meaningful for your future. If you have several ideas and cannot choose – ask someone to help, but do not make your essays overly long. Although there is no maximum limit (minimum being 250 words), it is beneficial to have not more than 600-700 words in your essay – admission officers have a huge workload and if you can’t appeal to them with 600 words, you won’t with 2000 either.

5. Be wise in your attempts to “stand out”

Admission officers read tons of essays and it seems really difficult to stand out of the crowd. Still, students sometimes screw up their essays just because they focus on being creative and unique.

For example, trying to be bold and to stand out, students sometimes decide to write some serious inferences from their sex, drinking or partying experiences. While it is not forbidden to do so, you are still trying to be accepted in the academic community. Are you sure this experience means you have something meaningful to bring to it?

6. Find a right balance about praising yourself

Some students think that they can stand out by telling as many of their accomplishments as possible and actually end up being perceived as if hitting the score is their only goal. Others, on the contrary, assume that they can stand out by being shy and saying that everything is still ahead. Yes, everything is still ahead, but you need to tell who you are now and what you can suggest to the college community now, so this is not a winning strategy. It is best to tell about one or two strengths you have or have gained to show that you are capable of making sense of your experience and can progress further.

7. Do not overuse the advanced vocabulary

Of course, it is great to sound well-read in an admission essay, but the use of separate thesaurus words can be used not to the point (words have subtle connotations and you may not feel them if you don’t use these words), they can contrast with the rest of the language and make your story not natural and less appealing. Therefore, make sure you do not overdo with advanced vocabulary and use only those words you really know.

8. Use, but be careful with humor

Being witty and adding good-humored sarcasm is to a great advantage for an application essay. Still, different people have different ideas of what is and isn’t funny. Make sure your jokes or sarcasm is not offending and does not have racial or sexual implications. As admission officers are usually middle-aged adults, I would recommend showing your essay to your parents so that they assess its humor from the viewpoint of their generation.

9. Use professional editing and proofreading services

Note that while the use of essay mills are considered academic dishonesty and trigger serious consequences. Students are not forbidden and are even encouraged to use external help in terms of polishing what they have written. It is good to consult your friends and relatives so that they tell if the essay sounds like you, but then, be sure to submit your essay to a professional editor or proofreader. It is well worth it! After all, it is just one short essay with such a huge significance.

Takeaway: An admission essay is different from all other essays you have written or you will have to write. It is not more difficult, it is just more personal, which is why you and only you can write it. Still, if you feel lost or afraid to approach the task, feel free to brainstorm the ideas with me and use editing or proofreading services once the essay is ready.

Remember, an application essay for college is a key to your dream education and bright career in the future, so just make sure you bring the right one approaching the door!

About the Author: Roselyn

Hi, I am Roselyn and love engaging, fit for purpose, and edited to perfection writing. Feel free to reach out to work with me, suggest topic ideas, or give feedback on Make a Stand – the project I passionately grow for more than 3 years now.

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