What do you know about college essays? Have you ever written one? How did it go? If you’re like most people, you probably didn’t answer Yes! to either of those questions – and you also probably don’t remember your college essay that well, if at all.
But getting into college can be stressful enough without having to worry about writing an essay – and the sheer number of colleges out there means that yours isn’t the only application the admissions officer is reading. So how do you make sure your essay stands out from the crowd?
1) Start early
There’s no such thing as too early when it comes to essay writing. As with most things, you get out what you put in; so, if you’re not putting enough time and effort into your essay writing, don’t expect a stellar result. The great thing about college is that it’s hard to feel overwhelmed because of all of your available resources.
If you know how to write an essay well, start early. There are many ways to attack every essay question, but in order to do so there needs to be adequate planning and preparation beforehand; starting early means having more time for research and structuring your idea logically before deadlines approach.
2) Write what you know
The best way to make your essay unique is to write about what you know. If you’re writing a personal statement, share a memory from your childhood or describe how you overcame a major obstacle during high school.
If you’re applying for an engineering position, tell about your experience building models when you were younger. The more authentic and genuine your essay sounds, the more colleges will be interested in reading it! Just remember not to fall into cliche topics—the most common college essay topics don’t need any extra drama!
3) Don’t try to be funny
Sure, you can still use your sense of humor, but don’t make jokes or try to impress someone. Remember, you have a larger goal in mind. If you’re trying to win over admissions officers with a joke and they aren’t impressed, they may lose trust in your ability to handle their program and be willing to offer you a spot.
The same is true for being impressive by handing them something special like your resume printed on colored paper or getting silly pictures taken for your essay. Don’t do it! These will turn off college admissions officers quickly and limit your chances of getting into their school.
4) Use storytelling, but edit out details
Stories help students write powerful and engaging essays. However, stories are difficult to tell without losing focus on what it is they’re actually trying to say. Too many unnecessary details or rambling sentences can turn a good story into a bad essay.
Editing your essays will not only improve your writing, but will also allow you to condense long, complicated stories into crisp and clear statements of exactly what you want to say. If anything is unclear or could be improved, fix it before submitting your essay.
Proofreading is often overlooked when students are writing papers. This may be because we’re not sure what proofreading means or how to do it well. So, how can you make sure your essay is perfect before you turn it in? The best way to proofread a paper is to read through your essay with a pencil in hand.
As you read over your essay, circle any spelling or grammatical errors you notice and then go back and fix them. To proofread for awkward sentences, remove words from a sentence until only necessary ones remain. If a sentence still makes sense after removing some words, it needs work—you should either combine two ideas into one sentence or split one idea into two sentences.
6) Show your personality
If you’re going to tell your story, don’t be afraid to share who you are with it. An essay isn’t just a roadmap of your life, but it is also a way for colleges to get to know you better and find out why they should accept you. Tell them about yourself through anecdotes and stories, so they can get more of a sense of who you are. Colleges want well-rounded students who have many different interests, not just straight-A robots who excel at every class they take.
7) Avoid clichés
The biggest mistake that a college essay writer makes is to take standard phrases and clichés that everyone else uses, says Sara Matthews, a New York City-based educator and career coach who founded Write Path Consulting Group.
If you’re going to write your essay using tropes you’ve heard dozens of times before, what makes you unique? More than anything else, admissions counselors are looking for compelling stories, individual voices, unusual experiences—anything they can use to help identify potential students among a sea of applicants.
When writing your essay, ask yourself: What sets me apart? How can I bring my background into my story in a way that’s not obvious or trite? If those questions don’t lead to interesting ideas, it’s time to brainstorm some new ones.
8) Know the requirements
Most schools state their admissions essay requirements on their website. Always check your college’s site to make sure you know exactly what they want before sitting down to write it. Also, learn which topics are usually on a given school’s list (as they often repeat from year to year) and start doing research early so you don’t feel rushed when it comes time to brainstorm.
Know how long it will be: How many words or pages is your essay supposed to be? Answering questions like these should make it easier for you not only to know how much material you have left after each paragraph, but also to keep track of how well (or poorly) you’re keeping up with your word count goal.