Still Writing Your Common App Essay? 5 Tips to Help You

With the submission deadline for applying in the early round of US college applications rapidly approaching, you will hopefully be well on the way to finishing your personal essay. However, if you are struggling, this article will hopefully help as I share five tips from college admission professionals that can help you create a winning essay.

For many students, writing a solid personal essay is the most challenging part of the application; its test comes because what is required is significantly different from the types of essays most students have been writing during their schooling. While it may be challenging, you must spend the time to create as powerful an essay as possible; this is the one opportunity you have to help the admissions teams get to ‘meet you’ and understand something about the individual behind the grades and scores.

1. First impressions count

Any student attending college should expect to do a great deal of writing, irrespective of their major. So, the first thing somebody reading your essay will ask is, ‘Can this person write?’

When you read your essay, is it well put together? A strong essay will nearly always have a strong theme or story that runs through it from beginning to end, with clear transitions from one paragraph to the next. Write using an active voice rather than the passive one generally expected for an academic essay; try to engage your reader from the very start so that you can be seen through your words. You should always ask people who know you well to read your essay; if they say that they can hear your voice as they read it, then you are probably a winner!

Finally, grammar and spelling count; make sure you go through what you have written and check it with a good spelling and grammar checker. Again, make sure you are using American spellings.

2. You are the story

The college admissions team is reading your essay because they want to find out about you, so make sure that what you are writing about is you. It seems an obvious thing to say, but you would be surprised how often students write essays where they talk about their parents, grandparents, or teachers who have helped shape them into the person they are now. Unfortunately, this sort of essay rarely comes across well as you will inevitably spend much of your limited word count talking about what makes that person special rather than what makes you special, how you live your life as an individual, in the spirit of the person.

To create a strong impression on the admissions officer, you want them to feel that they know what makes you who you are, your motivations, and your passions.

3. Reflections

Creating the strong impression I just mentioned requires you to reflect on who you are and how you became that person. This is something that many students find difficult, but without sharing that knowledge in your essay, you risk it will come across as shallow or, worse still, clichéd! On the other hand, sharing your reflections can add depth and character, making even an everyday experience, such as waiting for the school bus, into a profoundly revealing portrait of you and your life.

4. Add value

When talking about their work, top college and university admissions officers will speak about ‘crafting a community.’ What they mean by this is that they are not just trying to fill the number of places available; instead, they are looking for people who will contribute to the campus experience. So in your personal essay, try to focus on your genuine strengths, using anecdotes that will best portray them.

5. Be consistent

Be clear about what impression you want to create in the minds of the people who will read your application. Having done that, ensure your application, including your essay, aligns with that picture. For example, suppose you want your essay to portray you as a passionate biology researcher. In that case, you don’t want your activities to reflect a person who loves to spend their time deep into self-published online stories. If your essay does not resonate with the rest of your application, you need to take a step back and consider how you can make the whole application reflect who you are.

Good luck!

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