College Help: The Application Essay

[Tomorrow, we bring you a similar post by Meagan.  Read both to get a fuller idea of all the ways you can approach the college application essay.]

The essay. It’s probably the most dreaded and despised part of the college application process, yet it is also one of the most important. Why? Well if you haven’t heard this before, I am telling you now: the essay is your chance to share your own voice and who you really are on a personal level, not just what grades and test scores you have or what activities you do. I know, it’s a lot of pressure, but if you are open-minded, you can end up with a great essay and some self-discovery after it’s all over. Preparation is the key.

            If you haven’t already, the first step is to read some good college essays. You can do this by going online or checking out a book from the library; try College Essays That Made a Difference, Fiske Real College Essays That Work, or 100 Successful College Application Essays. When you find one you really like, think about what makes it good—Humor? Honesty? Imagery? Maybe think about what you want your essay to be like, and right down a few qualities you want to incorporate into your writing.

            Next, think about your topic. Although many students struggle with this step, it’s not as hard as you might think. Despite prompts that may ask you for a “life-changing experience” or some other intimidating topic, don’t worry that you have nothing good to write about. Everyone has stories, passions, and experiences that have shaped who they are, and this is what you need to tap into. Brainstorm and right down anything that you could possibly use for an essay. As you may have already seen, great essays can be written about tiny, trivial things, or they can be written about literally life-changing moments. The point of the essay is for an admissions officer to find out who you really are, so pick a topic that shows that and a topic that you will be able to write about in a comfortable, natural way. If you are writing the main essay from the Common App, you can basically write about whatever you want since one of the prompts is “Topic of your choice.”

Edit, Edit, Edit!

            Eventually, you will have to put pen to paper and start the writing process. For struggling writers, this will take more time—but that’s okay. If you start early (like during the summer), time will not be an issue. It’s best to just get your ideas out in a first draft; if you don’t like it, you don’t have to show it to anyone else—just do some self-editing until you feel a little more confident about it. As you come up with a second or third draft, start finding friends or family or teachers to help you edit and proofread. It’s okay to write a lot at first, but you’ll want to condense your essay to about one page single-spaced, so make every word count! Remember that you do not want to repeat things from other parts of your application, such as what great test scores you have or how many awards you’ve won. The essay is supposed to highlight your personal qualities that the college would not see otherwise. Also remember that you will probably have to write more than one essay, since many colleges ask for shorter additional essays on their supplements. You can approach these in the same way, but you will need to answer the prompt you are given.

If you need more help, there are tons of resources out there to help you—here are a few:

If you put in the work, you’re sure to write a great essay. Good luck!

[Click here to read Meagan’s post about writing the college application essay (but wait till 7/16/2011) – taken together, these two are really helpful!]

Post by Callan, Teen Blogger

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