There are a lot of components to a college application. Some are just items on a to-do list, such as request that test scores and official HS transcripts be sent to the schools on your list, while others are more time consuming. Writing your application essay definitely falls into the more time-consuming category! Here are five steps to help you write your application essay!
Parents, if you are trying to help your teenager, there’s some great advice for you as well, but remember, the essay is their opportunity to show an admissions committee who they are. It needs to be in their voice!
Getting started can be the hardest part of the essay for many students. Although the Common App provides students with five prompts to choose from, conveying your personality and life experiences in a few paragraphs can be tough. It is important to have an understanding of each of the prompts before you sit down and begin to write. Take some time to write down potential essay topics (personal experiences) for each of the five prompts. After reviewing your list, take some time for reflection. Consider which prompt would be the most interesting for you to write about and which would be the most interesting to read. Also, think about which is the most likely to help you stand out from all the other applicants. Finally, determine which prompt gives you the best opportunity to show an admissions committee who you are. Once you’ve done this, it’s time to make your pick!
Once you have determined what you want your essay to say about you and identified the experiences you’re going to write about, it’s time to make an outline. Start with the three main parts of your essay: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. Your introduction and conclusion will each be about a paragraph. The body will be the bulk of your essay, so focus your efforts here. For each paragraph, add bullet points to flesh out what you plan to say and the examples you will use to support your ideas. This outline will help you stay focused.
3. Stay Original, Creative, and Personal
With your detailed outline completed, you are now ready to start writing. This is the fun part! You’ll go through a few drafts during this process as you work to fine tune your message. It’s important to choose words that you would use - don’t try to sound like someone else because you think it makes you sound smarter or more interesting. Use your own words and stay in your own voice. The more authentic you are, the more likely you are to stay original. Do your best to avoid using cliches and platitudes. And, of course, use real examples from your life to keep it personal. Admissions officers read thousands of personal statements every year; you want yours to stand out for being genuine not for being hackneyed!
4. Get Feedback and Edit
After you have written your first (or second or third) draft of your essay, it’s time to get feedback. Ask people who really know you to read your essay and share their impression. Great choices are teachers, coaches, family members, and friends. At this point, it’s not about proofreading, but rather getting general feedback.
Ask them open-end questions such as:
- What do they think the essay says about you
- What they think could be improved in the essay
- Is there anything inappropriate in the essay that should be removed or revised
Once you gather all their feedback, make your revisions. You don’t have to take every piece of feedback, but do think about what was said. Regardless, you want to make sure that their voices don’t take over your own. At the end of the day, this is still your essay. If you’ve made significant changes, it’s nice to get another round of feedback at this point as well.
Once you’ve gone through the final round of edits, it’s time to proofread! Proofreading is an extremely important step, as grammar and spelling mistakes in your personal statement will weaken your application. A good way to proofread for grammar and spelling mistakes is by reading your essay out loud. Even so, this isn’t enough. It’s never a good idea for a writer to be the only proofreader of their work. Before you click “submit” and send your application on its way, have at least one other person read it through for errors. More than likely they will catch things you missed.
With these five tips in hand, you’ll be well on your way to writing a stellar application essay. But we’ll leave you with one bonus tip: Get started on your essay this summer. For real...leaving the essay to the end results in a rushed essay. And a rushed essay is never as strong as it could be!