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Gregory Lloyd

Tips for Writing Your College Admissions Essay

by Gregory Lloyd

You’re about to write one of the most important essays of your life. Don’t panic. The subject
is one you know very well—yourself. You’re an interesting person and it’s time you show those
college admissions officers just how interesting and unique you are.

After all, that’s what they’re looking for. They want to know something about you that’s not indicated by your resume, your SAT score, your grade-point average, academic awards, or any other document you include elsewhere in your application package. They want a focused, well-organized essay that helps them get to know a bit about your character and personality, what drives you, and what excites you. Make them like you.

Of course, you have only a limited amount of words to do all this, which is good and bad. Good because you need to write only a few hundred words; bad because you’ve got to get your point across in just those few words.

It’s important to view the essay as an opportunity rather than a chore. It’s really not so hard once you know what’s expected of you. To make an impression, your essay must stand out from the crowd and elicit an emotional response from the reader. Here are some tips that will help you prepare a memorable essay that will get read.

Write as you speak.
The purpose of the essay is to show the admissions committee the real you, why you think and act the way you do, and what motivates you. So don’t write as if you are someone else, use stilted language, or gloss over how you really feel. Be authentic, not superficial. Use a relaxed, conversational style.

Be original.
Too many essays use the same tired themes. For example, instead of showing yourself as a victim, focus on how you overcame the situation. You’re not running for Miss America, so avoid presenting your solutions to world peace and hunger. Remember that what bores you pretty much bores others. As you’re writing and revising, continually ask yourself if you would be interested in reading your essay.

Show genuine enthusiasm.
Nothing draws a reader more than writing that’s invigorating. When choosing your topics, pick what genuinely excites you. Your enthusiasm will show through.

Create some mystery.
Begin with an introduction that surprises your readers and makes them want to read past the first paragraph. For example, if you’re an avid volunteer for the Appalachian Trail Club and you’ve chosen to talk about your latest trip, you could start with a description of the sights and sounds as you move about the forest clearing trails.

Rather than describing everything you’ve done with your life, give a full description of one or two items or events. The magic is in the details.

Use active verbs.
Action verbs makes your essay much more lively than passive voice, which comes across as cold and detached. For example, “My Botany teacher recommended me for a semester of study at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania” is much better than “I was recommended for
a semester of study at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, by my Botany teacher.”

Use short sentences and simple words.
According to a recent study at Stanford University, individuals who use complicated language are viewed as less intelligent than individuals who use simpler, more concise language. You want your readers to understand your essay. If you use obscure terms needlessly, they won’t be impressed.


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