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How to Write a Decision-Defining College Admissions Essay

Updated on July 31, 2016

Essay

The college essay allows you to speak directly to the admissions officer. It can be the essay that gets you into your college, which will affect your personal and financial life for decades to come. So let's get it right.

Preparation

Before you begin, it is helpful to read essays that have worked for students in the past. You will not - and should not - copy the essays or the ideas, or feel you must mold your essays to sound like those of others'. Some of the best essays are the most original. But reading essays that have worked can allow you to develop your own opinions. Which essays do you like? Are there any that stick out? Why? How can you incorporate these features into your own essays?

Topic

Choosing a topic can feel like a decision that is enormously consequential. Ultimately, college admissions officers want to get to know you outside of your test scores, grades, and recommendation letters. Some students write about significant life events. While those can be effective, don't discount the value of smaller, more seemingly-mundane topics. For instance, one student got into several Ivy-league universities with her essay about a trip to Costco, which illustrated her curiosity and imagination. What your essay reveals about you is more important than the topic by itself.

Writing

Make every sentence count. You only have 250, 300, maybe 500 words. Make each and every word count. Ask yourself what each sentence adds to the reader's positive impression of you. Use the most precise language you can - "effervescent" rather than "happy." Most importantly, be genuine. Read the essay aloud, and imagine that you're in a room, telling the admissions officer a story rather than writing a formal prose.

Rewriting

Proofread for spelling and grammatical errors a few days after writing the essay. That will give you a fresh perspective, and allow you to judge your work more critically. If you want an even more objective perspective, get friends, families, or teachers to read your essay and give you constructive criticism.

Submitting

Lastly, read your essay one last time, submit it, and clear it from your mind.

Writing a college essay can be challenging, but also rewarding in more ways than you can imagine.

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