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Writing Great College Essays

Start early. The more time you have, the less stress you’ll feel. Even if your college list isn’t 100% finalized yet, it’s not too early to start thinking about your application essays.

Your essays are important, but essays are only a piece of what admission officers will consider.

Do the best job possible with your essays, but an essay by itself – no matter how creative or well written – won’t overcome an application that is weak in other areas. All parts of your application deserve attention and thought.

Your best idea may not be your first one. Staring at a blank computer screen can be intimidating, so it’s tempting to jump on the first idea you have and start writing. Try to resist. The most powerful essay ideas often rise to the surface after the more obvious topic you think of first. Give other ideas time to percolate.

Stay true to yourself. The biggest mistake students make with essays is trying to write about a topic that they (or their parents) think colleges want to hear about, rather than writing about something that the student is truly interested in or excited by. The result is usually an essay that sounds hollow and flat. Instead, look for your essay ideas in the experiences, people, and events that matter most to you. Not only will your essays be easier to write, but they’ll sound like you. And that is exactly what colleges are hoping to hear in your essays: YOU.

Be honest. College admissions officers are masters at spotting any form of plagiarism or essays written by someone other than the student. Your work should always be your own. At the same time, don’t embellish or stretch the truth when telling your story. Once you do, it stops being your story.

Use a conversational tone…but don’t get overly friendly. Your college essay shouldn’t sound like an academic paper or a job application. It is OK to use a more conversational tone for application essays. On the other hand, your essay shouldn’t be so informal that it sounds like you’re posting on a friend’s Facebook page. Focus. Find your main topic, and stick to it. Keep asking yourself what information is truly essential to telling your story. Everything else can almost always go.

Be ready to edit and rewrite. Don’t expect to write a masterpiece on your first try. A good college essay usually requires several edits and revisions to become a great college essay.

Ask for feedback, but be selective. When it comes to admission essays, the old adage holds true: too many cooks spoil the brew. While getting feedback from a few trusted advisors is essential, the more people who chime in with suggestions and ideas for your essay, the less likely that your own voice will shine through.

Proofread, proofread, proofread. Nothing kills an otherwise strong application faster than an essay riddled with spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors!


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