Top Tips for Writing a Compelling College Essay

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Top Tips for Writing a Compelling College Essay

Your student is about to write one of the most important essays of her life.  Don’t panic.  A great college admissions essay will present a vivid, personal, and compelling view of your student to the admissions staff.  It will round out the rest of the application and help your student stand out from the rest of the applicants. 

In order to stand out from the crowd, the essay must elicit an emotional response from the reader.  The focus of the essay should be narrow and personal, authentic, not superficial.  The essay must prove a point or thesis.  The reader should be able to find the main idea and follow it from beginning to end. It should be developed with vivid and specific facts, events, quotations, examples, and reasons.  The student should write as she speaks and use a relaxed conversational style. 

Be original.  Too many essays use the same tired themes.  Remember, what bores the writer will generally bore others.  Show genuine enthusiasm.  The student should pick a topic that genuinely excites her.  The enthusiasm will show through.  The writing will be invigorating and the reader will enjoy reading the essay.

Create some mystery. The introduction that surprises the readers and makes them want to read past the first paragraph will grab attention and help the essay stand out from the crowd.

Use action verbs.  They make the essay much more lively than passive voice, which comes across as cold and detached.  Use short sentences and simple words. Use simpler, concise language.  The student want the readers to understand the essay.  Using obscure terms needlessly, will not impress. Vary sentence structure.  Intermingle long sentences with shorter sentences to keep the reader from getting bored.

Avoid acronyms and abbreviations.  They have no place in your essay.  For example, use “and others” instead of “et al.,” “California” instead of “CA.” Avoid using exclamation points and parentheses.  Avoid asking questions or setting off words and phrases with quotation marks.  Avoid gimmicks.  Don’t use puns, definitions, famous quotations, flowery descriptions, or overdone wordplay to get the point across.  Avoid controversy.  Avoid offensive tone or language.  Avoid sexist language.  Substitute asexual words for sexist words.  For example, use “chairperson” instead of “chairman” and “pioneers” instead of “founding fathers”.

Be careful using humor.  It’s more important to tell an interesting story and let any humor be inherent.  Write tight.  Choose nouns and verbs that are as specific as possible.  Use as few words as possible. 

Revise until it is perfect.  The essay will go through several drafts before it is ready.  Keep in mind that the essay must be more than interesting–it must be captivating.  Let the enthusiasm show through.  Adhere to the word limit. 500 word limit does not mean 600 words is okay. Proofread.  Don’t rely solely on the computer’s spell check. 

Show the essay to someone who can be objective.  To produce the best possible essay, the student needs a good editor. Use someone who knows English well but can also give the writer constructive feedback on how the message is coming across. 

Writing a successful college admissions essay is not a simple task.  Your student should plan on spending a lot of time writing, reviewing, and polishing so that it is just right.  With perseverance, your student will end up with an outstanding essay that will capture the reader’s attention, reach an emotional conclusion about the student, and get that letter of acceptance.  

This blog is based on excerpts from “Tips for Writing Your College Admission Essay” by Gregory Lloyd and The College Application Essay by Sarah Myers McGinty.

By | 2018-06-11T00:39:45-08:00 June 22nd, 2011|Entrance Exams and Essays, Tips for Students|Comments Off on Top Tips for Writing a Compelling College Essay