ADVICE: the American College Application Essay

The essay can be an important aspect of your application to a college or university in the United States. While your standardized test scores and grades make you a competitive applicant, they will not make you stand out in a strong applicant pool because you will be competing with students who have the same grades and scores.  Extracurricular activities and teacher recommendations are necessary to inform the admissions officer what you do in and out of class, but they do not serve to significantly differentiate applicants unless they speak to unusual talents or characteristics. Your college application essay reveals something important about you that your grades and test scores can’t – your personality. It can give admission officers a sense of who you are, as well as showcasing your writing skills. Try these tips to craft up your essay:

  1. Be concise. In college admissions essays, wordiness is one of the most common stylistic errors. In many cases, a student could cut one-third of an essay, lose no meaningful content, and make the essay much more effective and clear.  Even though most colleges do not limit the length of your essay, every admissions officer has a big stack to read every day. Typically, the admissions officer only spends a couple of minutes reading your essay. If your essay is too long, you will be testing the officer’s patience, and you do not want to do that.
  2. Language: Watch out for vague language in your college application essay. If you read through your essay and you see words like “stuff”, “very”, and “things”, you need to be more specific or your essay will end up in the rejection pile.
  3. Avoid clichés: Clichés have no place in a college admissions essay. A cliché is an over-used phrase or expression. The use of clichés in your essay will make you seem unoriginal. With your essay you are trying to get the admissions officers excited about you and your essay topic and the use of clichés will make you seem ordinary.
  4. Word things accurately: When writing your admissions essay, be careful to avoid overusing flowery language. Too many adjectives and adverbs can ruin the reading experience. Make sure you are not just inserting big vocabulary words to sound smart. If you use a thesaurus for a few words that is fine, but do not over-do it or your essay will sound silly.
  5. Let your credentials speak for themselves: There is no need to write an essay conveying how serious an academic you are. Your transcript and recommendations will do that. Similarly, your extracurricular activities will speak volumes about how engaged you are. If you are looking to write about school or one of your extracurricular activities, perhaps write about a specific memory rather than all of them as a whole. The memory will make you unique and you can still write about something you are passionate about.
  6. Write about yourself: This may seem obvious, but the essay is the most immediate way to show off your personality to the admissions officer. A great history paper on World War II may be very well written, but it doesn’t tell the admissions officer anything about you. The essay is your time to shine – so you definitely want the topic to be all about you!

And remember, the essay is important, but it’s not the only thing that is considered.  The admission officers look at the whole package: your academics, extracurricular activities, standardized tests, and other factors. A great essay rarely makes up for a weak academic record. So make your essay as well written as you can, but don’t put so much pressure on yourself that the rest of the application fades in importance.


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