It has come once again. The college essay prompts have been released, and everywhere across the nation, high school seniors are already panicking and procrastinating. It is the most time-consuming aspect of the college application process, and it is also without a doubt the most stressful. After all, summarizing your entire being into roughly 500 words to be a judged by an anonymous panel isn’t on anyone’s top ten list of things to do. However, no matter how long you put it off, those essays still need to be written and edited and written again. So here are some tips to help you along the way, and to hopefully motivate you to begin writing.
Understand Your Audience
It is important to understand who will be reading your essays. Rumor has it that sometimes university students are the first to sort essays into good and bad piles, but whether it is a mere student or the highest-ranking admissions officer, you should still write to impress. Avoid contractions, control your grammar, and most importantly, be respectful with your writing. Writing an essay about your hatred of apricots may not leave the best impression on an admissions officer who named their first child Apricot (though this is evidently not the best example, the advice still stands). While this is not a formal essay with cited sources and footnotes, it would be best to stay away from colloquial terms and clichés, unless that is the tone that you were hoping for. So keep your audience in mind, and make sure that your essays not only place you in your best light, but that you don’t throw others into the shade while doing so. Be you, but be polite.
Think Outside the Box
Be creative. Chances are, the admissions officer or whoever is reading your essay has read thousands of stories about running a club or volunteering with the elderly. If possible, think of a topic that is original and one that is significant to you. Have unruly hair? A burning passion for avocados? The best essays that I have ever read have been on completely ordinary situations or personal tidbits, but have been told in a creative way. To twist a normal story into a tale of great personal growth is a skill that is worth developing, and also leads to interesting essays.
Now, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t write about that club you were in or about your time volunteering. It is not so much about the topic, but about the delivery. If you are passionate about what you are writing about, it will show through. On the same note, if you are only choosing a topic because it seems “impressive,” that too will be evident. While being creative is important, it is equally, if not more so important to stay true to who you are, and write about what you care about.
Remember Who You Are, Simba
Though reading the essays of others can be beneficial in finding inspiration, it is important to not copy someone’s format, or to write word for word what your parents suggest. Asking for help is no sin, and getting as many people to edit is an important strategy. However, your essay should still reflect who you are as a person. I have had friends who refused to show anyone their essays simply because they were too personal. They had revealed in their essay parts of themselves that they had not revealed to their friends. While this isn’t to say that everyone should spill their guts into every “Why do you want to go here?” essay, it wouldn’t hurt to make every essay one that you can be proud of. Remember, if you get accepted into a university, you want to get accepted because of your own writing, your own story. Not the sample story of someone else, or from the guideline that your family friend gave you. Have faith in your own abilities, and trust that your essays, that you yourself, will be accepted.
To the rising seniors, those are my college essay writing tips. So get started, and don’t stop. Beginning may be the hardest part, but once you open up that Word document, you become in charge of your future. After all, you have written numerous essays in English class, a few more won’t kill you (though at the time is probably feels like it will).