The college admissions process is both complex and competitive. As an applicant you are evaluated on a number of different criteria as you compete with thousands of other applicants for the limited spaces available at your selected colleges. Applicants applying on purely academic grounds are primarily evaluated on their high school grades and SAT/ACT test scores. However, writing a great college essay, along with documenting your extra curricular activities, can be a great way to separate yourself from the other applicants with similar scores, or even elevate your lower scores. The college essay is not only a chance to document your essay writing skills, but also one of the only opportunities in your college application where your voice and personality can really shine through. In other words, the college essay is your opportunity to speak directly to college admissions officers. Writing a great college essay will allow you to really stand out and could end up having a significant effect on your college admission outcome. Writing great college essays requires planning and effort. Follow the 6 steps below in order to ensure that you write a great college essay.
1. Start Planning In The Summer Before Senior Year
Experts agree that the best time to start thinking about your college admission essays is during the summer before your senior year starts. Not only will you have more time on your hands before the school work starts piling up but you will also have plenty of time to plan for your applications, which could be as early as November for Early Decision. Applicants should look on their respective college websites for the essay requirements and start laying out a foundation for what and when they will write the college essays. This will give students the time to internally brainstorm ways in which they will meet the essay requirements as well as think of elements of the college essay which would be great to write about. This will also prevent the need for any rushed essays which could have a negative effect on borderline applications.
2.Brainstorm and Decide on Your Topic
College admission essays are usually broad, open-ended topics which give you the opportunity to talk about yourself and your experiences. It is quite daunting to choose what to write about from the large well of all your experiences and personal traits. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you have to write about your biggest accomplishment, or make the essay about something you think is impressive about you or your past. Rather, write about what makes you different from other students, what makes you unique. A good way of establishing what traits or experiences represent your character is by talking to close friends and family and writing down the things they say that differentiate you from other people they know. This can help you narrow down your talking points and center them around one general theme. Also, think of things that are important to you when you are brainstorming ideas and experiences, as your passion for something in particular will most certainly come across in your writing.
3. Write, Write, Write.
Once you decide on your college essay topic and some of the things you really want to incorporate in the essay, it is time to write everything down. Start by formulating an initial outline, specifying the main headings and the general layout of the admission essay. After you have come up with a basic layout you need to put all of your thoughts on paper. Don’t make the mistake of being meticulous from the start, rather write down every idea you have without worrying about specific formatting and the flow of the essay. The aim of this part of the process is to come up with several initial drafts which will allow you to express all of your best ideas and think through how you would want the college essay to flow. Often, it takes writing thoughts down to get your mind to think of related experiences and ideas as well as to rule out certain ideas you initially thought were good for your college essay.
4. Collect and Craft Your Three Main Sections
After you have devised an outline and written down pages of information relating to you and your topic it is time to collect the best bits into an introduction, body and conclusion. By now you should have a good understanding of the general picture you want to paint with your essay. Go through all of your initial writings and think about which parts are best to incorporate into your college essay. It is often helpful to show someone close to you all of the pages that you have brainstormed and asking them to help you choose the best ideas and information from these. Make sure that your essay is formulated around answering the specific open ended question that the college in question is asking. Many make the mistake of writing an essay about themselves without actually answering the relevant essay question. Remember, the college essay need not be written in an overly formal tone. Write in your own way, using good grammar, allowing your voice to permeate the essay. Additionally, ensure that the essay flows logically from the introduction through to the conclusion.
5. Reflect, Don’t Recount
Another general tip – reflect, don’t only recount. Admission Officers want to get to know what and how you think. You won’t be able to demonstrate this be simply recounting your past experiences. Talk about how experiences affected you, how they shaped the way you think. Relate your experiences to the questions asked in the college admission essay. It could be a good idea to center your entire essay around the recounting of an experience, starting with a hook such as: “That encounter with the Senator set me down a path that has defined who I am”. Starting the essay with a hook that begins your reflection on a unique experience will grab the admissions officer’s attention and help you stand out from the pack.
6. Proofread and Share
Sometimes it is difficult to look at your own essay objectively once you have spent a lot of time working on it. You will probably skim over the same spelling and formatting mistakes and not recognize glaring errors in flow or logic. After you proofread your own essay and before you submit it be sure to share it with your parents, teachers and anyone else who is an experienced writer and has the time to help you. This will help you to get an objective opinion on your paper as well as to correct any errors which will allow you to submit the best possible version of your college admission essay for consideration.
Following these steps will help you create a great college essay. If you would like to look at some college essay templates check out this link. For more information on every aspect of the college recruiting process, check out the ACA College Recruiting Blog.