College Application essays are challenging. It requires writing for a new audience, new topic, and a new purpose. The student has never written for the audience of the college admissions officer before. The topics are very general, and basically the prompts tell students to write about themselves, which they didn’t really have to do before in English classes. Also, the essays’ purpose is to really sell yourself as a good candidate for the school, and that is also foreign to many students.
Here are some things not to do, that I’ve gleaned from reading thousands of college application essays over the years:
- Don’t write about the following topics: difficulties of a certain class and how much homework you do; how you worked hard to get straight A’s; controversial news topics that do not reveal anything personal about yourself; general list about your sports, activities and how great you are at them.
- Don’t overshare about your hardships or struggles: There is a fine line between describing your struggles and scaring the reader. Always share from the angle of how you overcame struggles. We do not want the admissions officer to be unsure about your emotional stability and common sense.
- Don’t try gimmicks: I heard that a student wrote “Am I crazy?” 500 times on her college application essay. I think it was an urban legend. It certainly will not work today. Admissions officers have seen it all.
- Don’t bore the reader: Admissions officers read thousands of essays a year, and only spend a few minutes to scan each one. It would be good to try to capture their attention from the beginning. But don’t make things up–be genuine and be yourself. Let your particular unique story shine, but structure the essay so that the most interesting details are in the first few paragraphs.
- Don’t write to impress: Don’t try to add lots of SAT vocabulary words or make it overly complex. Be natural and make the essay sound like yourself. Read it out loud to see if it sounds like the way you may talk–a slightly more polished version of you. If your voice and personality comes through to the reader clearly, that’s a successful essay.
One extra tip: Don’t stress too much about the topic, but focus on letting your character, values, and personality shine through. If you write about what you like and are passionate about, that will naturally showcase who you are.