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4 Tips to Make Your College Essay Stand Out From the Rest

Boston HarvardLast week, we discussed how writing about travel experiences can enhance a college application essay.  This week, we will follow up that discussion with some general college application essay tips gathered from over 100 college admissions officers across the country, coupled with my personal experience over ten years of helping hundreds of seniors apply to schools ranging from local technical colleges to Ivy League schools.  


Here are a four winning writing tips I can offer:


1.  Develop a strong topic that answers the prompt

One of the most common complaints we get from high school and college admission counselors is that the student applicants often write an essay that does not answer the specific prompt provided by the university.  This can be an indication that a student is reusing an essay or, what’s more alarming, did not fully understand the prompt. Do yourself a favor and choose a prompt that allows you to highlight something positive about yourself and do it by directly answering the prompt.


2.  Write an essay only you could write.

The essay portion of the application is your opportunity to share a piece of your personality with the college admission counselors.  Do not waste it. Many applicants make the mistake of simply writing in paragraph form about all of the activities they participated in throughout high school.  Why is this a mistake? There will be a spot on the college application that will invite you to share a list of your extracurricular activities, coursework, and athletic participation.  The essay, on the other hand, is the time for your personality to shine.


One college admission officer gave the following advice: “To write easily and well, simply be yourself. Be natural; write as if you are talking to your reader on paper."  In other words, tell a story that gives readers a glimpse of your personality.  

3.  Tell the reader a story

One way to show your personality is tell them a story from your personal experience (hint:  this is a great place to weave travel into your essay).  NYC-Students

Counselors from colleges across the country reveal that they love reading applicants' personal stories and anecdotes.


Stories help illustrate points that you may be trying to make to your readers and help show more about who you are as a person.


For example, instead of just “telling” the university you have a strong work ethic, could you share a story that “shows” your strong work ethic in practice?  Just make sure your story has “so what” point at the end that directly answers the prompt.


4.  Finally, proofread. Proofread. Proofread.

Quite simply, there can not be any grammatical, mechanical, or spelling errors in your writing.  Remember, even professional writers and authors have editors. Because even the best writers are terrible editors of their own work.  We tend to self-correct the errors when we review our own work.  Studies have proven this fact.


So, even though it is a vulnerable thing to do, the best course of action is to ask a trusted teacher, parent, coach or advisor to read your essay and provide some feedback.  


Even better? Have them read your essay back to you aloud. You’ll be surprised how many errors you can catch when you hear your writing read aloud.

If you missed last week’s post, be sure to check out 6 Tips for Incorporating Travel Experiences in College Application Essays.  


Topics: Curriculum standards and student travel

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