10 Tips for Writing the College Admissions Common App Essay

As if getting the grades and test scores and participating in the extracurriculars were not enough, there’s also the college admissions essay. All students applying via the Common Application have to write this essay, and every school to which a student applies using the Common Application will see it. Through your writing, a college should understand who you really are – your values, what matters to you, and how you think. This is an important part of your application.

Some tips for writing the Common App essays:

1. Start on your essay as soon as possible. The Common Application prompts are out, and they’re not going to change before the school year begins, so don’t wait until you are busy and distracted by school to get started. It takes time to brainstorm, write and refine the essay. At the very least, start outlining your big story.

2. Offer new information. In your transcript and resume, colleges will see WHAT you did. Use the essay to offer the WHY and HOW of what you did. Take this chance to reveal what motivates you and truly interests you. Add your feelings into the essay. This enables readers to connect with you and better understand your personality.

3. Keep it simple. The best essays leave readers with a clear impression of who you are (e.g., the math/music student; the community leader; the environmentalist; the problem solver). This means you should not include everything. If you come across as the ballet-dancing, science-award-winning animal lover who works at the nursing home and likes cooking, you will be hard to remember.

4. Work around a theme. A strong central theme helps to keep the story simple and focused. Themes can include the power of words, self-awareness, self-reliance, family, identity, etc. Think of the theme as a thesis statement and make sure the theme is obvious. Admissions officers will not dissect thematic details as you do in literature class.

5. Don’t lose sight of the essay’s purpose. Prove you’re going to be successful. Colleges thirst for students who will thrive on their campuses, contribute, and be successful in college and beyond. So with this essay, students need to exhibit the positive qualities which satiate college desires. Worried you don’t have the right traits? There are over a hundred to choose from, including leader, problem solver, creative thinker, teambuilder, and motivator. Share the positive attributes that make you unique. Recognize, embrace, and highlight these qualities to give colleges reasons to accept you.

6. Get efficient and effective help. International College Counselors’ sister company Edit the Work makes college admissions essay writing easier by guiding students through what to write and how to write it. Writing counselors at Edit the Work know what the colleges are looking to hear in the essays. Start and finish your Common App essays without worksheets or other busywork. We have a unique and gentle technique for helping students connect with their story and write it.

7. Write with details. You’re a unique individual. Avoid being generic. The below paragraph explains how, when, and why this student acquired her first violin.

I eagerly reached into my Hello Kitty backpack. It was almost my turn to present for the week’s “show and tell” activity. As I anxiously anticipated the reaction of my kindergarten classmates, my youthful exuberance was silenced by the sound of a violin brought in by another student. I remember how I ran home to beg my mother for lessons. After a few weeks of pestering, I began to learn the violin.

Notice the big difference between this above paragraph and a statement like “I got my first violin when I was five after asking my mom for one because I liked the way violins sound.”

8. Think of your reader. If you’re bored writing your own story, think of how admission officers feel, reading through thousands and thousands of essays. Ratchet up the excitement by writing about something about which you are passionate. Enthusiasm is infectious!

9. Show don’t tell. If you say you’re an entrepreneur and a good fit for an undergrad business degree, admissions will say, why? Who says? But if you demonstrate good business acumen by saying you identified a problem, started your own small business to resolve this problem, launched a website, were featured on the news, struck up a deal with a major distributor, and sold thousands of dollars’ worth of product, then they will see that you’re an entrepreneur.

10. Stay within the word count, revise, and proofread. For more information on how to best complete the college admissions essays, or with any or all other parts of the college admissions process, visit http://www.internationalcollegecounselors.com or call 1-954 414-9986.


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