“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
― Winston S. Churchill
It’s October, and for many high school seniors, panic has begun to set in. The deadline for submitting their application is less than a month away, and they haven’t yet begun their college admissions essay. Their guidance counselor has reminded them that their college essay is an important part of their college application – especially for students who aren’t satisfied with a grade on their transcript or their latest SAT or ACT score.
While no essay will make an unqualified student suddenly acceptable, a good essay can help a qualified applicant stand out from the competition. And, a great essay might be your ticket out of the faceless applicant pool and into your Dream University. Unlike everything else in your application – the grades, recommendations and tests, which are now out of your hands – you have real control over your writing. Essays show the admissions committee who you really are and it’s your chance to kick that door in.
One big difficulty with the college essay is obvious: you probably have never written anything like this and certainly not for an audience you can’t see. As you sit down at your computer, staring at the blank screen, here are some ideas to keep in mind that may help:
1. Don’t Choose a Topic Based on the College App
All of the Common App essay questions can be reduced to “anything you want to write about.”
Think about you. What’s important to you? What are you passionate about? What gets your juices flowing? If the thing that intrigues you most lately is your friend who plays incredible piano but doesn’t read music, write about it. Don’t be afraid to get noisy, colorful and personal.
2. Can’t Decide on a Topic – Try the Mining for Gold Technique
I believe that each of us has a book, short story or several essays inside us. They are the ‘gold’ in us waiting to come out. Your answers to the questions below may ignite that topic:
- Do you like the world you’ve inherited? What’s wrong with it? What would you do to change it?
- Tell me something about you that would surprise me.
- How have you contributed to your community either at school or outside of school?
- What fears have you had? How have you handled them? What has been the outcome?
3. Enlist a Friend
Ask someone you know and trust to review and critique your writing. Who do you know that is willing to be honest with you in a gentle constructive manner? Don’t ask your parents. They care too much. They may want to fix it and do the writing for you. Don’t let them! Admissions’ counselors can easily spot an essay not written by a high school senior. I have known students who were disqualified from the application process because a parent wrote the essay.
4. Find Your Voice
Your writing should be as distinctive as your own voice. What do you want to say to these invisible players in your life? When read, your essay should provoke a sense of wanting to know so much more about you. You have great instincts – use them.
5. Know and Understand Your Topic
It’s the oldest tip in the book. Write what you know. Have you ever written an essay, and realized that you knew more about the topic than you originally thought? Draw on your life experiences. You need to be vulnerable with your writing. Don’t compromise on your perspective.
6. Be Cool
A college essay doesn’t have to be formal. Your writing can be as serious or light-hearted as you like. It can be funny. It can be dark. It can be dramatic. Keep in mind that you want to engage your audience – keep their interest. You’ll catch your readers’ attention if your tone is natural and authentic.
Today’s college admissions’ process students to feel stressed and overwhelmed Breathe. Put on some music. Tell your inner critic to take a break. Then, just write. Write thoughts as they come, just get them on paper. Edits and revisions will come later. The more relaxed you are, the better you are at everything.
8. Practice, Practice, Practice
Good writing doesn’t spring from the pens of authors perfect and complete. It’s a skill that improves with practice. As you are working through the college and scholarship process, you will be asked to write additional essays. Remember writing is a muscle – you have to
In my business, I work with many students who are struggling with their college essay. Get in touch with me – I’m here to help. Good luck!