How important are college essays? Most students and parents think that the only way to get into college is to have an exemplary transcript and really high test scores.
But what about students who aren’t terrific test takers? In thinking of the college admissions’ process, the ‘door’ to college admission is writing an outstanding college essay.
The essay is your one opportunity to showcase who you are, without all of the statistics of your transcript and scores. A well-written essay could convey your thoughts, attitudes, qualities, imagination, sense of humor, and creativity.
It’s the only part of your application over which you have complete control, so it is important to take your time to do your best work.
In your English classes, I’m sure you’ve been taught the three-step process for writing: pre-write, draft and edit. Using this same process will help you identify a focus for your essay and gather the details that support it.
Since the purpose of a college admissions essay is to share about what is important to you, begin with YOU. An exercise I often use with students is to have them spend about 15 minutes with a blank piece of paper brainstorming objects that represent one of their fundamental qualities. I ask them to trust that whatever they write down is correct, and that there is probably a story embedded in the object that illustrates one aspect of who they are.
For example, I wear a necklace with a bejeweled blue turtle hanging from the chain. I have loved turtles my entire life and have watched them hatch on a beach in Florida.
I had no idea, at that time, that I would witness the beginning of life or how tiny and fragile baby turtles would be. Because the turtles couldn’t see well, all of we humans on the beach talked very softly as we gently moved them toward the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
That experience reminded me of how precious and fragile all of life can be. So for me, that could be one thing that I could write about.
Once you have your topic, jot down ideas that you want to include in your essay. In outlining my essay on turtles, I would include sentences about my love for turtles, my thoughts and feelings around witnessing their birth on the beach in the gulf, and how this relates to my desire to improve their eco-system.
Your outline should group ideas and events together logically and in sequence. What is your introduction going to be? Your conclusion? What events or ideas do you want to make sure you include in the body of your essay?
- Write Your First Draft
I always recommend to my students that once they have written the outline, they immediately write the first draft, without stopping. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling or word usage here. Just get your ideas on paper. As you write, make sure that you include YOUR thoughts and YOUR feelings as this essay is about YOU. After you write the first draft, I suggest that you save it and take a break from it for at least 24 hours.
- Edit and Proof
This is the step where most students want to spend the least amount of time, but where they probably will need to spend the most amount of their time. As you re-read it, ask yourself some questions:
- Is this an essay about YOU, your thoughts and your feelings?
- Does this essay convey what you want the admissions’ counselors to know about you?
- Does your main idea come across clearly?
- Do you prove your point with specific details?
- Is your essay easy to read aloud?
Spend some time reading it aloud and making corrections. Remember this is your essay, making YOU your own best editor. Once you have edited it to your satisfaction, seek feedback from a friend, teacher or counselor.
4. Edit some more.
Most of the students I work with edit their essay at least six times. Once you have edited it to your satisfaction, and made sure that your essay falls within the college’s word limit, then it’s time to proofread. Do this at least twice before giving it again to a friend, teacher or counselor for review. Finally, send it along with your college’s application.
I have extensive experience supporting students in writing a high quality essay that supports you in getting into your first college choice. Get in touch with me at: