Everything You Need To Know About College Application Essays

Conquering the college application process is everything but a small feat. As of March 2018, Ivy League schools in the United States showed an average acceptance rate of 7.06% for the class of 2022—and you want to be part of that statistic!

Can you?

To be accepted as a college student in your institution of choice, you need to successfully live up to the standards set for higher education learners and comply with specific university or college requirements.

success-aheadAs one of the factors for acceptance (or otherwise) by the college or university you plan to spend years in, your college application essay offers you that golden opportunity. It is a chance for every college-bound student like you to show the essence of you really are. It is your time to prove that, despite this society’s high regard for accomplished, A-students, you are more than just your grade-point average.

You want to inject personality into the otherwise standardized procedures of college application. You make your story come to life through your college application essay. Should the rules allow it, you pick a personal topic that, without being inappropriate, realistically paints a picture of your priorities. You detail it using carefully picked words. You show that it warrants attention and, ultimately, college admission.

College Application Essay and College Success

Do college application essay and success correlate? A study finds that in fact, they do.

In its 2015 State of College Admission Report, the U.S. National Association for College Admission Counseling revealed that while most colleges consider grades in college prep courses and admission tests as the top deciding factor for freshmen acceptance, 22% of them would highly consider a candidate’s personal qualities and interests. Students provide such insights through a required writing sample in the form of a college admission essay.

When powerful and compelling enough, your essay can level the playing field for all college applicants. It’s not just about how academically qualified you are as far as grades or scores go. Impressive grades alone don’t cut it. Your essay can become impactful enough to possibly make a difference no matter how slim you think your chances are.

That being said, it is a misconception that college-bound students who are better at writing enjoy greater advantage than their peers. Even admission officers recognize that not everyone has a flair for impeccable writing. They do know, however, that paired with careful planning, a genuine interest to provide insightful writing brings about a story that they want to read.

It’s not about how flamboyant your words are in your piece; you’re not in some writing contest after all. When it comes to college application essays, it’s all about meaning.  If your college application essay reflects your personality, is told in a creative and engaging way, expounds your lessons learned, and highlights your strengths, you are good to go.

I Need To Impress Who?

committeeView your college application essay as a way to directly speak with your admissions committee. The admissions team, usually composed of professionals and high-level individuals, has the only and primary job is to make sure that all newcomers are a good fit to the college or university.

For this reason, a good strategy is to consider admission officers as you craft your essay. Ask yourself how you would share a significant story about yourself in front of this group?

The college admissions process consists of various sub-procedures that essentially evaluate your grades, exam scores, extracurricular activities, and accomplishments in your college prep courses. It requires them to be fully focused. However, as they wade through giant document piles of college applicant information state by state and region by region, they will take a second look only at those that truly warrant their attention and make for an interesting discussion.

The same principle essentially applies for college application essays. A lot of essays are typical. Many of them are lackluster, uninteresting even. Occasionally, the admissions committee finds something that piques their interest: one that gives them a sense of who the student is, as showcased in their writing.

Writing Your College Application Essay

According to an old adage, the beginning is always the hardest part in every journey. This still rings true to this day in just about every aspect of living. For a student who is pursuing college education, taking a leap toward college application is like stepping into a battlefield. It is hard, complicated, and anxiety-inducing, especially as statistics show that acceptance rates in highly selective colleges aren’t exactly promising.

Did you know that high-status universities like Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, MIT and Stanford accept applicants at extremely low rates ranging between 5% and 30% only? This means that the typical college freshman candidate gets rejected 90% of the time!

Top-of-the-line colleges have set their own parameters for successful admission. Standards dictate that grades, activities, and accomplishments should be top considerations. Similarly, your college application essay is an important piece in the process. In order to qualify, come up with one that should be just as impressive.

Step 1: Get Started

All students are familiar with academic essay writing. It typically consists of an introduction, a thesis statement, a few paragraphs highlighting evidence, and a conclusion that wraps up the idea. A college application essay is a completely different species on its own.

In order to begin, you need to establish the fact that more than anything, your college application essay should reveal authentic and important information about you that no grade, score, or accomplishment can: your personality.

In order to do that, you need to ask yourself these 5 helpful questions:

  • What should this college know about me that beyond my academic credentials?
  • What are my non-academic hobbies, interests, or pursuits that I am passionate about?
  • What social cause do I hold dear? What principles do I feel strongly about?
  • Is there an event or experience that hit a chord in me or changed my life?
  • What school subject really engages me and pushes me to take action on related matters?

Remember that the very foundation of a good college application essay is a good idea. Simple as that may seem, the fundamental premise of your essay can make or break your chances of successfully making it to your college of choice.

Step 2: What Exactly To Write About

College application essays are weighted differently in colleges but they all share the same goal: they use this piece to assess students on a more personal level, evaluate their abilities, and determine college fit.

If you are allowed to decide on a topic, pick a single moment that you have experienced and tell the compelling story behind it. It should be a story that is not broad; instead, it should be focused and specific with you as the primary subject. Make it meaningful by accentuating the lessons from that experience.

Choosing a topic isn’t as easy as picking a random situation to tell your friends. Your audience is the college admission committee that is actively looking for an interesting revelation of your personality to convince them that you deserve a shot at their college.

Come up with strong topic choices with these facts in mind:

Fact 1: A college application essay should be about the best qualities that make you stand out.

  • Remember a challenge or a setback that you consider was a failure. How did you rise from it? How did it affect or change your perspective of life? What did you learn from it?
  • Conversely, talk about an accomplishment you believe you truly earned. How did it contribute to your personal growth?

Fact 2: Your college admission team wants evidence that you have a strong set of principles and are able to support them with logical arguments.

  • Recall a time that you challenged a principle or perhaps when your own belief was questioned. How did the situation lead to an understanding of yourself and other people? How did you arrive to a conclusion?
  • Talk about a problem that you successfully solved or want to work on a solution to. It can be something academic, ethical, or societal that has a personal significance to you.

Fact 3: Your college application essay should reflect your personality.

  • Discuss an idea that truly fascinates you. Why do you find it interesting? What do you do to learn more about it?

Wait! Here are more tips!

While some topics are truly engaging, they can be overused. You don’t want your college admission team give up on your essay at the glimpse of its first paragraph just because they’ve read the same thing too many times.

To be safe, you may want to avoid writing about:

  • …someone you admire. It’s actually ideal to have one to look up to, but save your admiration for your coach or mother for some other essays.
  • …a trip or a time at camp. Trust us; you have more than enough ways of expressing how awesome or forgettable this out-of-home situation was.
  • …a generic lemon-to-lemonade situation. Go for the life-changing one instead.

If you pick these very common topics, chances are, everybody has heard what your essay is trying to say. Always think of your writing piece as an instrument that showcases who you are and why you should be accepted as a college applicant. You want that to be original and unique!

Step 3: Prepare Yourself for Writing

college-typing-essayWhen it comes to writing your college application essay, there is one statement that is worth reiterating: you don’t need to be the greatest writer. You don’t impress the college admission committee with your Shakespearean flair. You are expected, however, to be fully aware of the writing rules and capable of adhering to them.

To craft an impressive essay, make sure you apply these techniques:

  • Know the basic writing technicalities. This is the bare minimum. You need to show your command of the fundamentals of proper writing. There is no substitute for good spelling, correct punctuations, and proper sentence construction.
  • It always yields good results. Reflect on your specific life-changing experiences and events. Collect those memories in your head and narrow down your options to three concepts that best capture who you are. While all of them might demonstrate your personality, pick the one that you believe has enough details to carry a story on.
  • Feel free to use a writing style that you are comfortable with; just make sure it is appropriate for your subject or topic. Stick to it to make your tone consistent throughout your narrative or argument.

Step 4: Write Your College Application Essay

Now that you’ve taken the basic rules of writing to heart, you can ease yourself into the actual writing process. Writing isn’t for everybody, but there are steps you can take to write an essay so good it become your golden ticket to your college of choice.

  1. Understand the essay prompt or question. Take all the time you have and let the instructions really sink in. From start to end, your essay should follow the instructions to the letter.
  2. Define the goal you are trying to accomplish and see that it fits your prompt. There are colleges that suggest topics of focus and ask essay questions that can be personal or trivial. Choose to be challenged and write something that will spark your creativity and provide insight.
  3. Develop an outline. While you know exactly what you want to say, you may not be sure about how to convey your idea and tell your story. Breaking down your essay into a few sections makes it a lot easier: introduction, body, and conclusion.
  4. Never underestimate the power of a rough draft! Based on the outline you’ve planned on, keep an eye on the essay instructions as you tell your story.
  5. Start off with a strong paragraph. Open your essay with a question, a dialogue, or an anecdote as long as they are appropriate. You can use humor where it can work! This way, you grab your reader’s attention from the very beginning and engage them further as your story develops. When you immediately capture the interest of your reader, they are likely to finish it.
  6. Keep your essay specific and focused on you—your feelings, your ideas, your opinions, your situation. Let your idea flow and be consistent with your topic. This is a proven strategy to keep your readers—the committee of college admission officials—interested.
  7. Be creative but honest. It may be tempting to use clichés and exaggerated examples but go easy on them. Include only details that are only absolutely necessary. Remember that admission officials would want to read facts to find out about who you are.
  8. Ask for feedback and make some changes—but be yourself. You have opportunities to show your initial work to your friends, family, and teachers. Consider what they are saying and make the necessary changes but do not lose your voice while at it. If your edited version reads like someone else’s story, it’s time to re-evaluate your writing style.

Wait! Here are more tips!

  • DO NOT sort through the English class essays you have already done to repurpose topics or ask someone else to write it for you. As the admission committee reads countless of college application essays each day, you can bet they can tell if yours is recycled, plagiarized, or written by someone else. Write what you think the committee wants to hear but be honest about your story.
  • RECOGNIZE that there is a thin line between simply stating your achievements and bragging them. If you’re conscious about it, you can actually be in that appropriate spot between being modest and fbeing ull of yourself. Present your moments of success and grace with confidence but let your experiences speak for themselves. Do not leave a sour taste in the mouth of the admission committee members who are reading your essay.

 Step 5: Learn to Handle Your Topic Well

Talking about an experience you’ve had sounds easy. Putting your story into writing for readers who, in one way or another, decide your fate as a college student is a completely different story. When handling a topic for your college application essay, remember these tips:

  • If you’re talking about a trip to a different country that had a profound effect on you, remember not to write like you would a travelogue. Write about the experiences, their effect on you, and their meaning in your life. The college admission committee is not interested in the magnificent places where you plan to retire.
  • If your essay talks about someone whom you look up to and has a positive influence on you, make sure you narrate your story in a personal and specific way—without being overly sentimental. Focus on the details instead of letting your emotions run the show.
  • Did you have a terrible injury that disrupted your activities and caused you to lose hope at some point? Reflect on how this experience affected you. Talk about how you overcame the challenge instead of simply describing how difficult it was.

Step 6: Check and recheck.

Think you’re done? Chances are, not quite.

The littlest mistake could give the impression of carelessness on your part. It can ruin your entire essay and even cost you your chances of getting in your college. Make sure to check and recheck. Here are some things you can do:

  1. Proofreading is a no-brainer. Don’t depend entirely on computers for grammar or spelling check. Remember that the lack of human element in a computer program makes it unable to comprehend the context of statements. Re-read your essay and make the changes right at the moment you spot issues.
  2. Have someone else read your work. Other people’s opinion, such as those from your trusted friends, family, or academic adviser, might be helpful. Some people might also find issues you are unable to see.
  3. Read the essay backwards. Studies say that when reading something sequentially, your brain tends to piece together information that, in fact, isn’t actually there. Reading backwards helps you spot missing words or typos.
  4. Read your work out loud. It’s different when you “hear” what you’re writing. It increases your chances of finding issues that should be addressed, such as awkward or unnecessary sentences.
  5. Recheck your sentences for consistency. Switching to and from different tenses in writing your essay can easily confuse your reader. If you are to tell a compelling story, your timeline plays a key role and helps establish your situation.

There’s no point in rushing and risking an unimpressive college application essay. Reread your work and actively look for potential issues. Do some terms need to be changed? Is your paragraph unnecessarily lengthy? Are you saying empty words?

Wait! Here are more tips!

Writing your college application essay certainly takes time and effort. You have every right to feel accomplished when you’ve completed yours. However, before submitting your essay, be sure to consider these key points:

  • Does your essay answer all questions and follow all instructions? Pay attention to recommended length.
  • Are you confident in your grammar, punctuation, and spelling? A sloppy mistake can give the impression that you are not taking the essay (and your application!) seriously.
  • Is your piece neatly typed?
  • Are all your facts correct?
  • Did you provide pertinent dates or places that support your story or argument?
  • Does the essay contain complete and concise, as opposed to confusing, information?

When you submit your essay, never make the mistake of addressing it to a different name from a different college other than the one you are seeking admission in. Keep copies of the documents you send to each of the schools and keep track. Follow up on the colleges to ascertain that they received your essay. Who wants their hard work to go to waste? Definitely not you—a promising future college student!

Yes, Your College Application Essay Can Get You In!

Will a carefully crafted, honest, and interesting college application essay successfully get you in your college of choice? The answer is YES. Your college essay is certainly powerful enough to raise your chances.

blonde-hair-blur-daylight-214574Your college application essay may not exactly be the central focus in college admissions. However, it can well be the defining piece that, when good enough, can possibly thin the line between a denial and an acceptance—and lead to the latter.

Best of luck to you!

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