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College Admissions Essay Success for 2019-2020 Applications

Updated: Jun 10, 2022

The college admissions essay is an essential part of a successful application for several reasons. While academic, extracurricular, test score, and athletic accomplishments create a winning application, the essay stands out as the only opportunity for personal expression beyond the constraints of checking off boxes, answering closed-ended questions, and inputting limited text responses. It also showcases strong skills in writing, critical thinking, and presentation.

A strong, cohesive, interesting, and polished college admissions essay can push a candidate ahead of the competition, making the application stand out due to a unique perspective—a glimpse of the person behind the lists of scores and activities. On the other hand, a weak essay can demote an otherwise stellar college application.

By following the “before,” “during,” and “after” college admissions essay writing pointers listed below, you will be sure to improve the quality of your essay—and entire application. Having a process to follow also simplifies the writing process, eliminating some of the stress and uncertainty most students experience over the essay portion of the application.

Before You Write

  • Get started as soon as possible! Procrastinating adds stress and makes the task seem worse with each passing day

  • Read the essay prompt choices a choose one or two that interest you the most

  • Brainstorm ideas that align with the prompt(s) (make as long of a list as possible at this point; cast a wide net)

  • If none of the prompts interests you more than the others at this point, brainstorm using the prompt that allows “a topic of your choice”

  • If your school of choice does not use The Common Application or the Coalition application, you will have to brainstorm ideas for the specific prompt you are given

  • If you are doing multiple applications, assess all of your essay choices across the applications and choose similar essay prompt choices so you don’t have to write several different essays

  • Next, go over your list and select the most unique, uncommon, and interesting idea(s) you have jotted down; if none of your ideas qualify, think about which idea(s) you can develop into something interesting with a little bit of creativity

  • Start writing about the idea(s) you selected for 10 minutes or so; this is free writing, without a plan, topic, outcome, or concern for proper grammar, usage, sentence structure, organization, word choice, spelling, or punctuation

  • While it is okay to start with something listed on your application (a sport, activity, academic accomplishment, volunteer experience, award, etc.), this will have to be developed in detail with a “show, don’t tell” approach (you will learn more about this in the next section entitled “During Your Writing”)

  • Create a loose outline of what you want to accomplish in each paragraph so your essay will have a progression

During Your Writing

  • Just start writing (you can cut out or add parts later, once you get the general content down)

  • Show, don’t tell (put the reader in the moment with you through “showing” details and emotions; don’t just “tell” what happened)

  • Stay focused on your topic and outline so you don’t veer off track (from the section above, “Before You Write”; if you do veer off track, maybe your essay needs to go someplace else and you have discovered a better topic…go with it, if this is the case!)

  • Make sure your essay has these important parts: a strong lead, one focus throughout, personal perspective, prompt alignment, unique voice, personal passion/character, specific details, and a conclusion that shows personal growth and a lesson learned for future application

  • Make sure your essay is somewhat loosely organized, logical, and easy to follow

  • Don’t worry about word count now

  • Don’t pay attention to proper grammar, usage, sentence structure, organization, word choice, spelling, or punctuation at this point

After You Write

  • Check your word count (cut down or add content as necessary)

  • Make sure you answered the prompt and maintained your focus throughout

  • Check that your essay is logical and easy to follow for the reader

  • Proofread for proper grammar, usage, sentence structure, organization, word choice, spelling, or punctuation

  • Share your essay with others (keep in mind some advice may be well-meaning but wrong; don’t change your essay to be like those your peers wrote)

  • Put the essay aside for a few days, then read it again with fresh eyes; make any revisions you need

  • Proofread it again (see bullet #4 above)!

  • Have a fresh set of eyes proofread it for you

  • Proofread it one last time (remember to use bullet #4)!

  • Relax and submit your essay with confidence!

While other college admissions consultants offer a broad range of financial and school selection advice, our expertise focuses solely on the essay and application portion of the process. In fact, many of our clients come to us after using college admissions consultants with concerns that their essays are not as strong as they could be; usually, our thorough assessments confirm their concerns.

I'm here to assist with the entire college application essay process, from brainstorming, idea selection, and prompt alignment through detailed content development/analysis and final proofreading.

- Christa


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