College application deadlines are rapidly approaching. Whether you use the Common App or go directly to the schools, there is usually an essay requirement. Most students anticipate this activity with dread, but some see it as a great opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Think about what you want to write, gather input from others, take a deep breath and begin. Here are a few tips to help you ace the essay portion of the college application process:
1. Show Your Uniqueness: Admissions counselors are reading hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of essays. Make yours the essay that causes them to think, “Interesting point.” There are hundreds of students who are having very similar high school experiences to yours. Try to personalize yours just a little, inject a bit of humor, or show its impact on you. Which do you think would be more interesting to read – “How I learned to pluck a chicken and save the world” or “My mission trip to Honduras”?
2. Avoid Generalities: Try not to blather on about all the wonderful teachers, counselors and relatives who have impacted your life. Instead focus on one specific incident and show how that had an impact on you. Something like “One exhausting fishing trip that taught me the true meaning of perseverance” is likely to raise an eyebrow or two.
3. Make New Points About Yourself: If there is room elsewhere on the essay for extracurricular activities, don’t waste time in your essay reinforcing the same information. Use this opportunity to take a different approach, even for a negative situation – maybe something like “How losing by 25 points taught me the importance of teamwork.”
4. You’re Not Trying to Get Sympathy: You’re trying to get admitted to college. Sure you’ve had a tough life, but so have a lot of other kids. How have your experiences impacted you in a way that will benefit you and the college you attend? Any life story can be turned around, as demonstrated by the homeless girl who got accepted to Harvard.
5. It’s About You: Don’t try to tell the admissions officers that attending their highly-ranked college will be good for you; they already know that. Tell them how taking their science classes will enable you to study something of interest, or how their semester abroad program is going to make a difference in your life. Study the school, find a reason why you really want to attend, and then tell them about it.
Other areas of the application are really short essay questions in disguise. Don’t get lazy and use one word answers when you have an opportunity to expound. Always proofread your work and ask somebody else to check it for you, too.
For help finding a way to pay for the college you’ve worked so hard to apply to, contact a professional College Financial Aid Advisor. Contact College Financial Aid Advisors (CFAA) or visit my About.com website, Paying for College.