Streamlining the College Essay Writing Process

The college application can be one of the most daunting tasks for a prospective college student. Having worked as an admissions counselor, I have read many application essays that made their way to my desk. In light of that experience, I want to share three important tips that will help you craft a well-written, standout essay.

Honestly answer the question

Most applications have an essay prompt. Some colleges will ask you to choose one prompt from multiple options, and others will ask you to answer multiple prompts or questions. Whatever the case, always answer the question asked. To do this, ensure that you understand the question being asked before you answer. If you are not entirely sure about what is being asked, reach out to a teacher or mentor and ask for assistance in helping you clarify the prompt. If the question has two parts, remember to answer both parts. Students often do not properly read the question that is asked, or they only answer a portion of the question. Crucially, when you do begin to answer the question, be honest. Admissions counselors do not want to read what you think they want to hear. They want to hear your words, your thoughts, and your voice. The college application essay provides an opportunity for admissions counselors to get a sense of who you are beyond your transcript and test scores. Don’t waste it by not being true to yourself. If the essay asks you to name a historical figure whom you’d like to eat dinner with, answer truthfully. It does not matter whether that person is your great-great-grandmother or Abraham Lincoln. What matters is your ability to clearly communicate why you chose the person you did.

Get a second opinion

Often, when we read our own writing over and over again, we miss mistakes. These mistakes may be as small as a typo, but can include grammatical errors or a conceptual miscommunications. For this reason, you should have a second set of eyes look at your essays before you submit your applications. A teacher who is familiar with your work, a mentor, or a supportive parent would be a great person to aid in the editing and proofreading process. Be considerate of your proofreader’s time, and have copies of your essay draft done a number of weeks before the deadline. This will allow your proofreader time to read and provide feedback; it will also give you the opportunity to edit and rewrite. Now, to be clear, a proofreader should not be writing or rewriting your essay. The essay should still reflect your voice, experience, and vocabulary level. That said, getting external input can help you make your own writing stronger.

Work smarter, not harder

A lot of essay questions are very similar; they may not be exactly identical, but the elements will be comparable. It might prove beneficial to ready two or three essays that answer common questions. Work on sharpening and polishing those essays. When you begin filling out applications, see if one of your stock essays relates to the questions provided. Pick the essay closest to the prompt, and revamp the parts that may not pertain to that particular question. This strategy will not only cut down the number of essays you will have to write, but it will also reduce the editing you will have to endure, as your collection of stock essays will already have been heavily edited. While you are sure to encounter questions for which none of your essays correspond — and in those instances, you will have to work on a new pieces of writing — crafting a set of stock essays will reduce the overall amount of essay writing and refining that you have to do during application season.

Applying to college can be stressful, but it can also be exhilarating. Colleges and universities want strong students — and they also want well-rounded students. The application essay gives admissions counselors insight into the person behind the GPA and resume. Make sure that you put ample time and effort into writing and editing your essay, and you will be well on your way to a seamless application experience.