College admission essay is the single part of the application process over which you have complete control. It’s your time to shine and dazzle the admission board with your writing talent, outstanding style, and captivating life lessons. Instead, you feel anxious and put off writing for weeks and months to hurry through it in a couple of nights and hope for the best. This strategy is unlikely to get you into your dream school, so today we offer you another approach to dealing with the much-feared admission essay.
Whether you craft an undergraduate or an MBA admission essay, our advice won’t go amiss. We’ve gathered it over the years of working with applicants to the best American universities. If you still have questions or need extra assistance by the end of this post, contact our support team for help.
How to Write a College Admission Essay
While in some ways college admission papers are unique, in others they are very similar to multiple essays you’ve written in abundance over the years. The writing process starts long before you open a blank file and lasts long after you’ve typed the last period. Here’s our algorithm for crafting extraordinary admission essays:
- Learn more about the college of your choice. Concentrate on primary research areas, mission, values, notable alumni. Keep this information in mind when brainstorming, outlining, writing, and editing the essay.
- Read and understand the prompt if it is available. Highlight the keywords and rephrase the prompt to ensure you have grasped its meaning. One mistake at this stage can turn your paper into an unfortunate misunderstanding, so pay attention. If you are not sure about the prompt, contact the college or consult your high school admission counselor.
- Brainstorm ideas for your essay. We’ll share three efficient ways in the next section. Plan to spend at least a week on brainstorming. It’s a crucial step you should never miss, as its results will lay the foundation for your essay.
- Outline the plot of your story. You can shorten the introduction and conclusion and jump straight into the climax of the story. However, the plan will help you stay on track. Browse our list of common admission essay mistakes to avoid before you outline.
- Write the essay. With a great idea and a plan in mind, writing should be quick and easy. You can type different parts separately, starting with the easiest ones, and combine them later.
- Edit the paper. Keep your eyes open for redundancies, ramblings, and repetitions. Delete all unnecessary waste and add more substance. Fill each word and sentence with meaning and weight.
- Proofread. Start with specialized software or web applications, like Grammarly, and move on to manual proofreading. Read the paper backward or out loud to catch typos, missing articles, and commas. For the final round of proofreading, find a willing teacher or friend with a good command of English.
- Format. Once you are happy with the substance of the essay, take care of its form. Review essay requirements and format the paper accordingly. Since you write about yourself, there is no need for references.
Brainstorm Essay Topics
Even if your college of choice provides an essay prompt, coming up with a good idea to prove your leadership qualities or a transforming experience can be a struggle. Admission coaches advise three brainstorming techniques that return outstanding results:
- Identify your personality type. Use an online tool or service. We recommend 16personalities.com, as it provides detailed profiles for all personality types. The test takes under 12 minutes, and the results are surprisingly accurate. You might realize things about your character you have never articulated before. Choose two or three of the most prominent features and consider the times in your life when they shined. Select one of these events as a topic for your admission essay.
- Conduct a 3-word survey. Ask your parents, siblings, friends, and teachers (up to 5 people) to name 3 words that describe your personality best. Group the results into broader categories and repeat the final steps of the previous technique by recalling the events that illustrate each of the qualities and selecting one to write about.
- Free-write. Whether or not you have an admission essay prompt, freewriting will help you get your creative juices flowing and generate original ideas. Set the number of sessions and their length before you start and wait until after the last exercise to reread and analyze the text.
Take Your Essay to the Next Level
Once you organize your ideas and draft the first iteration of your paper, you might notice it lacks something the greatest admission essay examples possess. To take your writing to the next level, consider three layers of outstanding applications:
- Facts. Listing the facts that prove your ambition and academic success is the most intuitive and straightforward approach students take. However, admission officers get the pertinent facts about you from your school records and CV. Listing your achievements and habits is not enough.
- Story. Going from a list of accomplishments to the stories behind them is a step in the right direction. However, every good story should have a moral, and in your case, it’s the change or lesson you have learned.
- Change. The goal of your admission essay is to let the board know you personally, intimately. The changes that occur in you during the pivotal moments of your life are the ultimate level of application writing. Whichever story you tell, ask yourself, which insights you gained or how it changed your life, outlook, or priorities.
Avoid Common Admission Essay Mistakes
If you find it easier to learn from mistakes instead of following success strategies, this list will make your day. We’ve collected the common pet peeves admission officers of the best universities share. If you want to stay on their good side, DON’T:
- State your best qualities explicitly. If you have to spell it out, it’s probably not true. Describe your experience in a soup kitchen to demonstrate your care for the less fortunate people. Explain how you get up at 5AM to practice violin if you value determination and self-organization. Let the admission officers come to a conclusion about your character, don’t spoon feed it to them.
- Generalize your experience. Be precise and state what happened and how it influenced you instead of waxing poetic. The more details and vivid imagery you add to your story, the more it will stand out. Few schools would consider the applicant who “had a unique camping experience”, but most would be happy to accept a student who “survived on candy bars and chewing gum for three days”.
- Focus your story on another person. Talking about the influence your grandmother or uncle had on your childhood is appropriate if you remember to keep yourself as the main character and the focus of the story. Otherwise, the admission officers might be more willing to accept the hero of your essay instead of you.
- Avoid emotional aspects. The admission board will learn the facts of your academic life from your records and CV, so your essay should be passionate, rather than rational. For every event, explain how it made you feel and why it had such a substantial impact on your life. HOW and WHY are always more critical in admission essays than WHAT.
- Cram too much into one paper. Admission essay has a word limit for a reason. It’s a test to boil down your life to 500 or 750 words. Instead of squeezing the highlights of the last decade into one essay, choose one event, one character trait or person to discuss. Let it be a lens through which your personality shines.
- Put form over substance. To grab the board’s attention, students experiment with font styles, sizes, and shapes. This makes the paper outstanding because it is hard to read. However, the substance is much more important than form. Instead of wasting your time on making the essay visually appealing, work on your idea, style, and grammar.
- Overuse a thesaurus. Complicated word choice won’t make you seem erudite, as in most cases you will misuse the rarely used terms in the context of your paper, making it evident you don’t actually know their true meaning. To make the paper stand out, work on your writing tone and voice. It should be simple and conversational, similar to the way you speak. Admission essays are not research papers or academic articles, so you don’t have to adhere to the formal style.
- Ramble without an endgame in mind. Every good story should have a moral, and your essay is no exception. If you describe an event, explain its significance to you. Without the last part, your admission paper will turn into a boring narrative.
- Get stuck on college admission essay examples. Successful papers are a great way to get inspired unless you endlessly scroll through them without writing your essay. Moreover, seeing excellent writing examples might get you discouraged or tempt you to use others’ ideas in your paper. Instead of reading all available samples, set a limit at 5 or 10 essays. Afterward, it’s time to tell your story.
- Repeat the prompt. The word limit works against you in this case. There is no need for drawn-out introductions and lengthy conclusions. Jump straight in and tell your story, sum it up with a couple of sentences. Make each word count without repeating the same thoughts or rephrasing the prompt.
- Follow all English rules. Your English teacher is not on the admission board, so you can relax a little and write the way you like. You can use contractions and split infinitives. No one will reject your application because of a conjunction at the start of the sentence or a preposition at its end. Your favorite authors ignore these fussy rules, and so can you.
- Rely on cliches. It’s your essay, so the admission officers want to see your thoughts and ideas, not recycled phrases that have already lost all meaning. Follow Orwell’s advice and avoid metaphors and similes you often notice in print.
Admission Essay Topics and Samples
Universities usually provide a prompt for applicants, but some let students choose the college admission essay topic. Whichever theme you select, keep yourself as the focus of the paper. It should allow the admission officers know you and decide whether you will be a good fit for their school. Here are some of the most popular topics to jumpstart your imagination:
- List the reasons you apply to this college or university.
- Describe the person in your life that has the most influence on you.
- Explain what made you reread your favorite book over and over.
- What is the most meaningful extracurricular activity you have taken part in?
- Tell a story that supports your outstanding leadership skills.
- What inspired you to choose your major?
- Describe your career goals after graduation.
- What are you curious about?
- Demonstrate personal growth through an example.
- How do you challenge stereotypes and outdated beliefs?
If the list of topics is not enough for you, and you need college admission essay examples about yourself, we’ve prepared several great samples, courtesy of Johns Hopkins University.
PaperCoach to the Rescue
Writing an admission essay is a complicated, time-consuming task. Moreover, it requires a vivid imagination, writing talent, and enough free time for brainstorming, outlining, editing. In case you are out of time and need an admission essay urgently, contact PaperCoach. Our team of professional academic writers is always on standby for this type of emergencies.
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