Writing Your College Application Essay

My role as a college admissions professional includes answering lots of questions related to the college search process. Questions often revolve around majors and minors, general curriculum requirements, student activities and organizations, and residential life. The most common line of questioning, however, usually relates to the application process itself. Questions such as: Do you accept the Common Application? How many teacher references do you require? Can my school send test scores along with my transcript? And, last but not least, what should be included in my application essay?

This last question seems to cause some applicants a great deal of stress, so let me share a couple of quick observations. Believe it or not, for many institutions the essay is simply used as a way to get to know the student, rather than for actual admission purposes. While some colleges and universities view the student’s writing sample as a key factor in their decision to accept or deny, a significant number of institutions use it as a glimpse into the individual’s interests, passions, and personality. Trust me when I say this: it’s the highlight of my job to build relationships with the students I serve, and reading an essay allows me to gauge the applicant’s interests and how I might best be of assistance throughout the college search process.

It’s with these observations in mind that I offer the following suggestions when writing your college admissions essay:

  1. Be yourself. Write about topics meaningful to you as opposed to topics you think would be appealing to colleges and universities. There’s nothing more challenging than writing about something in which you have no interest.
  2. Be original. Over the years I have literally read thousands of admissions essays, and I can still remember specific details of writing samples I reviewed 10 or even 15 years ago. This isn’t due to my stellar memory”•I often can’t remember where I parked my car on campus”•but rather the ability of students to pique my interest through the creativity of their words.
  3. Be concise. While admissions counselors and directors do love to read essays, be mindful that we are typically reading hundreds, if not thousands, of essays each year. Some colleges and universities have word count limits, others don’t, but I assure you they all appreciate interesting, concise writing samples.
  4. Be thorough. You’ve taken the time to write a creative, interesting, and thoughtful essay”•now go back and read it again to catch blatant spelling and grammatical errors. Nothing catches the eye of an admissions professional more than a misspelled word.

Have fun. This is your opportunity to show colleges and universities who you are. Show them your personality. Share with them the amazing talents and abilities you will add to their campus community. Don’t be afraid to be profound or humorous, as I can assure you those are the essays people will remember 15 years later.