In 150 words, tell us your life story. *Cue writer’s block.
The essay section of college applications is undoubtedly daunting for most. It demands a self-reflective sort of expression that is both genuine and polished—a tough balance to strike in so few words. But essay writing can also be the most rewarding part of the application process. Why? Because it often leads to greater self-awareness as you’re forced to intentionally dig to the root of your passion for biology, your aspiration to become fluent in French, or your conviction that faith and freedom matter.
No matter the topic, the essay is a great chance to convince the gatekeepers that you’re the right fit for their institution. Sure—GPA, SAT, ACT, and ABCDEFG are all important ducks to have in a row. But much like an admissions interview, the essay provides you a platform to go deeper than those facts and figures, which don’t necessarily speak for themselves.
As you face the task of putting yourself into words, here are some tips to pull off an A-grade essay, summed up in three C’s. You must be clear, concise, and compelling.
1. To be CLEAR…
- Find out what the question is asking and answer the prompt directly, meeting the required length in word count as closely as possible.
- Put yourself in the shoes of your readers. Could anyone pick up your essay and understand what you’re getting at? Never assume.
- Make it easy for readers to navigate through your thoughts. Use smooth transitions to help guide readers along from point to point.
- As you write, periodically go back to the beginning and get a running start to see what will naturally flow into the next sentence. If your thoughts seem choppy in writing, talk them through out loud and then capture them on paper.
- When you hit writer’s block, shut it down and come back later. A fresh mind can do wonders. Speaking of later, give yourself enough time—don’t try to finish it all in one night. Allow yourself a week or two to think, outline, write, and edit.
- Get feedback from others along the way, and don’t click “submit” until you’ve wrung your essay dry of grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors.
2. To be CONCISE…
- Figure out what you want to say before trying to figure out how you want to say it. Eloquence is lovely, but eloquence without substance is fluff, so think through your content carefully before pulling out the ornamental language. Thesauraus.com can wait.
- Choose your words wisely. Use strong verbs and modifiers that accurately and descriptively capture the image you’re trying to paint, but avoid using big words just to sound more impressive.
- Whether the required word count is 50 or 500, it’s always better to say something in fewer words than too many. To be succinct, cut out unnecessary adverbs, prepositional phrases, and auxiliary verbs that don’t enhance the essay.
- For a generic example, a sentence that reads: “I am hoping to pursue the thing about which I undoubtedly have the most excitement…” is more concisely put: “I hope to pursue what excites me.”
3. To be COMPELLING…
- Think outside the box! There is hardly ever one right answer to a college essay prompt, and originality makes you stand out. Tell your readers something they haven’t already heard in the 3,000 other essays.
- Share something about yourself that isn’t already evident in your other application materials, or shed some light on a feature of your resume that’s just dripping with tell me more! Show off your ability to engage with content in a way that’s unique and memorable.
- Use concrete examples and anecdotes over abstract generalizations. For example, tell us a story that proves you are the leader you say you are. Stories bring you to life!
- Craft your essay—don’t just cram your thoughts into the provided space.
- Have a gripping beginning that invites readers to keep reading, and a killer ending that brings the essay full circle with new understanding.
- Vary sentence length and sentence openers by using different parts of speech to introduce each thought. This helps to avoid monotony as you create rhythm and balance.
- Strike a tone that is genuine, and be sure to balance confidence with humility.
In other words…
Be yourself. You are ultimately the object of our evaluation—not your trip to Australia or your opinion of Wednesday. Take advantage of the opportunity to explore within as you seek to sell yourself, and don’t let writer’s block get you down. Just keep at it, and know that in exchange for a little knuckle grease and some digging to find the right words, you may in return receive these long-awaited words: “Congratulations! You’ve been accepted to Grove City College.”