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General Tips For Writing an Admissions Essay

The common application personal statement is a 650-word essay that you will submit to all US colleges to which you apply.

Unfortunately, there’s no “formula” for this essay.

If there were, then you’d be able to replicate that formula and get accepted on the merits of your essay alone… as could everyone else.

But while there’s no one right way to write a successful essay, there are an infinite number of wrong ways to approach your personal statement, and you need to avoid them at all costs!

Here are a few tips to help optimise your essay and ensure you stand out from the pool of applicants.

1. Understand The Prompt

Before you even begin to think about writing, you need to analyse the essay “prompt”.

The common app personal statement requires you to choose from five prompts, which are basically starting points for your essay.

Pick the prompt that appeals most to you and start writing!

Most universities will revise these each year, so it’s important to take a look at what has changed – if anything – and what you need to focus on.

Your essay is the best opportunity for you to showcase some of your talents, but it’s also the perfect chance to show your passions, your personality, your willingness to grow, or your ethics.

Make sure you follow the prompt that best allows you to showcase your unique selling point. But don’t let it stop you from being creative and thinking outside the box. You are going to have much more luck if you make the prompt fit you, rather than you trying to fit the prompt.

2. Loosen Up: Get That Flow Happening

Yes, your college application is serious business, but it’s not the time to play it safe.

Remember: you need to stand out, not blend in.

Write about something personal; this could be something you love, something you’re proud of, or a moment in your life that changed you. Loosen up and write about something meaningful to you.

Follow a prompt – like this one from the 2018-19 common application:

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

Let this idea or topic pour out of you.

Demonstrate your passions, how the idea has changed you, why this topic or idea has shaped you as a human.

Go into detail – detail beyond what the lay person would know. Or go into detail about what you don’t know and why this fascinates you.

Your first draft will not be perfect, so don’t get caught up trying to make it so. Just let the words flow onto the paper and spill your guts.

3. Be Honest

If you want your academic essay to be more than just another piece of paper in the sea of applications, then differentiate yourself with honesty.

Don’t just write about your solid grades and strong work ethic during high school – this will go down faster than a lead balloon.

The college essay should paint you as an exciting, innovative, deep-thinking, passionate, and empathetic person with the ability to understand and dissect life situations – showing them to be an asset to campus culture.

Your essay needs to show why that’s you, why you’re different, and what you can offer.

You need to talk about something that impacted your life. A moment, a conversation, a game, a class, an interaction – anything. Just make sure you’re true to yourself.

For example, Crimson CEO Jamie Beaton, who was accepted into five Ivy League colleges, wrote about failing at his first part-time job, while Soumil Singh, now a Harvard student, wrote about a game of cricket.

They didn’t talk about how perfect and amazing they were at school or how impressive their grades were, they wrote about pivotal moments in their life – real moments that meant something to them.

You need to do the same.

Writing about personal, formative experiences are key to a successful essay.

4. Craft a Strong Opening

College admissions officers read through literally thousands of essays each admissions round.

When it comes to standing out, first impressions count!

Don’t wait until the body or conclusion to provide the meat of your essay or show your true colours.

Start off with a bang.

Demand attention.

Give them no other option but to continue reading and grant you admission.

Powerful copywriting isn’t something you’re born with, but it is something you can learn. Professional writers share their tips all the time, some offering simple techniques to give your opening an edge, while others stress the importance of emotive introductions.

Each sentence should build on the last and compel the reader onward.

Good writing is done line by line.

5. Proofread and Then Proofread Again… and Again… and Again…

This tip goes without saying: you must proofread your essay

Not James Joyce, nor Cormac McCarthy, nor Aravind Adiga, nor Sylvia Plath, nor Marlon James, nor Hilary Mantel, nor Hunter S. Thompson, nor any other famous writer or journalist in the history of time has had anything published without a review or an edit.

You are no exception (no offence).

Submitting an academic essay with a typo or incorrect punctuation could spell the end of your college career before it’s even begun.

It immediately signals you have poor attention to detail.

Always get a second pair of eyes someone else to have a look at your admissions essay.

Whatever you do, never submit without reviewing!


What do you think?

Written by Peter Jasmussen

My name is Peter, I am from Denmark, now I live in Canada


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