Aside from grades, standardized test scores, and your high school courses, one of the most important elements of the college application is the essay. While the Common Application and the Universal Application each have a required essay, many colleges include their own school-specific essays, known as writing supplements.
Supplemental essays give admissions officers the chance to get to know students, and they’re also great gauges for demonstrated interest. So how can students master college admission essays?
Tell Admissions Officers Something They Don’t Already Know
Admissions officers want to get to know applicants. There’s only so much that application readers can deduce from your extracurricular activities, transcripts, test scores, recommendation letters, and other application materials. Many times the best way to get a clear picture of a student’s goals, accomplishments, and character is to hear it directly from the student him or herself.
Don’t use the essay to regurgitate the information that’s already available – reveal something that can’t be found anywhere else in the application. For example, if captain of the school’s soccer team is on the activity list, don’t write an essay about the biggest game of the season. The admissions officers already know soccer is an interest, so choose a deeper topic that reveals something meaningful.
One example: A student’s top activity on her activity list was horseback riding. Instead of writing an essay about riding, she instead wrote about her faith and how she reconciled that with what she was learning in her advanced science courses.
Approaching “Quirky” Essay Prompts
It’s a college admissions trend that keeps growing in popularity: The quirky college application essay question. From questions about “YOLO” and spiders, to inquiries about how students would design their own courses, many colleges are asking applicants some strange questions. For many students, these wild and wacky application prompts can be extremely intimidating. Many struggle with the balance between writing creative, witty responses and sounding cheesy and forced. If you’re unsure about how your essay could come across to admissions officers, it’s not too late for our team of expert counselors to review your supplements and give guidance on how to draft and revise your essays.
When tackling these odd application essay prompts, remember the main goal of the admissions essay – to reveal something not obvious about yourself. These essays are about you, not what you think the college wants to hear, so keep your interests in mind!
The same applies to the “short-take” supplement questions, those that seek a one-word or one-sentence response. Dig deep, but remember that your answer doesn’t have to be as strange as the prompt – it just needs to reflect your character and passions.
For example: USC asks, “What’s the greatest invention of all time?” A student who was passionate about photography once answered the daguerreotype – the first photographic process to come into widespread use.
The Common “Why This College?” Essay
One of the most common supplemental essays that students will come across is the infamous “Why This College?” essay. Whether it’s simply “Why XX University?” or a more specific question about how a student plans to contribute to the campus, colleges are looking for detailed and well-researched responses.
It’s not enough to say, “I want to go to XX University because it’s a great school.” Or “XX College is my favorite.” When evaluating these responses, colleges wants to know that a student has done his or her homework on the institution and has really thought about how he or she will fit into the campus community. If supplemental essays are good gauges for demonstrated interest, this particular type of essay is the most important.
When answering this essay question, use specific details. Mention courses and professors of interest. Students should elaborate on campus organizations or programs that fit certain goals, and specific aspects of the campus community that make it a good social and academic fit. Be as detailed as possible, but be sure to relate these details to specific goals and interests. Don’t just rattle off some course names and expect to wow the admissions committee.
The best writing supplements will add great context and personality to a student’s application, and elevate his or her chances of admission. Often it can be the difference between the ‘no’ and the ‘maybe’ pile. Research and preparation is key to writing stand-out supplements, so don’t wait until the last minute!
Copyright IvyWise, LLC ©2014
Unlike every other aspect of the application, you control your essay. Make sure that the glimpse you give the admission committee into your character, background, and writing ability is the very best possible. Here are seven tips to help you focus and make the most of your application essay.
In our experience, the main worry that applicants have is that their essay won’t stand out. This is a legitimate concern as you will likely compete with numerous applicants who have backgrounds similar to yours. Therefore, follow these tips to ensure that your essay shines in the competitive admissions process.
1. Analyze the prompt thoroughly
Take three minutes to think about the prompt. If needed, divide the prompt into phrases and look at each aspect. Why would the admissions officers ask this prompt? What do you think they want to know? How does that information relate to your ability to excel in college? Next, leave the prompt for a while and then return to it. Do you see something new?
With so many other things in your schedule, this process can initially seem like a waste of time. However, it will save you a lot of time in the long run. If you later realize that you misread the prompt, you might need to start the writing process from scratch.
2. Organize your writing
Like the first item, this isn’t something that should take a lot of time. This is another step that can initially seem completely skippable, but organizing your writing can save you considerable stress and frustration. A good writing plan can streamline or even eliminate the need to do any significant rewrites.
Brainstorm your anecdotes. Create a rough outline, including approximately how long each paragraph needs to be in order to complete the essay within the word count limits. Finally, figure out when you’re going to write. A paragraph a day? The whole thing next weekend? Creating a schedule, even if you need to modify it later, gets your brain in motion.
3. Show instead of telling
When selecting anecdotes for your essay, pick vivid ones that you can tell succinctly. If a story would require 450 words of a 600 word essay, then you’re not going to have a lot of space to express self-reflection and analysis of the situation. Remember that the admissions officers are more interested in your perspective of what happened than the events themselves.
In addition, keep in mind that the admissions officers don’t know you personally, and that’s why they’re reading your essay. They want to get to know you, and the essay is your first introduction. Because of this, don’t tell them that you’re passionate about public service. Show them through strong examples. Help the admissions officers envision each example as if they’re experiencing the situation alongside you.
4. Know your vocab
Your admissions essay should reflect command of college-level vocabulary. One of the most common mistakes that we see in essays is using advanced vocabulary almost correctly. Even among synonyms, there are shades of meaning. If you’re using a thesaurus, look online for examples of that word in action. Will it still fit into your sentence?
Avoid overdoing it. Advanced vocabulary should be the spice of the essay to give it flavor, so you’ll use plain language most of the time. Essays that are riddled with advanced vocabulary can seem pompous or even inadvertently comical to the reader.
5. Write succinctly
Can you say what you need to say in fewer words? Can you substitute an advanced vocabulary word for a phrase? Writing concisely expresses to the admissions officers that can organize your thoughts and that you respect their time.
6. Combine like ideas into more sophisticated sentence structures
The vast majority of the sentences in your essay should be compound, complex, or a combination of both (compound-complex sentences). Save simple sentences for instances when you need to create impact.
7. Seek qualified second opinions
You should absolutely ask others to take a look at your essay before you submit it. As we work on things, we become blind to mistakes that will be glaringly apparent to others. However, limit the number of people you ask to two or three. Asking too many people for feedback will only confuse you and result in a lower quality essay as you revise the essay according to each person’s advice. Therefore, look to individuals who have background and expertise in the college admissions process.
Wait, don't go!
Sign up today and get exclusive tips and get a head start on your college experience! It’s our gift to you.