College Essays: A How-to Guide

So you’re trying’ to write those college essays, eh? Not too long ago (okay, so it’s been about a year), I was in your exact position, pondering “a time in my life where failure bolstered my character” or some variation of Common App prompt, and freaking out about how the heck I was going to show these colleges who I was if I wasn’t even sure. It felt like the essays had to be the literary embodiment of my soul, the most important thing I’d ever write, and that my future depended on them. And if you want to get riled up, then yah, I guess to some degree, they do. But don’t worry. I’ve got some tips for you to keep the pressure low.

They are as follows:

  1. Just write. To begin, don’t get caught up in the little things- grammar, spelling, coherence of thought- just do a brain dump of any ideas you have pertaining to the prompt. You can always tie things back later. It may even be helpful to time yourself and write it out by hand (typing always slows me down). Tell yourself not to stop writing for say, 10 minutes, and just see what you get. Sometimes the best, most real ideas come out in these types of environments. That brings me to my next tip.
  2. Be honest. Instead of writing about what you think colleges want to hear, write about what you think! It’s easy to tell if you’re excited about something or if it’s real and true. Honest sentiment is always the best way to show colleges who you are and what you care about and get them engaged too.
  3. Be specific. Try to find a single event or memory that meant a lot to you or sticks out in your mind. Use that as a jumping off point for showing your personality in application rather than theory. It’s always easier and more effective to use evidence and examples to prove a point (that you’re well qualified and deserve to be there) than to mess around with abstract ideas.
  4. Be you. Don’t try to change your voice into something it’s not. I think there’s a misconception about college essays having to be somewhat formal, but I feel like the opposite is true. Admission officers want to hear your voice, however that may sound. Try and be as genuine as possible and don’t be afraid to get creative. Add humor. Play with formatting. It will all help portray who you are on paper, which is a hard thing to do.
  5. Don’t stress. For real- don’t worry. Make sure you have ample time to think out and write your essays so you don’t feel rushed and can take your time and just enjoy the process. Provided it doesn’t become a race against the clock, I think the process of writing personal essays is really rewarding and important. I personally learned a lot about myself and what I want, and created some work I was really proud of. Try not to think of it as a chore- it will be if you make it one- rather an adventure. Good luck!!

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