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Get Some Expert Advice: Application Writing for College Admissions

October 09, 2015 - Posted toWriting

Content application writing for college admissions x essays

Get Some Expert Advice: Application Writing for College Admissions

It’s just another essay, right? No, it’s not. Too many students assume that the essay portion of the college admission process is just an exercise to show that they have good grammar and composition skills. They thus write essays with very mediocre content – essays that don’t really say much, that don’t engage the reader, and that are, quite frankly, just boring pieces that no one cares to read. Here’s the real truth about college application essay writing. It is a big factor in admissions decisions when students are pretty comparable in all other qualifications. That essay can be the deciding factor in these instances. So, do you want to take the chance that you are so much more qualified in other areas that you’ll just be accepted even though your essay is just mediocre? Probably not. When you apply to college, every piece in your application packet must be stellar, and that includes your essay.

The Process for Crafting the Exceptional Application Essay

There are actually two types of applications for college admissions – the “Common Application” which is used by most state schools and many private universities, and the specific application packets that many schools develop for themselves. So you may find yourself completing far more than just one application and writing far more than just one essay, as you go through the application process. No matter how many essays you write, however, the process will be the same.


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A Word of Caution: Do not skip any of these steps.

Start Early

You should have some idea by your junior year in high school of the colleges you are considering. If those colleges do not use the “Common Application,” then it is your job at this point to get on that college’s website, and learn how to apply. In most all instances there will be an application packet that you can request right there on the site. Do it. It will either be mailed to you or, very often now, you can download it right from the site. What you really want is the application essay prompts, so print those out, be sure you put the name of the college on that printout, and start a file folder – yes an actual physical file folder that you will be adding things to later.

The “Common Application” has its essay prompts online for everyone. Just Google “common application essay prompts” and you’ll have them. Do the same thing with these.

You are going to start working on your essays right now, because that is the first step in ensuring that yours will be the best those committees will read.

Study the Prompts Carefully

One of the biggest mistakes students make is not making sure they understand the prompts and, even if they do, writing an essay that really does not target that prompt specifically – bad idea. Read every prompt very carefully and then re-write it in your own words. If you can do that successfully then you really understand it. Have your English teacher read the prompt and your version and verify that you are on the right track.

Start Making Notes

The best idea here is to carry a physical spiral notebook with you while you are at school and have it handy when you are at home too. Every time something comes to mind that relates to a prompt, write it down – it may be a childhood experience, a person who impacted your thinking or beliefs, a leadership role you had – anything that relates. Tear off the sheet of paper and throw it in the file for that application.

If you are out somewhere and you think of something make a note of it in your phone – email it to yourself, or, if you have a good app for notes and reminders, get it down. You can print it out later and throw it in the right folder.

Start the Writing Process the Summer Before Your Senior Year

Review all of the prompts from which you can choose, look through all of those notes in that file, and make your essay topic selection. When you have some “down time,” make an outline of what you will cover in your essay and the order in which you will cover each point. Nothing fancy here – just get your thoughts organized for those body paragraphs.

We all have times when writing comes easier, and, if you are not pressed for time, you can wait for those moments to happen. Then, you can start writing those body paragraphs and re-writing them as the mood “strikes.” You see, time is on your side when you start early and you can really massage what you say and how you say it.

Look at Some “Winning” Essays

You’ll find these all over the web – essays that were so well-written they have been published as examples. Study them for style, vocabulary and structure. They will give you good ideas for your own style and structure. You will see, for example, that you can add humor if it is appropriate, that you can recount really disastrous experiences, and that you can write about your emotional responses to events and circumstances.

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Fall is Time for Refinement

If you do not have a trusted English teacher at school who is willing to coach you and provide suggestions, then find someone who can play that role for you. Whoever you choose must be an expert in grammar and composition. The other helper you may want is someone who is really creative. This can be a friend or a relative, and their English skills are not important. You want some suggestions for adding creativity to your writing – unique ways of saying things.

Focus on the Introduction Above All

You have only a few second really to grab full attention of your reader. This is accomplished by a totally compelling and creative title, and a beginning that is so interesting or shocking that any reader is engaged immediately and really wants to move forward. If you have studied the “winning” essays, you will see that they all have this single component. If you can put together a “winning” title and first few sentences, then find someone who can. This is just too important

Review and Edit Many Times

You don’t want to “beat a horse to death” here, but you do want to make sure that there is absolutely no error of any kind in this essay. Have several people read it for style and content; have an English teacher read it for structure, grammar and mechanics.

Writing that application essay is a long process – longer than for any other essay you have ever written before. But the stakes are higher than ever before too. It’s not just a grade at stake here – it is your future.