It’s crunch time for high school seniors as many college application deadlines loom. College admission and scholarship application essay prompts might make you feel like a contestant in some nightmarish pageant. “In 500 words or less, describe yourself, your future goals, and your plans to make the world a better place.” Why do college admissions departments and scholarship foundations
even require an essay? After all, they have your grades, test scores, and
letters of recommendation from teachers. Why make it more complicated?
While working for several years as an admissions officer in the Honors College at the University of Florida, I recognized that students' grades and standardized test scores do not always tell the whole story. Admissions officers want a balanced picture of you. The essay is the only personal part of your application, and your opportunity to create a compelling case for why you’re a great candidate for that school.
Consider these 5 tips before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to create an essay that makes a great first impression.
- Remember your reader. Neither friend nor foe, admissions officers and scholarship coordinators would like to get to know you better, but they have little time to muddle through convoluted writing. They must read hundreds, or even thousands of essays. Many applicants will have high GPA’s and SAT scores, volunteer in a local organization, or be the president of a club or captain of a sports team. Admissions officers are looking for something, anything, to distinguish your essay from the pile. You need to grab your reader’s attention and hold it. How do you do this?
- Write what only YOU can write. Your essay should sound like
you. If it were read aloud among thousands, your best friend or mom could
say, “That’s Joe’s essay!” Admissions and scholarship officers recognize
that grades and scores do not tell the whole story. Your essay should not
be merely a writing sample or laundry list of your achievements, but a small
slice of YOU. How do you accomplish this?
- Show, don't tell. Be specific, using vivid details to paint a picture for the reader. Instead of writing, “I led my soccer team to a state championship,” describe the winning game, including the sights, sounds, and sweat. Avoid passive verbs like “I am,” or “I was” and use powerful, active language to convey your ideas.
- Start strong. Write an intriguing first line. Dive right in to the heart of your story. So many students I work with as an editor and essay coach wait until the middle of their essay to get to the heart beat, the fire, the riveting moment. Don’t make that mistake! Create a captivating first line or two to hook your reader's interest, and then follow up in the body with a compelling story.
- Use a fresh set of eyes. Ask a friend, parent, guidance counselor, boss, someone else to read your essay before submitting it, and not only to check for the usual suspects like spelling and punctuation errors. Ask, “Does this sound like me? Is it interesting?”
For more great writing tips, and sample essays check out my site at www.essaylady.com. I have edited essays for students who gained undergraduate admission to Duke, Cornell, Stetson, the University of Florida, Florida State University, Princeton, Harvard, Georgia Tech and many, many others. I’m dedicated to making the world a better place, one essay at a time!