College Application Essay Hacks You Need to Know
This is honestly my favorite time of year - college application season! I have the privilege of working with many bright students who have exciting futures ahead of them. I learn all about what makes these students tick and help them find colleges that perfectly fit their personalities as well as their parameters. But what I love most about the process is helping them write the essays.
Of course, if you've already finished your applications, I can still help you with a one-time review. I'll go over all your essays with a fine-toothed comb and share my advice on making it awesome! But today, I want to tell you some of the tips and tricks I use to help aspiring college students write amazing application essays.
The essay is one of the most important parts of the application. It's the only part where a student gets to express their holistic selves, separate from numbers and lists, and counts significantly more than interviews. Admissions officers have such little information about students, and such a short time to read each application, that having an amazing essay has become extremely important.
The college application essay can be daunting for many people, but for me, it represents a chance to help a student truly reflect on who they are, what they've learned, and how they approach the everyday challenges of life.
Our first meeting is all about brainstorming ideas. I probe students' minds, searching for a golden nugget of an experience - one that captures the essence of who they are, and one that we can expand into an awesome narrative.
Tip #1: Go for one small idea, not many big ones.
Admissions officers don't want to read an essay that is, in essence, just a list of accomplishments or activities in paragraph format. They have read your application already. The essay is a chance to tell a story that isn't easily gleaned from a resume.
Tip #2: Tell them something they didn't already know.
I'm working with a student right now who was an elite gymnast. Her resume lists many championship titles and even a stint as a Junior Olympian. What it doesn't show is why she decided to stop at the end of her sophomore year, despite all her successes. The story we are telling isn't about the thrill of winning, but about being true to yourself.
Tip #3: Focus on emotional growth.
Once we get through the first and second uber-rough drafts and have solidified the theme and structure of the essay, it's time to start polishing. The writing process isn't a one-and-done affair. It's messy, it's frustrating, and nothing ever sounds right the first few times you get it out - for everyone involved. A lot of what I do is encourage students to keep writing and push through their fears of imperfection. If you ever eavesdrop on us, you'll probably hear me saying something along the lines of "well this isn't that great, which is awesome!!" The fact that this is an arduous artistic process makes it that much more important to start early too.
Tip #4: Expect that it will be terrible at first. It doesn't matter! Keep writing.
While we're in polishing mode, all the focus is on word choice and sentence structure. We cut out or mesh together anything repetitive or obvious. We add in sensory details and possibly some dialogue. We lengthen or shorten sentences. Most importantly, we add in more emotion. After all, the story is all about the student and their personal journey. It has to be about their inner experience as much as outer.
Tip #5: Be as detailed and concretely specific as possible.
Finally, once we've combed through it a thousand times, double checking that every comma and preposition is grammatically correct, we get to sit back and let out an excited sigh. We're done!
The best part of all of this isn't the essay though, it's how by writing this story, students realize and honor new and exciting perspectives on themselves. They've learned more about what makes them valuable and gained another level of confidence. Students leave this process feeling renewed and ready for the biggest challenge yet to come - college! And for me, it's an amazing feeling being able to help a young adult begin their journey.
If your child, or someone's you know, is going to need help with their applications, we're always here to help them!
Executive Director & Head Coach
Student Coaching Services