The Dos and Don’ts of College Essays

College essays are an essential step in applying for college, and the most common area where students make mistakes. While college essays are definitely not rocket science, they cause students a large amount of stress and can be an important factor in whether a student is accepted or not accepted to a college. Here are dos and don’ts students should consider when writing their college essays.

1. The college essay is not a resume

Don’t use your college essay as a chance to regurgitate the same information from your application. Admission officers want to read something that gives them another point of view about you. It’s an opportunity to dig a little deeper and give them more. Rather than embellishing on your high school track experience that you already listed on your application, write about something that shows more thought. Have you had an experience in high school that has impacted you? Have your views ever been challenge by a teacher or their coursework? If so, how did you handle that situation and what was the outcome? You don’t need to have something earth shattering, but give admissions something thoughtful.

2. Show a knowledge of the college

When writing about specific things pertaining to the college, use details you have learned through campus visits or your own research. It shows your demonstrated interest in the school and that you did a little of your own research. You can share this knowledge by mentioning specific classes, professors, places of interest, things happening on campus or in the community. Colleges want to admit students who are more likely to enroll, and showing them this knowledge will send the right message.

3. Don’t tell them what YOU THINK they want to hear

Many students get caught in the trap of writing about things they believe the admission officers want to hear. Don’t use big words and talk about important topics you think will impress. Use the essay as a chance to stand out in other ways, whether it is by revealing something important about your background as a person and a student.

4. Don’t copy and paste

If you have multiple essays to complete, make sure you don’t send the same essay to more than one school. Your message needs to be tailored to the school you are applying for. It’s not appropriate to tell your second choice that you want to attend their school because it’s largely known for rocket science if that is really what your top choice school is known for. Admission officers are going to notice if the message is not tailored for their school.

5. Don’t try to hard

Using complex language and sentence structure will make you sound intelligent, but is it really you? Don’t get lost in trying to impress and lose your own voice. Write with a true voice rather than the voice you think will impress.

6. Spellcheck is not perfect

Don’t rely on spellcheck to find every error. While it’s important to use spellcheck to find common mistakes, you need to read and re-read for errors. It’s also a good idea to read your essay aloud. You will avoid skimming over your words and will catch more mistakes when you hear it aloud.

7. Address the prompt

Sometimes students get so lost in creating the perfect essay that they lose sight of connecting their writing to the actual prompt. While most prompts allow for students to have a free reign on what they write, it’s still important for the essay to address the prompt clearly.

8. Give yourself enough time

Procrastination is never a good idea and definitely not with college essays either. Give yourself plenty of time to plan and write your essay, along with time to read and make an necessary changes. Not allowing for plenty of time leads to rushed essays with forced language and unclear messages. You need time to brainstorm before even beginning to write, and it’s important to write multiple drafts. Consider your final goal and how important this one step is to accomplishing that goal.

9. Seek feedback

Your college counselors are always willing to help and give feedback. However, it’s important to give them time to do so (back to tip number 7 here!). Schedule a time to go over your essay list with a counselor and ask for feedback. They can provide insight that will improve your essays.

College essays are an important part of the college application process, so plenty of thought and time should be put into their creation. Keep in mind that admission officers read so many of these essays, that it’s going to be obvious if your essay is rushed, regurgitated material that you are sending to every school. After all, this is your future, so make every word count.

Do you need help with your College Essay? Optimum Ed can help! Call us today at 800-457-1364 or send us a message.


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