Tips for writing college essays

Jade Ajileye

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Richard Mendiola
In addition to standardized testing scores, grades and other information such as extracurricular activities, students must also submit responses to personal essay questions in their college applications for certain universities.

Stressed about writing college essays? Here are a few guidelines for crafting the perfect essay:

Openers
Openers are key. Your beginning should capture the attention and interest of the reader. The best way to do this could be using a unique quote, including a short story, making a joke, or if none of those are your thing, keep it simple and straightforward.

Think of it as you on the page
The best essay is one that is so personal that it could not have been written by, or about, anyone else. Someone should be able to pick your essay up off the ground in a crowded venue and know it belongs to you. A lot of colleges don’t conduct face-to-face interviews so this is your one chance to make yourself known to the admissions officers. Don’t repeat what’s already on your application. This is your time to show the application reader who you are, what drives you, and what you’re passionate about.

Details
Adjectives are powerful and help to personalize an essay. Details also improve mundane essays. Dialogue is a way to include detail in your statements and describing your surroundings, your feelings, and the people around you are definitely helpful. Make sure to focus on answering why and how instead of only what. Admissions readers want to know why you do the things you do and how it affects you.

Quality over quantity
A college essay is not a paper for an English class, and therefore, it is not judged by the same criteria as an English paper is. The key to a successful essay and one that would make the biggest difference in the application process is content. “A good example of a very interesting essay I once read was written by a baseball player,” Linda Zimring, member of the College Counselors Advisory Groups said. “While most essays about athletics talk about teamwork and organization and time management, this essay focused on the physics of pitching a baseball. It was a topic I had never seen and an interesting approach for an athlete.”

Skip the gimmicks and keep it simple
The best essays don’t have crazy fonts or are styled into intricate designs, the best essays are often about nothing extraordinary. “An honest introspective essay gives the reader a good picture of who you are as a person and as a student,” Zimring said. Exceptional essays often start off very simple and are seemingly about something small. Students have written about buying shampoo, why they like drinking sparkling water, biting their nails, and even about the various shoes they have. This is an example of “tip of the iceberg” writing. The surface topic isn’t what the essay really is about, it’s just an occasion for reflection. Use a small topic to talk about a larger issue.

Tell a story
Students should try to write about less common topics or use a less common approach. Don’t just mention an event, tell the reader about it. Use anecdotes, strong verbs, and illustrate your story to make it real. The reader should feel like they were there and not have to fill in the blanks for themselves. If you’re writing about an organization you took part in, don’t use acronyms and assume the reader knows what you’re talking about. Make sure it’s your story. You can write a riveting and moving essay about a friend or family member, but the board of admissions are not admitting them, they’re admitting you.

Be open
Don’t hold back and try to write your statements the way you think they want you too. Admission essay readers are trying to scope your personality along with how well you write so it is okay to branch out. Be vulnerable, be quirky, be ironic– be you. Remember that the purpose of these essays is to get to know the applicant as a person, instead of admitting students based solely on factors such as extracurriculars, standardized test scores, or GPA.