College Application Essay Writing Help
intimidating college application essay is becoming increasingly
important for transfer students. Nowadays more transfer essays are
read and considered in the admission decision because admission as a
transfer student implies that you have a major, maybe even a career,
in mind and that you have taken coursework, done internships or
worked in your major field. The college to which you are applying
wants to evaluate your preparedness for that major and your
committment to completing your bachelor's degree in a timely
what should you put in your essay; how should you prepare to present
yourself in writing; and where can you go for help? These pages will
give you some essay writing tips and lead you to other web sites or
resources for more help.
TIPS FOR A GOOD READABLE ESSAY
First some shocking statistics
The admissions department at UC Berkeley will read about 20,000
application essays and Stanford will read about 16,000. Your essay
should be a slice of you on paper. Your essay should not be trite
("I am motivated to succeed") or read like a resume list of your
club and work accomplishments. Below are some tips for writing an
essay that will enhance your application:
Don't be gimmicky or artificial
Every admissions office has a story about receiving an essay
folded into origami, or embossed on a five pound chocolate bar.
These are not amusing at 11 PM after ten hours of essay reading.
Instead, write an essay that sounds like you are talking to a
favorite aunt or uncle. After reading your essay, the committee
member should know something about your personality, your style
and your values. Be careful when using humor. Your sense of humor
may not match that of your reader. The best transfer essays I've
read tell a story that only that writer can tell - about a
personal accomplishment or a personal failure, or about a job or
volunteer opportunity that lead to a major or career decision.
Good essays are always quite personal without being sentimental.
Bragging or inflating your role or accomplishments is usually
ineffective. Having someone else help you too much with your
essay, or even writing it for you, is not a good idea. Some
schools even have acronyms for these essays such as DBD ("Done by
Daddy"). The best essays sound like they were written by someone
your age. They have a 20 - something voice, or a 30 - something
voice that is yours alone. They aren't so polished and smooth that
they read like the work of a pro. After years of practice reading
essays the admissions officers and faculty who make admission
decisions are quite astute in picking out the student voice. Don't
too closely follow the pattern of essays you find on the internet
or in essay books. Use these for inspiration but start with a
completely blank page when you compose your own. I haven't read a
lot of good essays in those books anyway.
Be vivid, have passion
This is no time to write in generalities or in a broad
sweeping style. Instead, use descriptions and adjectives galore.
Tell a story that comes visually alive as well as intellectually
alive. I know that this is not a creative writing assignment, but
in March after an admissions officer has read thousands of essays,
the one that stands out is the one that leaves you with a sense of
place and time. Once at an essay writing seminar, I heard an essay
from Stanford that told the story of a bowling trophy and what it
meant to this person at a young age. It was so descriptive and
evocative of feeling, values and youthful enthusiasm that to this
day I remember it. Also, express your passion in your essay. It
doesn't matter if you are pro-life or pro-choice, a Democrat or an
Independent, the important thing is to have passion about
something and present that in a way that doesn't negate the other
side. Be passionate about your major subject or your career
choice. Tell why you care so much. Show intellectual curiosity and
the desire to learn and grow in that field. Mention particular
faculty at that University you might like to study with. Be
knowledgeable and committed to your passions.
Your essay should read like a short English paper about
yourself. Start with a main idea and cite specific evidence to
support your statement about yourself. A claim about your
transformation into a superior student after languishing in high
school might be proven by telling a specific story about becoming
passionate about literature in your African American Literature
class. Tell the reader what awakened your enthusiasm. Describe
your feelings when you found your career or major goals. Where
were you, did your priorities change? How did this decision affect
those around you? Did you change jobs? Only you can write this
Your essay should have a clear beginning, middle and end.
Coherence is important—don't wander off your topic. Make a clear
point. Edit out sentences that don't support your thesis about
Have your essay edited for misspellings or grammatical errors.
There is no excuse for presenting yourself in a negative light.
Show the essay around for editing.
Avoid the big issues
Instead write about what you know. Your opinions about
apartheid probably aren't nearly as interesting as what you
experienced or learned on your internship working with children in
the cancer ward.
Use the essay to tell the admission readers about:
- Lapses in your education—what were you doing, why didn't you
go straight through college after high school?
- Learning disabilities that have affected your progress—how
have you compensated?
- Any other disabilities—such as illness or physical
disabilities that have made higher education a challenge. Tell
your story of overcoming these hindrances.
- Disadvantages—economic disadvantage, immigrant status or
family losses can make compelling stories if you concentrate on
the positive aspects of overcoming your hardships. Everyone faces
adversity but some are more successful than others in overcoming.
If this is part of your own story, tell it.
This is your chance to fill out your personal story. The reader
is looking to round you out and learn some personal details that
will help them recommend you for admission. Don't make your story
boring and dull. Be personal and lighthearted.
TIMELINE FOR WRITING YOUR ESSAY
- Start freewriting about your essay topic—brainstorm without
- Pick a topic/thesis/statement that addresses the application
- Write a draft and let it sit for a week.
- Go back to edit it. Cut mercilessly.
- Show this draft to your college English teacher, your
counselor, your Transfer Center director, or a relative who will
be brutally honest. Ask this reader if your essay sounds like you,
is interesting to read, wanders off the topic anywhere, and is
vivid and coherent.
- Rewrite it.
- Show it to your readers again.
- Now you probably have something good. Mail it.