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Tips for Writing College Essay

Here’s advice from the people who read them!

Does writing a college application essay seem like a daunting task to you? For most people, the answer is a resounding “yes!” However, the essay is also an opportunity for you to show your talents and creativity to their best advantage.

To help you get started, here are some insights on writing an essay from the people who read hundreds of them every year — admission officers at ACM colleges.

The essay is your chance to use your voice

The essay is the living, breathing part of your application to a college. In the essay, you can speak in your own voice and personalize your application. Here’s your opportunity to show something about you that doesn’t really come across elsewhere in your application.

So, step back and be reflective. Think about who you are as an individual. How do you view the world? What do you care about deeply? What experiences and people have been important in shaping you as a person? What are your aspirations in life?

It is in such reflection that you can find your own, unique voice. That’s the voice that will help you write an interesting essay that only you could have written.

Now, on to some nuts and bolts of writing the essay.

Show your command of the basics of good writing

Here are some key points that admission officers look for in an essay:

Make sure to answer the essay question and to follow all the instructions that are given.

Start off with a strong opening paragraph that captures the reader’s interest.

Use a style that you find comfortable and that is appropriate for the subject matter.

Use correct grammar, punctuation and spelling.

Make a point and stick to it; develop your argument or narrative.

Check all of your facts. Do you mention a date, place or event in your essay?

Make sure it’s correct.

Have you given your reader complete information, so he or she won’t be confused?

In general, it’s best to be succinct. If there a recommended length for the essay, pay attention to it.

The essay should be neatly typed.

Remember that mistakes, especially sloppy mistakes, make it look like you

don’t take the essay (and, by extension, the application) very seriously.

What to write about? Where to look for an essay topic

Does the application ask you to choose a topic to write about? There are as many (actually, many more) good topics as there are applicants. Here are some ideas for where you might look for an essay topic:

Do you have hobbies and non-school pursuits that really excite you and that engage your heart and mind? Writing about your out-of-classroom interests could help bring out a part of you that’s not covered— or not covered completely and to your fullest advantage — elsewhere in your application.

Is there a social cause that you hold near and dear? Remember, an essay is not an academic paper; but a cause that you feel passionately about, and that has been in your thoughts and activities, might be the basis for a strong essay.

Perhaps there is an event (local, national or international) that has touched you in a personal way.

Is there an academic subject that really sparks your interest? Why does the subject engage you? Has it led to experiences or study outside of school? There may be essay material that goes beyond the courses you took or scores on AP tests.

How to handle a topic

Often, colleges will ask you, the applicant, to write about an experience you’ve had, an achievement in your life, or someone who has had a significant influence on your life. In handling such a topic — or, for that matter, any topic you select — go beyond the what and dig into the how and why. In other words, don’t settle for simply providing a description of an event. Take the next step and tell about the impact the situation had on you. For example:

This is a personal essay, not a travelogue. So, if you’re writing about a trip to another country, tell about how your experiences effected you, and why they were interesting or meaningful to you. In other words, the people reading the essay are interested in what makes you tick and how you got the way you are, not in how the trains run in Paris.

Are you writing a tribute to your grandparents and their influence on your childhood? Be personal and specific, not just sentimental. Explain how the particular things your grandparents did or said were important to you.

Did you overcome an athletic injury and recover to perform well? A description of the type of cast you wore and your rehab routine is not likely to make a compelling essay. However, your reflections on what it felt like to be watching your teammates, instead of competing alongside them, might be the basis of a memorable essay.

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