Although I’ve always loved to write, I remember the dread I felt when faced with writing my college essays. For many students, the stakes feel high and there’s no clear roadmap. It’s the only part of the application in which you can express your personality— and thus become a real person in the eyes of the admission person reading your essay. So, how do you make it work for you? Read on to see my top four tips on writing a winning college essay and gaining admission to your top schools.
Choose the Right Topic
Think of your essay as a place to show who you are, rather than merely reviewing what you’ve done. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. “I wrote about my interest in fashion as a male student in a very monotonously dressed high school,” said Julien Adveney, now a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. “For me, fashion was a way of communicating and expressing myself during high school and writing about it allowed me to show a huge part of who I am… that they could have never seen by just looking at my grades and test scores.”
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts,” says Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird, a book on the writing process. “You need to start somewhere.” Even if you’re feeling blocked, dive in. Write something. Anything. It’s easier to work with words on a page than it is to stare at an intimidatingly blank one. Most importantly, start the writing process early to give yourself time for plenty of revisions. Then share it with everyone whose opinion you value. Friends, parents, favorite teachers — all of these people know you the best and will have valuable criticism. Just be sure to give them ample time to respond with thoughtful comments.
The best essays walk a tightrope: It’s important to be humble, and yet being too modest about your accomplishments is also a miss. “Your essay provides a voice and personality to the application,” says Kevin O’Sullivan, executive director of admissions at Sacred Heart University, “It’s your interview on paper.” He adds that if an admissions committee is not able to afford students the opportunity to interview in person, this is it, so don’t hold back. Let your admissions audience know what you have to offer.
Some of the strongest essays are on seemingly random topics. — like this funny and endearing one about a student’s experience as a Ben & Jerry’s scooper. Take a few minutes to do a brain dump on your best stories, even the mildly embarrassing ones, and then get to work. It can help you find the perfect center to your essay and allow you to showcase your best attributes in action.
This article was originally published on TeenVogue.com.