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How to Impress Admissions Counselors with Application Essays

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The college application process can be very frustrating, and one reason you may find it so frustrating is the essay section. As a high school student applying to schools, I know the feeling. The planning. The organizing. The time. It may all seem like an unsatisfying, inescapable reality. However, even though the essays are unavoidable, they can be the best part of an application. The written portion of the process is where your personality should shine, so you want to showcase it in the best way possible. If you're ready to impress admissions counselors with your writing keep these tips in mind:

1. Follow the Instructions

This is perhaps the most important tip. Your essay isn’t worth anything if it doesn’t answer the question at hand. In addition to the topic or question, the instructions may also provide useful information such as the word count. Most schools won’t read essays that are above the maximum or below the minimum word count, so pay special attention. These details can save or shatter your essay. 

2. Organize Your Writing

Whenever you’re writing, you should structure your essay in a way that shows a clear progression of ideas. This makes it easy to understand because there is a clear flow. Writing in a chronological order might be the best organizational approach to your essay, depending on the prompt.  

3. Write What Matters to You

Colleges are looking for diverse student bodies; therefore, within each essay, they are looking for something that distinguishes every applicant. With essays, it is important to write about something that captivates you. According to U.S. News, you want to choose a prompt that “gives you an abundance of material to talk about.” Always ask what you are passionate about, and don’t stop there. Go deeper into your passion and unveil something about your obsession that truly identifies you. 

4. Don’t Be Someone You’re Not

Writing exercises are a way to bring your creativity to life, not someone else’s. As Oscar Wilde famously stated, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” Remember, colleges don’t want everyone, they want students with authentic personalities that stand out.

5. Anecdotes, Anecdotes, Anecdotes

One of the ways to make your essays personal is through anecdotes. Anecdotes are your personal experiences that can make or break your essay. “College essays with anecdotes tend to be the most engaging,” U.S. News reports. “They advise college applicants to reminisce about their most meaningful experiences.” There is nothing wrong with including an anecdote, in fact, include them in every essay. However, what can break your essay is what you do with the anecdote. Don’t just include it to tell a story. Develop that story into something more which answers the essay question. 

6. What Doesn’t the Application Capture?

Your application is very number-heavy with grades, test scores and community service hours. Numbers only prove your value in one category, but words can do the same in multiple, and the essay is the place to do that. Not only does it prove your writing skills, but provide personality. Johns Hopkins University Undergraduate Admissions Dean Ellen Kim advises, “It’s not the topic that has to be unique; it’s what you say that has to be unique.” In your essay, make sure to write about something that your application doesn’t reveal. 

7. Be specific

Each sentence should be specific. That means including details because those seemingly little parts of your essay could be the highlight of your whole application. Specificity also boils down to the description. For example, if your essay consists of anecdotes, provide descriptive details highlighting your experience. How you describe your experience can be one of the most distinctive qualities of your essay.  

8. Proofread and Edit


When you think you’re done writing, you usually aren’t done writing. There are always edits to be made. You will always want to proofread your writing and edit for conciseness by restructuring or deleting wordy sentences. 

9. Get Feedback

Oftentimes the best way to edit your essay is to have someone else look over it. If a peer, teacher, or parent reads over your work, they will notice things you may have overlooked. This is why it never hurts to get another pair of eyes or two on your essay. 

10. Personal Growth

Many colleges require an essay focused on personal growth, whether that be spiritual, physical, or mental. If you have this prompt your essay should reflect that. Universities want to see how you have transitioned and how that transition has influenced you. Your individual growth will be distinctive if you truly expand on it and its effect. 
 
Have any tips or ideas on how to strengthen college admissions essays? Share them with us in the comments below!
SOUL REPORTER | Shelby Wingate is a rising senior at Whitefield Academy in Mableton, Georgia. The extremely competitive athlete plays basketball and runs track for her school. While she does love sports, Shelby uses her competitive nature to excel in academics and will apply that same drive when she attends college to major in Journalism or Communications and minor in French.