Writing a college admissions essay shouldn’t be viewed as an obstacle to acceptance at the university of your choice. It’s actually a great opportunity for you to stand out! And best of all, you have complete control over how you present yourself. Your college entrance essay can help the reader go beyond the numbers and get a more complete picture of who you are as a person!
In the University of St. Thomas Admissions Office, we read every admissions essay. Our college admissions counselors are excited to learn about each student’s thoughts, opinions, goals and outlook on life. As the writer, you have the power to speak directly to your admissions counselor or committee. As you craft your essay, here are some admissions essay tips to keep in mind:
How to start a college application essay: Keep your writing focused
To ensure you are effectively answering the essay prompt, begin by reading and understanding it. (Side note: this will also demonstrate your ability to read and follow directions.) Reading the admissions essay prompt may seem a bit obvious, but the obvious can sometimes be easily overlooked. By clearly understanding the essay prompt, you’re on the path to a standout essay submission!
Although most college essay topics offer room for creativity, you can’t forget to actually address the essay prompt.
As an admissions counselor, I read hundreds of essays attempting to cover every extracurricular activity or accomplishment in a student’s life. I get it, it’s tempting to try and squeeze your entire life story into a single admissions essay. However, the challenge at hand is to present a select number of ideas skillfully rather than offering an overwhelming narrative.
Try to write about a single subject that reveals many of your top qualities. For example, you can elaborate on one activity, project or experience. By offering details and clearly articulating the importance of your subject, you can define who you are as a student.
If you play soccer, write about how the sport challenged you and gave you skills to use on the field and in the classroom. While this is not your only activity, it can highlight your strengths while keeping your essay concise. If you want to highlight all of your accomplishments, include them in a well-written resume.
Get creative…the best college admissions essays have a voice!
A creative voice can also help your college admissions essay stand out. You can define your creative angle by using humor, unexpected stories or analogies in your writing. I’ve seen students write essays in the form of plays. One student even wrote her essay similar to the open scene of “Amelie.” If you’d rather stick to a more traditional writing style, try taking a new approach to the prompt. Even something simple like “why do you want to attend UST?” can be full of inspiration if you’re willing to look for it.
Rather than focusing on the obvious answer “I want to come because I love this school,” try something that stands out more: “I want to challenge myself by taking theology and philosophy classes.”
Give your essay a mission statement!
Use the essay to communicate a message that your application can’t. The essay is an opportunity to distinguish yourself from other applicants by using clear examples, not merely repeating what’s already on your application. Your writing should answer these questions:
- What else should I know about you?
- What are you known for?
- How can you define who you are?
If you’re a senior applying for college, we know you’ve been involved in high school activities but what did these experiences lead to? We want to understand how they shaped you as an individual.
If you haven’t already, start working on a mission statement. This is your thesis statement, your brand and the difference between being the student who wants to go to school at UST, and being the student who will be successful at UST.
Proofread! Avoid Typos in You’re Admissions Essay
(Yes, we made that grammatical mistake on purpose!)
When we write, we can easily overlook mistakes that are visible to others. Find a second reader to review your essay and provide feedback. Lean on individuals who are familiar with essay writing and the college admissions process as well as people you can depend on for honest feedback about your ideas and grammar.
You can also show your college admissions essay to people who know you well, such as family members or teachers. Ask them to confirm if the admissions essay is a clear reflection of who you are. And ask them to identify any mistakes. All writers need a second set of eyes (or more, like this blog which had three editors). It’s not a sign of bad writing, but a common practice that starts now and will follow you through your college career.
In the application process, I often hear “I am ready to apply; I am just waiting on my essay.” Don’t let this task hold back your application. The best place to start is by reading through these steps and writing something, anything, down on paper. This process is called “freewriting;” don’t stop until you’ve written for 15 minutes straight. Now, get up, get something to drink and check your phone before you sit back down. Then repeat these steps again! And don’t forget to reach out to your admissions counselors for questions; we’re here to help guide you through the process.