Tip-Off: Get Up Close and Personal for a Great Essay


If your college application were a body, your admissions essay would be the face. The essay is your chance to distinguish yourself from other prospective students with a similar bone structure (GPA, academic course history, test scores, etc). As you think about your appearance, remember that you are writing for an audience:  the college admissions officers. They have posed a question and they are looking for a well-formed answer colored by your personality and voice.

Now that you know your essay is an up close shot of your personality, take a moment and identify your angle. Don't just copy and paste the same essay into each college application. Remember, this is a personal communication between you and a unique college admissions department. Pay very close attention to how individual schools phrase the essay question(s), this is the biggest hint that you are going to get! They are reading for a thorough answer with follow-through examples of real life experiences.

Common college essay questions:

Significant Experience- College admissions officers want you to identify an experience that demonstrates your "real life" ability to learn and grow. Be specific and tell a complete story:

What led up to the opportunity/event (set the scene)
What happened (describe main characters namely yourself and event)
What you learned/how you grew (outcome).

Important Issue- College admissions officers are asking you to take a position and think through an issue. Here is your chance to show that you can develop a stance and remain tolerant of the opposing view. It is important to briefly identify the issue and supporting facts then discuss possible viewpoints. Own your viewpoint and recognize any compelling, opposing arguments with rational reasons for why you disagree or only agree in part.

Hint: You may want to steer clear of volatile, high profile social issues that everyone else is likely to discuss. Choose an aspect of an issue that you can own and try to avoid universal issues that may lead to fatal universal statements! 

EssayEdge, a division of Peterson's, provides an excellent essay guide. Just remember that the sample essay structures with fill-in blanks are just that: examples! This is not a Mad-Lib exercise; it is your chance to show your unique face to the people who have the power to accept or deny your application.


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