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Writing an Unforgettable College Application Essay: What You Need to Know

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Getting into college requires a lot of steps and information. At a lot of colleges, one of the most important steps is the college application essay. College application essays are one of the chances you have to show colleges who you really are and what you’re really about - and you want your essay to be unforgettable just like you. Not sure how? You’re in luck! Here we’ll walk you through how to write an unforgettable college application essay.

Why Are College Application Essays So Important?

You may be wondering why college application essays are so important. You’ve probably written tons of essays throughout your school career already, so why is there so much weight on this one?

College application essays are important because they showcase something your test scores and grades cant: you! College application essays allow admissions officers to get to know your personality and get a sense of who you are. They set you apart from just being another number and just another application. This is your chance to show colleges that there’s a living, breathing human behind all those scores and data! Collegevine.com discusses some of the importance of college application essays, especially for students who don’t have over-the-top amazing grades and test scores: “If you are a “borderline” candidate, with a good but less-competitive grades and test scores, a strong essay could push you into the admitted pool.”

Large, state schools that admit a lot of students may weigh the college application essay less heavily as they tend to have less time to go through each application in detail. However, this doesn’t mean it’s okay to blow off the essay - it helps add an important edge to your application and you! Smaller colleges and top-tier colleges like Ivy League schools tend to take a different approach with weighting college application essays. Since these colleges receive fewer applications and admit fewer students, they tend to have more time to allocate to reading through applications, and therefore essays, in detail.

Different “Types” of College Application Essays

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Colleges can be predictable sometimes when it comes to figuring out what “type” of essay they’ll ask for on college applications. There are typically three different questions colleges ask:

The “About You” Essay

In the “about you” or “describe yourself” essay, colleges are looking to get to know you better as an applicant and potential student. They want to see how you think about yourself, how you present yourself, and how you can use writing to compose your essay and statement. These may often come in the form of a “personal statement.”

The “Discuss an Issue” Essay

Colleges are looking to see your creativity and deep thinking with the “discuss an issue” essay question. They can also gauge a lot about you and your personality based upon the issue you choose and how you decide to discuss it. And - you guessed it - they also want to see your writing skills!

The “Why Us?” Essay

The “why us” question may come in several forms, but one of the most common is “Explain why we are a good college for you.” With this essay question, colleges can get an overview of your career and education goals. Since it can get confusing, remember - the essay is to showcase you, not to kiss up to the college. With this question, you can of course let the college know how great you think they are, but make sure it’s not overkill!

Getting to Work: The Writing Process

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You’ve undoubtedly written a lot of essays in your education and academic career. You know how these typically go: you have a topic, write an introduction, write a body with supporting facts, and then write a conclusion. When writing your college application essay, you need to throw a lot of what you know regarding traditional essays out the window. Your college application essay encompasses a lot more than just a normal academic essay; you aren’t just showcasing your knowledge about a subject and regurgitating facts, you’re also trying to showcase yourself and bring life to your essay.

Sound like too much pressure? Don’t sweat just yet! Here are steps to follow when writing your college application essay.

Get to Know Your Prompt and Essay Question

What prompt did the college ask you to write about? Did you get the “about you” prompt? Maybe the “why us?” prompt? Make sure you’re familiar with the prompt and know what it’s really asking before you start on writing your content. Take some time to really understand what is being asked of you and what they’d like you to write about. What are they asking? Can you relate? Take your prompt on a first date and get to know it really, really well before you pursue it.

Brainstorm!

Familiar enough with your prompt? Time to put your mind to work again and get brainstorming. How can you relate to your topic? How can you make your topic relate to you? Write down all your possible ideas and make notes about them. Then, try to narrow your options down to three or four of your favorite ideas.

Choose a Topic and Direction

Now that you’ve narrowed down your options, you’ll need to choose a direction. What do you want to write about? Make sure to choose something that can showcase and capture you well, while also being able to still keep the reader engaged. It will also be more helpful if you choose a direction or topic that you can offer a lot of supporting ideas on. You may have a direction in mind that is a great premise, but that you just don’t have a lot of experience with or a lot of supporting ideas - try to separate from that. Choose something you can really develop and show yourself through.

Plan and Outline

You’ve got your direction, but now you need to give it some bones and structure. Start outlining your essay on paper! At its most bare, your essay should have:

  • An introduction
  • A body
  • A conclusion

So, what are you going to include in your introduction, body and conclusion? How are you going to bring your essay to life and fill it out so it isn’t just the bare bones? Will you start your college application essay with a question, an anecdote, or something shocking? Continue from your introduction and add to the body of your essay. Remember, you can rearrange, add to, and delete from these as you please!

Draft Away

Once you have a solid foundation for your college application essay, it’s time to get writing! Create your first draft and remember - it doesn’t have to be (and probably won’t be) perfect all at once. Let your writing flow and get your ideas onto the page. Use your own voice and let your personality shine through - remember, this is about you, not just some academic essay! Be specific and be concise with your ideas.

You may want to complete more than one draft; sometimes completing two or three drafts will help you know what you’d like your finished product to be. Choose your best draft and the draft you’d like to finalize for your official college application essay, and move on to the next step, which is:

Proofreading and Revising (A Few Times)

Proofreading and revising are crucial to the college application essay. To keep things more simple and to keep you from missing anything, try to do this a few times and in a few different steps:

The First Revisions

Pay attention to structural issues in your first revision process. Does the structure of your essay flow smoothly? Does each paragraph connect understandably to the others? Should anything be moved around? That’s what you’ll want to pay attention to in your first go-round of revising.

The Second Revisions

On your next round of revising, look for issues related to sentence structure, grammar, and spelling. Really look through and polish your writing to make sure it looks how you want it to, and that it looks correct!

Read Through Your Essay

Read through your essay several times! This will help you see if you are really getting across what you’d like to get across, and if you’re doing it in the way you’d like. Make sure to read through your essay in your head two or three times, and then, read through it aloud! Giving an actual voice to your words can really help show you how your writing (literally) sounds.

Get Feedback!

Have other people read through your essay to see what they think and if they have any advice to offer about it. Make sure to get feedback from them!

Tips for Making Your Essay the Best It Can Be

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What can you add to your essay to really make it the best it can be?

  • Chill out!
    • Don’t try too hard to impress. Sit back, relax, and let your writing flow.
  • Use your own voice
    • Personalize your college application essay. Make sure you are really letting yourself shine through! Colleges have enough access to textbooks, and don’t need to read personal essays that sound like textbooks too.
  • Write about what you’re passionate about.
  • Don’t just write about your grades, personal accomplishments, or awards.
    • Colleges already have access to all of this information with your application. Use your college application to showcase something they can’t really see through all of those things: your personality!
  • Be authentic!
    • Chances are whoever is reading your essay will be able to tell if you are being genuine and authentic or if you just tried to get the bases covered. Be you, and be real.

Get to Writing Your Unforgettable College Application Essay

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Remember - you’ve got this! Use these helpful steps and tips to get to writing your college application essay. We have no doubt you’ll be able to make it unforgettable - just like you!