The College Essay: Tips from an Admission Counselor!

The College Essay: Tips from an Admission Counselor!

In the competitive landscape of college admissions, the essay is your chance to showcase personality, uniqueness, experiences and aspirations. However, many students struggle with what to write and get stuck in a spiral of rereading and rewriting.

Jasmine Garver
Senior Assistant Director of Admission

shares some essay-writing tips and secrets about what counselors are looking for in the college essay!

What makes a college essay stand out?
It may seem obvious but write in your own voice about something that truly interests you. We can tell when passion comes out in writing, and it will sound better when you’re being authentic and true to yourself. Also, don’t feel like your topic needs to be some groundbreaking or life-altering thing; sometimes the most unexpected topics make the best essays!

What do admission counselors look for in an essay?
We’re looking to learn more about you! This is an opportunity to give us a sense of who you are as a person beyond your application and recommendation letters. We’re also looking to see if you’ve taken the time to build out your idea and fully formalize it in writing.

What should I NOT do in my essay?
Remember that actual people will be reading your essay so keep the language and content appropriate. Also, don’t feel like you need to impress us by adding a bunch of fancy words and unnatural vocabulary; just be yourself!

Will it hurt my chances if I talk about my disability, trauma, mental health, etc.? 
Absolutely not – if you feel like this is an important part of your story, you can write about it. At the end of the day, we’re looking to learn more about what makes you, “YOU.” If this includes extenuating circumstances or personal challenges you wish to share, we welcome the opportunity to create a safe space for you to do so.

Extra tips to keep in mind:

  • Choose a topic (and stick with it!)

    First, it's important to understand what your topic is: are you answering a specific prompt or are you following something open-ended? Once you understand what you're writing about, don't lose sight of the ending. Often we get so lost in the moment of telling our story that we jump around and forget to talk about the outcome: how it changed us, what we learned, etc. When you're writing each paragraph, ask yourself, "does this connect with my main point, topic, or experience I'm hoping to share about? What do I want the admission counselor to learn, think, or know about me after reading this?"

  • Don't procrastinate!

    Read the prompts thoroughly and start by jotting down some topics and ideas. Try outlining your ideas to see which ones have the most potential to become a full essay. This will make writing your essay even easier and ensure that your ideas are fully developed. The more time you allow yourself between each step, the better your essay will be in the end.

  • Pay attention to formatting

    Instead of one big block of text, try breaking up your essay into a few paragraphs so that it’s easier to read and your thoughts come across clearly. Write a couple of drafts if you can and have someone review them for spacing, grammar, spelling and clarity. Reading it outloud to yourself or someone else can also help make sure your writing flows. (PS: and if you're using an essay you wrote in English class, don't forget to remove that header for Mrs. Smith!)

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