How to Nail Your College Essay

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As you begin to gather information and applications for the colleges and universities you are considering attending you’ll start to notice that most of them require an essay in addition to the application itself. While nearly 700 colleges across the US utilize the Common Application and its several essay prompts as part of their application process, many schools still choose to use their own private application and essay. So, the first part of writing a stellar admissions essay lies in reading the actual requirements and prompts for the essay itself.

Most schools will dictate a word count for the length of the essay, but a general guideline is that your essay should be at least 250 words, but less than 650 unless otherwise specified. Some schools will assign a strict word count such as no more, or less, than 450 words, so again, be sure you adhere to the instructions. FYI, the Common Application essay requires all submissions to be less than 650 words.

Next, whenever possible, choose a prompt that interests you. Don’t choose a topic just because you think the admissions board would want you to choose it. It is common knowledge that it’s easier to write about something you enjoy than trying to pound out 500 words on a topic you are unfamiliar with. The prompts are there for a reason so use them to your advantage – all higher learning institutions know that their potential students will come from a variety of backgrounds and regions and will have varied interests. The prompts are designed to cater to that fact and offer everyone an equal opportunity to shine.

Grammar, spell-check, and formatting all matter. While the first two items in that last sentence might sound like common sense, it’s amazing how many people don’t take the time to proofread and edit their essays. In today’s technological age, there is no excuse for errors related to poor grammar or spelling. Free tools such as Grammarly make it easy to identify and fix even the most troublesome of grammatical errors.

Most application essays will be submitted within a space in the online application or within a designated page of a paper application if applying via hard copy. Even though you won’t have to worry about the formatting of margins and other settings on these submissions, proper essay construction is important. Just like you learned to do with all those essays during your primary education, begin with an introduction stating what your essay will be about. Then, let the body explain your position and support your introduction, and close with a summary. Once more, thoroughly reviewing the essay prompts, instructions, and requirements helps to make sure you get it right.

Write your essay early, and then re-write it. Composing your essay at the beginning of your application process affords you the opportunity to conduct any necessary research and gather supporting information. It also gives you the time to let it “stew” for a period after writing it, and then edit it with fresh eyes. Waiting until 48 hours before the application deadline to craft your essay is setting yourself up for undue stress and possibly non-selection if it is poorly written.

Finally, before you submit your application and essay, have an adult (or two) that you trust read it to give you some feedback on things you might have missed. Parents, teachers, coaches, and guidance counselors all make great proofreaders and editors. Your essay could be the one thing that sets your application apart from all the others a college receives, so putting the extra effort into making it the best it can be by having a person you respect review it is in your best interest.

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