8 Tips for Nailing Your College Application Essay

Classrooms Team

Nov 13, 2020
writing in book

When it comes to winning acceptance into your dream school, you want to do everything correctly when filling out forms. You also want the entrance examiners to read your college application essay and say, “wow.” 

How can you increase your chances of impressing the folks who sit in judgment over your future? Here are eight tips for nailing your college application essay and receiving that coveted acceptance letter. 

1. Read the Prompt

You might think, “Duh, that goes without saying,” but you would be surprised how many students fail to respond to the prompt. Read the question once — then three or four times. Try to rephrase it to check for understanding. 

Another pro-tip is to write for the audience — the entrance examiners. This process entails identifying their unspoken needs and addressing them. What do they want — quality applicants that will perform well in the future and become a credit to their institution.  Therefore, instead of only writing about how you want to succeed, address how your studies will help you better society, and reflect well upon them as a school. 

2. Search for Successful Essays Online 

Many colleges and universities post examples of essays that worked in the past on their websites. Please avail yourself of these resources. 

Ask yourself the following questions as you review the samples:

  • How did the writer address the prompt? Sometimes, you can interpret a prompt in several ways. What direction did successful applicants take it in the past? 
  • How did they organize their essay? Did they write short, to-the-point paragraphs? Did they use a bullet format? APA-style subheadings? 
  • What type of language did they use? Did the successful applicants use a more academic word choice and tone, or did they write conversationally, the way they would in a letter to a friend? 

3. Narrow Your Topic

If you adore writing, you might find yourself pouring your heart out with little rhyme or reason to your stories. While you might entertain, remember, your purpose with a college application essay is to win acceptance. 

Additionally, many college application essays have minimum and maximum word-count requirements. This limitation challenges you to stick to a narrow focus. Start by brainstorming a general idea, and then ask yourself specific questions about it that you want to explore. Finally, transform your idea into a thesis statement. 

For example, imagine the question asks you to describe an event that changed your perspective on the world. You might think, “My trip to Mexico,” as your general topic, then ask yourself how your outlook changed through your adventure. What lessons did you learn? Your thesis could evolve into, “Traveling to a foreign country made me realize that, while people may have different customs, they nevertheless share values such as compassion and love of family.” 

4. Use Figurative Language 

Please try to visualize the following two sentences:

  • The sky was blue and clear. 
  • The sky stretched on like an endless aquamarine sea.  

While both describe a cloudless day, the latter one paints a more vivid portrait in the reader’s mind. It evokes emotion while creating a picture of the same scene described in the first. Strive to incorporate figurative language such as simile, metaphor, and personification, in your college application essay. 

5. Write in Active Voice 

You probably remember from English class that each sentence should have a subject and a verb. When you write in an active voice, that subject takes charge and performs the task. In passive voice, they take a backseat while an outside force acts upon them. 

Take a look at the following two examples:

  • Juan caught the ball: You go on with your bad self, Juan.
  • The ball was caught by Juan: What’s so special about the ball that it required two extra words to say the same thing?

Writing in an active voice creates a faster-paced essay that keeps the reader engaged. It also results in more concise sentences instead of wordy monstrosities that bog down the reader. 

6. Follow All Directions 

Some college application essays have instructions that read like novels. It’s time to get out that trusty highlighter and put your study skills to the test. 

Identify each requirement the entrance examiners ask you to fulfill. Do they want you to include citations from outside sources? If so, what style do they prefer? 

7. Start Early to Provide Revision Time 

You can significantly improve your writing through revision. However, if you don’t leave much time between read-throughs, you miss the opportunity to look at your work with fresh eyes. 

Start on your college application essays well before the submission deadline. Give yourself at least 24 hours between completing your first draft and beginning revision. You’ll stun yourself with how easy it is to revise awkward phrases and catch frequently overlooked errors when you give yourself the objectivity of distance. 

8. Seek a Second Opinion

Finally, seek a second opinion — and possibly a third or fourth. Fresh eyes do more than catch mistakes you miss. They may identify areas of growth potential where you can strengthen content. 

Turn to a trusted parent or politely ask one of your teachers to take a look. If you have the means, use professional tutoring services to have a qualified instructor review your submission. It might cost you a little, but you’ll repay yourself in pride when you receive your acceptance letter. 

Nail Your College Application Essay With These Tips

Your college application essay can have a decided impact on your future. You owe it to yourself to use the above tips for making it the best it can be. 

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