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Writing College Essays: 7 Tips With An Emphasis on the 'Writing' Part

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Flickr: Tobias von der Haar
Flickr: Tobias von der Haar

So, we've brainstormed potential ideas and picked our topics, two of the hardest parts of the writing the perfect personal statement. But, perhaps the hardest part is next: the writing.

Writing a personal statement for college applications is one of the most complicated things you have to do in life and, like most of those things, you will want to blow it off until the possible last second. However, writing a personalized personal statement for college applications is perhaps one of the most rewarding things to do, and, like most rewarding feats in life, it will take time and persistence.

Before anyone goes into a stress-induced coma, it's beneficial to keep the end product in mind. You want something that captures your emotions and bottles your thoughts into an Aladdin mantle lamp to hand to the admissions officer, and your writing is the strongest way to land in the heart of your readers.

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1. As I've told many, many seniors, the best advice I ever received was from an admissions officer at Bowdoin College: If you're meticulously planning out every phrase and each transition, you're doing it wrong. You should not force the words onto Word (pun), nor should you be sketching out the 'perfect essay.' It needs to come naturally, with personal anecdotes and connections.

2.  Reel in your reader with a catchy phrase. You want something interesting, but not too controversial. The first sentence in my personal statement contained the word "naked," but also the phrases "sat between two pieces of bread." (Are you curious yet?)

3. To personalize your essay, make comparisons. Everyone loves metaphors and similies. They are the brushstrokes to Van Gogh's Starry Night. First, a metaphor is a comparison of two unlike things that help make a visual picture. A simile is similar, but they use the words "like" or "as." For instance, fish and ice cream aren't alike, but if the ice cream was expired, you could say it tasted like rotten fish.

How could you use an extended metaphor in your essay? The following is a sentence from my supplement to Brown University. "I'm essentially a seed planted in a pot too small. For a majority of my life, I've lived in the same location in the state of sunny Florida, but, like a growing flower, I need to be replanted within a larger pot that will ensure the extension of my roots, leaves, and experience." Instantaneously, you picture someone who has been in one place for too long. Or you picture me in a flowerpot, wearing leaves and a green stem.

4. Using metaphors and similes, make connections to your personal life. Sure, the comparison of fish-tasting ice cream might be good, but how about taking it a step further. Perhaps the expired ice cream smelt like the rotten fish you used to catch with your great grandfather before he passed away. In an essay about an art project I completed, I compared my charcoal-black hands to the bottom of my mother's burnt Thanksgiving rolls.

5. While you're conjuring up metaphors and referencing similes, don't worry about the word count (at least not yet). It's far easier to take out the unnecessary redundants and cliche phrases, rather than improvising them.

6. Forego any fears of contractions and commas. Someone asked me if contractions were forbidden from college essays and I had to tell them that colleges don't really care. It comes down to your tone and personal voice -- do you normally speak out every word in your sentence? Perhaps when you're giving a speech or presentation, but "don't," "can't," and "should've" are common phrases in everyone's vocab (even though the last one isn't a real word).

To see the last tip, read the full article at The Collegiate Blog, the only college admissions blog run by college students. Be sure to follow The Collegiate Blog on Twitter for more updates: @The_Collegiate.

If you're still stumped on writing your personal statement, ask your questions in the comment box for more help!