THE BLOG
02/21/2014 10:58 am ET | Updated Apr 23, 2014

What Makes a Great College Essay

A great college essay is more than a good story. Students should ask themselves some
questions before writing and while proofreading any rough drafts.

Which character attributes should shine through?
Ability to work with others? Adaptability? Independence? Maturity?
All of these work -- it's okay also to be less than perfect as we all are just that.

What topics give the student something good to write about?
Work or volunteer experiences? Academic achievement? Overseas travel? Family life? These are good but too general -- isolate an event or one experience. Don't repeat what is evident elsewhere on the application

What happens to those applicants who don't seem to have the experiences to draw from? Writing about small daily occurrences can produce excellent essays.

Here are tips for writing an excellent college admissions essay:

1) Make yourself shine within your own story: It's important that you don't repeat what has already been stated on your activity resume, but you should highlight your accomplishments in your essay -- weave them into your story. Reveal your personality and perhaps your future goals in your writing.

2) Be humble but don't be modest: Don't underestimate yourself in any way and be proud and secure in who you are. Sincerely describe your most impressive accomplishments but don't overdo it.

3) Be confident in your statements: It's important to write as though you deserve gaining acceptance. Present yourself as unique with specific skills and passion.

4) Use personal stories: You really own your essay in this way and no one else can tell your story; this is what makes you unique.

5) Write descriptively: Engage the reader and be specific about your experience. If writing a memorable story about a ride in the car and what you saw, have that reader sitting there with you. A good story is priceless and you will catch attention in this way. Use powerful imagery and personal anecdotes whenever you can. Leave readers with a lasting impression and it will serve you well come decision time!

DOS & DON'TS in college essay writing:

DO

  • Use personal detail: show, don't tell.
  • Be concise.
  • Vary sentence structure and use transitions.
  • Use active voice verbs.
  • Answer the question and follow directions.
  • Seek a few opinions.
  • Stay focused as you have a limited word count.
  • Revise, revise, revise and proofread.

DON'T

  • Write chronologically -- it can be boring.
  • Thesaurus-ize: don't write what you think admission officers want to hear or use language that is not your own.
  • State a point of view without backing it up with details and examples.
  • Repeat what is listed on your activity resume.
  • Use slang.

Your character is the hardest thing for admission officers to measure. The essay is your chance to reveal who you are -- your passions, values, authenticity and sincerity. Be yourself!

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