How To Write A Great Admission Essay: A Step-by-Step Guide


How To Write A Great Admission Essay: A Step-by-Step Guide

You're likely familiar with the traditional structure of an academic essay: start with an introduction, incorporate a thesis statement, support it with three paragraphs of evidence, and conclude neatly. However, when it comes to crafting a college admission essay, set this formula aside. The admission essay is a unique genre that demands a different approach.

Rethinking the Essay Structure

Forget everything you know about standard academic essays because the college application essay follows different rules. Here, the focus shifts from showcasing your ability to analyze information to demonstrating your personal story and aspirations.

The Objective of Your College Essay

Your college application essay should infuse your application with vitality. It's meant to reflect your true self, showcasing who you are beyond just grades, test scores, and extracurricular involvements. Don't be intimidated by this task; it's less daunting than it appears. You can select the aspects of your personality you wish to highlight and how you wish to present them. Consider the admissions officers at the college or university who will be reading your essay. Think about how your essay will present your background and what distinguishes you. If you were given a chance to speak directly to an admissions committee, what compelling story or critical information about yourself would you share? Your college essay is an opportunity to express your personality, ambitions, influences, obstacles, achievements, life experiences, and the lessons you've learned. Additionally, it's a chance to explain why you would be a perfect candidate for their institution and equally, why the institution is the right fit for you. These narratives add depth to the bare list of activities and leadership roles noted in your application.

The Challenge of Selectivity in Your Essay

A frequent dilemma for students is the temptation to cram every experience, sight, and conversation into their essays. However, your application essay is not meant to be an exhaustive autobiography condensed into 650 words. Instead, choose a moment and delve into the narrative surrounding that instance. Admissions officers understand that not everyone is a natural writer, but with sufficient time and thoughtful planning, anyone can craft a standout college application essay. A systematic approach — breaking the task down into manageable pieces — is a recommended strategy. Aim for a well-thought-out, perceptive essay that you can take pride in. Seize the opportunity to introduce yourself to an audience that's unfamiliar with you yet eager to discover what you bring to the table. Feel free to boast a little about your unique qualities (without overdoing it). Tell the story that only you can tell.

Understanding Your Essay Prompt

Begin the essay-writing process by easing into it. Allocate sufficient time to thoroughly comprehend the question or prompt at hand. Arguably, the most crucial aspect of your essay preparation is ensuring that you fully grasp what the prompt is asking. After you have completed your essay, it's important to revisit and confirm that your composition still aligns with the prompt. College essay prompts typically hint at one or two key ideas or themes to explore. These themes may range from deeply personal to seemingly mundane, yet all are designed to provoke your creativity and deepen your insight.

Deep Dive into the Essay Prompts

  • Go over the essay prompts carefully. Read them once, then again, and perhaps one more time for good measure.

  • Take time to absorb the question. Let the prompt's essence penetrate you deeply before starting to generate ideas.

  • Identify your objective with this essay. Before brainstorming begins, question the purpose of the prompt: Is it calling for you to inform? Argue? Justify? Elaborate?

  • Connect the prompt to your personal experiences. Consider, "How is this relevant to me?" or "How could this be relevant to me?".

  • Steer clear of recycling your old English class essays. The topics you covered in class are not likely suitable here, as those essays seldom reflect your individuality as an applicant.

Generating Ideas for Your Topic

Stimulate your creativity by brainstorming various ideas to tackle the college essay prompt. Interestingly, the brainstorming phase can often be more demanding than composing the actual essay. The goal is to fully develop your ideas so that when you start writing, you have a clear direction.

  • Brainstorm. Stimulate your creativity by brainstorming various ideas to tackle the college essay prompt. Interestingly, the brainstorming phase can often be more demanding than composing the actual essay. The goal is to fully develop your ideas so that when you start writing, you have a clear direction for your topic.

  • Reflect and Gather Your Stories. Dive into your past experiences, allocating time to mentally sift through significant events that provide vivid, precise examples. This period is also essential for introspection. Ask yourself, "What are my strengths?" "How would my friends describe me?" "What distinguishes me from other candidates?".

  • Jot Down Your Thoughts. Document every idea that comes to mind. While there's no one-size-fits-all method, you'll appreciate having recorded thoughts you might have otherwise forgotten.

  • Refine Your Choices. From your list, select three ideas that best align with the college application essay prompt and evaluate their potential. Consider which concept can be expanded on without losing your reader's interest and which one truly reflects your essence.

  • Select Your Narrative. Choose one idea from your refined list. This should be a narrative that you can back up with ample details, demonstrating your skills, traits, perseverance, or beliefs effectively.

Crafting an Outline

Create an outline to develop a blueprint for your essay. Just as architects use blueprints and chefs use recipes, all successful endeavors start with a solid plan. The same applies to essay writing. Once you've brainstormed and gathered your ideas, you know what you want to communicate, but it's crucial to organize how you will express it. Construct an outline that organizes the essay into distinct sections.

  • Structuring Your Story. Organize your essay to include an introduction, body, and conclusion. Like any compelling story, your essay should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. This natural structure will ensure your essay is logical and easy to follow.

  • Planning Your Approach. Consider how you'll begin your essay. Will you use a question, dialogue, or perhaps a touch of humor? Decide on the tone of your essay based on the ideas you've developed.

  • Maintaining Your Unique Voice. It's crucial to write in your own voice, especially when the essay is about you. Express yourself naturally and use a style that feels genuine to you. By planning your essay structure in advance, you can maintain consistency in your writing style throughout the piece.

Composing the Essay

Once your outline is set, it's time to begin writing. At this stage, you understand what you want to discuss and the approach you wish to take. Sit down at your computer and start composing. Allow yourself to draft freely without pausing for edits. Focus on getting your thoughts down. After completing your initial draft, return to refine and edit repeatedly. With thorough preparation behind you, you'll effectively tell the story you envisioned and meet the required word count, leaving you pleased with the effort you invested. As you write, keep these tips in mind to enhance your work.

  • Focus Your Essay. Ensure your essay maintains a narrow and personal focus. Stick closely to your main idea from start to finish to keep the reader engaged.

  • Emphasize Specific Details. Steer clear of clichés and generic statements. Enrich your main point with vivid details, specific events, direct quotations, illustrative examples, and compelling reasons.

  • Authenticity is Key. Be genuine. Admissions officers read countless essays and can distinguish between an authentic student story and a repurposed academic essay — or worse, a plagiarized one. Offer something unique rather than what you think they want to hear. Incorporate humor if it feels right.

  • Be Concise. Use words economically. Avoid verbosity by including only essential information; don’t use fifty words when five will suffice.

Proofread and Edit

The final stage involves editing and proofreading your completed essay. Although you might feel relieved to have finished writing, the quality of your essay ultimately hinges on this meticulous review. Grammatical mistakes or typographical errors could suggest a lack of attention to detail — a perception you definitely want to avoid in the eyes of an admissions officer.

  • Set Your Paper Aside. After completing your essay, let it rest for a few hours to distance yourself from the text. This break allows you to approach your work with fresh eyes, enabling you to see what’s actually on the page rather than what you intended to write.

  • Review Beyond Spellcheck. Avoid relying solely on your computer's spellcheck since it won’t catch every mistake, particularly with word context. Avoid shorthand, acronyms, and slang — appropriate in casual communication but unsuitable for a formal college essay.

  • Seek External Feedback. Have someone else read your essay, whether it's a teacher, counselor, parent, or trusted friend. They can offer valuable perspectives on whether your intended message is coming across clearly to readers.

  • Read Your Essay Backwards. Though it sounds unusual, reading your essay from end to beginning can disrupt your mental auto-fill and help you catch errors or missing words like "a" or "the" that you might otherwise overlook.

  • Read Aloud. Reading your essay out loud makes you focus on each word, improving your chances of catching typos. It also helps you check punctuation and the flow of your sentences, making it easier to identify awkward phrasing.

  • Ensure Consistency. Maintain tense consistency throughout your essay. Additionally, if you mention a specific college, verify that you use the correct name consistently. This avoids the confusion of referring to multiple institutions in the same essay.

Celebrate Your Achievement

Completing your college essay is a significant accomplishment, demanding considerable time and effort. Feel proud when you submit your essay. Ensure you include your name, contact details, and any ID number provided by the college, especially if you’re sending it to a general admissions email. It’s crucial to avoid the confusion of an unattributed essay. Keep track of which essays you've sent to which schools, including the dates. Make follow-up inquiries to confirm that each college has received your essay. You wouldn’t want your hard work to be overlooked.