The college essay remains a key part of the admissions process. And, it doesn’t have to be challenging as long as you prepare yourself in advance. I’ve read thousands of college essays in my career and to help you, I’ve built a checklist of “do’s and don’ts” to set you up for success!
- Write something about yourself that isn’t identifiable or visible in your application: Think about the qualities that may you unique or what sets you apart from your peers. It could be your family heritage to a job where you learned how to be a leader or a challenging experience that shaped who you are today.
- Have it proofread (several times): This tip I cannot recommend more! Put your pride aside and make sure two or three people proof your college essays. You want to make a memorable first impression!
- Be yourself (and have some fun!): We are who we are—and we should share our personality with the world. Remember to be authentic and not answer everything the way you think others want to hear it. It’s always good to stay professional, but have some fun and be bold (when the timing makes sense!) Be confident in who you are.
- Discuss why you are interested in your academic major: This is an important answer that should help you lean closer to the career field you are interested in pursuing someday. It doesn’t have to be exactly what you end up doing however I do recommend sharing your interests and what majors excite you most and list why.
- Keep an eye on length: Clear and concise! It helps to share details but that does not mean you need to share every detail. Keep in mind, admissions counselors are reading essays every day, and to stand out does not mean you have to write a novel.
- Respond to the writing prompt (if applicable): I always encourage students to answer writing prompts when given the option. It’s another opportunity to highlight your interests, talents, and intellect. When choosing a topic (if applicable), focus on areas that you may not have covered. Share issues you’re passionate about as a young adult or how a service project or volunteerism changed your life. This is a chance to provide more insight into the components that make you the best version of yourself!
- Don’t write about winning the big game: Winning a game or hitting a note in a choir performance is an incredible feat. But what is more worthy of your time is sharing how you got to that point. The practices, motivation, and resilience ultimately all played a role in getting you to the finish line. Those are the compelling essays that will highlight your work ethic and enthusiasm that you would bring to your studies in college.
- Don’t list the wrong college: It’s easy to replicate your essays and make small mistakes that have hard impacts. Rather take your time and focus on each college one-by-one. Do your homework and research what makes that college distinct from its peers. In the end, it will reflect in your essay and you’ll find more success in your outcomes.
- Don’t copy and paste or plagiarize: This is a big no! It’s obvious but needs to be reminded. Make sure you stick to your voice and your voice only.
- Don’t overthink it: A college essay is an added bonus to provide a deeper dive into what you can bring to a college. It’s not the only predictor. Work to present an accurate story about yourself or a topic but do not overwhelm yourself. Give the attention it deserves and stay confident.
- Don’t rely only on spellcheck: This is why proofreading is so critical. A quick spellcheck will not always catch every misspelling or grammatical errors in your essay.
Remember, we’ve all had to put ourselves out there before whether in an interview or written in an essay. It can be intimidating to talk about ourselves. I encourage you to lean on your network of support—they will help lift your self-esteem! View the college essay as a platform to highlight all of the soft skills you’ve developed during high school including communication skills, your adaptability to new environments (think about how much you’ve grown!), your ability to organize and prioritize multiple projects, strengthening your emotional intelligence, and maintaining a positive, team player mentality. All of these qualities will help you become successful during your college admissions journey!
Adam Smith is the Senior Director of Admissions at Elizabethtown College.