Last Updated: February 9, 2016
While the rest of your college application tells admissions officers about your academic accomplishments, your essay tells more about you as a writer, and more importantly, as a student and person. It’s a great way to tell admissions professionals what your test scores and list of extracurriculars can’t convey. Here are six ways to ensure your essay is as attention grabbing as possible:.
1. Write About What Matters to You
When the broadness of a personal statement seems overwhelming, the best direction to follow is writing about what personally matters to you. Brainstorm a list of activities you enjoy, significant life moments, or experiences that made you grow. What’s important to your identity? Do you like to cook, are you into a certain band, have you thought of an interesting solution to a household problem? Reach for as creative of an angle as you can, but don’t worry too much if your topic seems more traditional. What matters most is writing about something you’re passionate about, regardless of the topic, because this will come off as more authentic; you’ll be able to express your commitment to the topic, and your essay will sustain much more momentum throughout.
2. Start With an Anecdote
Begin your essay with an interesting anecdote. This helps anchor your readers into a specific time and place so they feel more grounded in your writing and who you are – and as a plus, your essay will come off as more confident. Think about a moment when you learned something, had an important revelation, struggled with your identity, or succeeded – or even failed – at something. Set the scene with select details – enough so your readers can picture what’s happening, but not too many as to take away from much-needed space later on in your essay. Say more with less!
3. Ensure Your Details are Concrete
Solid details are powerful. You’ve heard the popular adage: show, don’t tell. In terms of your application essay, this is one of the most effective moves you can make. If you’re passionate about helping others, describe exactly how this plays out in your life. Do you tutor a younger student or volunteer in the community garden? Concrete details demonstrate not only that you can write well, but that your essay is authentic.
4. Use Strong Verbs – But in Your Own Voice
Using powerful verbs is a great way to inject energy into your writing. A thesaurus can help you come up with more intriguing words to replace tired ones. Go through your writing to find words that repeat too many times in your essay or that seem dull or too general. However, don’t get too carried away with words that are way out of the your normal orbit of use. This can come off as flowery at best, or inauthentic and forced at worst.
5. Stay Focused
Once you’ve come up with what matters to you and which anecdote to open with, remember to stay focused throughout your essay. You may have many things that matter to you. Don’t be tempted to touch on all of them, though; in an essay, deep is far better than wide. Staying focused shows your commitment to the one activity or issue at hand, as well as a more complex level of insight. It’s also clearer for the admissions officer to read. Of course, you may discuss different angles of the same idea or link some related topics.
6. Connect With Your Audience
Seriously consider your audience and the fact that these are admissions officers of schools you’d like to attend. Take a bit of time to research the school and what draws you to it specifically. Is it a certain department or opportunity that other schools do not offer? Take the time at the end of your essay to talk about this. Here, you can connect your interests and passions that you’ve already conveyed to the specific school. This is also a great place to express your enthusiasm for the school and what you wish to offer as a potential student there.
When you’re first drafting your essay, let your ideas flow and try not to censor too much; this will help you collect lots of ideas that you can later select from and refine. Then, after a draft or two, ask a classmate, tutor, mentor, or relative you trust for feedback. Someone who knows you well can give you excellent feedback on the essay before sending it off.
Lisa Low is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.
Original Post Date: February 9th, 2016