Ten Tips to Make Your College Application Essay Shine

Your college application is full of hard facts: your grades, test scores and a list of your extracurricular activities. But your college application essay is your one chance to put all that information into context. It’s an opportunity to show admissions officers who you are, how you think and what makes you tick.

With so much to communicate, it’s no surprise most students are pretty intimidated by this particular writing assignment. But don’t worry: Since your essay is about you, you have all the information you need. Here’s some advice to translate what you already know about yourself into an essay that will make a great impression.

  • Be yourself: The entire point of a college application essay is to give admissions officers a better understanding of your personality, character and motivation. So relax, take a deep breath, and write with enthusiasm about something that really is meaningful to you. Your sincerity will show.
  • Outline your main points, then choose your topic: Brainstorm the one or two things you most want an admissions officer to know about you. Then work backwards and figure out what topic or essay prompt will get you to those points.
  • Find a hook: The average admissions officer reads hundreds if not thousands of essays over the course of the admissions season. Find a hook that will make yours stand out, whether it’s an intriguing introduction, an original take on a tried-and-true topic, or an unusual anecdote or experience.
  • Stay focused: Try to say too much in your essay and you’ll end up not saying much at all. Don’t pack in every last detail about your extracurricular activities and academic accomplishments — that information is available in other parts of your application. Instead, pick one main idea that reveals something new and compelling about you.
  • Paint a picture: Concrete details and colorful examples will set your essay apart, tell a real story and give your writing authenticity. Avoid generalizations, clichés and trite language.
  • Use good structure: Use your essay to prove you have the communications skills you’ll need to succeed in college. Make sure your essay has a clear message and good organization. Stick to a simple structure with an introduction, body with supporting points and a conclusion.
  • Read it out loud: It’s tempting to use big words and formal language to sound more knowledgeable, but your essay will say more about you if you keep your tone conversational. Try reading your essay out loud. You’ll hear right away if any part sounds unnatural.
  • Tighten it up: Just because you’re allowed a certain number of words doesn’t mean you have to use them all. Tighten up your writing by eliminating everything that’s redundant or unnecessary.
  • Follow instructions: Adhere to guidelines for essay length and font size — not doing so will only make a bad impression. Also, be sure your essay actually answers the essay prompt.
  • Get an editor: Don’t trust your computer’s spell check – it won’t catch correctly-spelled errors like “your” versus “you’re” and “their” versus “there.” Ask someone you trust to review your essay for spelling and grammar, logic, structure and overall impact.

Ready to start writing? Relax, give yourself plenty of time, and remember there’s no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to college application essays. The most important thing you can do is give the reader a compelling and interesting glimpse of you as an individual.

Cappex has tons of resources to help students apply for college.