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Writing Essays



Eleven Tips For Every Essay

We've compiled tips that every student should read before writing their college essay. We've also put together below a section on general strategies for writing a great college essay and a section on what college admissions officers are thinking when they read your essay.

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Writing Tips

  1. Choose a topic that only you can write about. What makes you unique?
  2. Tell a story. Have a beginning, middle, and end, and focus your essay on one or two over-arching ideas.
  3. Share details of your background. You have an advantage as a low-income student, so resist the urge to fit in. Showcase your ability to overcome difficulties that your peers have not faced.
  4. Write about you. Make sure your essay reveals who you are and helps to complete the picture you’ve outlined in the rest of your application.
  5. Demonstrate emotional maturity. If you choose to write about problems in your life, use a mature, composed tone. Make sure you’re ready to write about them in a way that shows personal growth.
  6. Show, don’t tell. Use anecdotes and vivid description to illustrate your story.
  7. Observe word limits. Try to approach the word limit, but don’t go over. Each word should be carefully chosen.
  8. Edit carefully. Use feedback to edit and revise. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, and formatting should all be flawless.
  9. Choose words that feel natural. Don’t use big words just because they sound impressive. Use the word that best expresses your thought.
  10. Don’t be cliché. Avoid generic or trite statements. If you have a sentence that begins with “this may sound cliché, but...” then it may not be worth including.
  11. Let your voice shine through.


General Strategies

  1. Start early. In some ways, this is the most important assignment of your high school career. Allow yourself to do your very best, so you can do justice to your grades and test scores.
  2. Revise, revise, revise. You should plan on going through many drafts. Ask as many people for help as you can. The more tips you can get, the better. You don't have to take all the advice they give you - go with what you think will be most helpful.
  3. Recycle essays. Many colleges have essays about similar topics. It is perfectly appropriate to use the same essay you used for College A about your passion for service club as the essay for College B about your most important extracurricular activity. Be careful though, this doesn't apply to essays about why you want to attend an individual school.



Admissions Officer Perspective

What is an admission officer thinking when reading your essay?

First, they are reading a lot of applications in a short period of time. A highly selective admissions office receives tens of thousands of applications. This has an obvious up-shot for you: you have a limited amount of time to impress an admissions officer. You have to make every word count, because it is easy to blend in with everybody else, and most people will not be accepted.

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Second, most of the applicants to a top school have what it takes to cut it academically. So meeting the baseline academic standards of a school is not enough to ensure admission. An admission officer is also looking to find people who will help form a vibrant community at the school, be it in the form of a unique background or a contagious enthusiasm. Your goal when the admissions officer finishes your essay should be for the admissions officer to say "I want this student on my campus."

Here are some other things an admission officer will try to glean from your essay:

  1. Assess your writing skill.
  2. Learn about your personality and character.
  3. Fill in the blanks from the rest of your application. There's information about your background, your hometown, and your life story that can't be covered in a conventional application.


An Essay Strategy for Low-Income Students

As a low-income student, you have the unique opportunity to set yourself apart from the rest of the applicant pool with your essay. Achievement in the face of adversity is more impressive than achievement in normal circumstances. If you have faced financial difficulties and other obstacles, you should consider talking about these challenges in your essays so that admissions officers can appreciate the full significance of your academic accomplishments.

You can drive this point home in your essay by describing the specific difficulties that you have risen above, such as:

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•    You bear an unusual amount of responsibility in your household (caring for siblings, preparing meals).
•    You have a part-time job to pay for school expenses.
•    You live with people other than your immediate family.
•    English is not your first language.
•    You have been homeless or in foster care.
•    A parent has passed away or is not present in your life.
•    You commute a long distance to attend a better school.

At the same time, though, be careful to avoid using overly critical or negative language. This is a good opportunity to emphasize your emotional maturity and how challenges in your life have helped you grow as a person. You may compromise that impression if your tone is resentful or excessively dramatic.


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