Writing Essays

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The Low-Income Lens

Students from low-income backgrounds may not realize that they have a unique perspective to present to admissions officers. If your identity has been shaped by financial difficulties and other obstacles, consider writing about these challenges in your essays so that admissions officers understand the full context of your successes and academic accomplishments.

Bring us into your world. We want to know you. We want to know your truth.
- Ashley Pallie, Associate Dean of Admissions, Pomona College

Extenuating Circumstances

You may describe specific challenges that you have risen above, such as:

  • You hold significant responsibilities in your household, such as providing care for an ill family member, babysitting siblings, or preparing family meals.

  • You have a part-time job to pay for school activities or household expenses.

  • You live with people other than your immediate family or have been in foster care.

  • You experienced homelessness or other temporary housing situations.

  • A parent has passed away or is not present in your life.

  • You commute a long distance to attend school.

  • Your family or community is not supportive of your educational goals.

  • You faced obstacles because English is not your first language.

Tone

If you choose to write about challenges in your life, 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.

Topic Choice

Giving admissions officers a window into difficult experiences can present your story in your college application, but there are other topics that can also make for a strong essay (e.g. a favorite book, a community service project). Whichever angle you select to tell your story, highlight the most important things that have shaped and continue to shape your identity.

Brainstorm, Outline, and Draft

Writing a college essay can seem daunting at first, but it doesn’t have to be. Download our worksheet as a template and foundation to help you craft a strong college essay that stands out. This may help you write your essay in a manner that goes beyond just a chronological explanation of your life or an expansion of your resume.

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Feedback and Revisions

Ask teachers, mentors, family, or friends for feedback on your essay. Reach out well in advance of any deadlines, and give them at least two weeks to provide feedback. Ask them in person if you can, but if you cannot, send them an email. If they agree to take a look, you can send them a message with your essay. Download a sample message below.

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After receiving feedback, revise! You should plan on going through a few drafts. Here are some things to keep in mind: 

  • You do not have to incorporate all feedback. Accept what you think is most helpful. 

  • Edits and revisions should not remove your voice or completely alter your writing style. 

  • Pay attention to spelling, grammar, punctuation, and even formatting. 

  • It may help to read your essay out loud to catch mistakes you might otherwise skim over. 

  • Read your essay from an admissions officer’s perspective.

  • For more tips, continue reading the FAQs below.

Detailed FAQs

Mechanics, structure, and content are vital parts of a successful essay. Our Detailed FAQs page covers each category in detail to give your essay a head start or strong finish.

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