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The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing the College Admission Essay

The college admission essay can be the most important piece of high school writing.  For some students, it can make the difference between the thin envelope and the thick envelope.  Knowing that it is far too important to wait until the last minute to write this essay, we thought we would give you a list of do’s and don’ts for writing that perfect college essay that you can use to get started over the summer.

Do’s

  • Be yourself
    The best essay is intensely personal and is something that only you could have written.  When reading the essay, the college admission officer wants to answer the question, “What makes this student tick?  Why does he or she get out of bed in the morning?”  They want to learn about what motivates you and ultimately why they should accept you to their school.
  • Write with passion
    Many colleges are looking to craft a well-rounded freshmen class.  That doesn’t mean they want well rounded students.  Quite the opposite, they are looking for students who bring a particular skill or talent to their campus.  They want angular students.  So, write about the things that you are most passionate about.  That will help them to learn what you will add to the college campus.
  • Have someone else read the essay
    The best essay is one that someone who doesn’t know you reads and then gets a sense that they know you as a person, and even better, that they would want to be friends with you.  It is also important to remember, that while spell check may tell you if a word is spelled incorrectly, it can’t tell you if it is the right word.  Almost 20 years later, my father still maintains that the reason my brother was wait listed at Notre Dame was because he wrote, “…and that is why I want to go to your collage.”
  • Tell how you have grown and what you have learned
    It is important to remember, that ultimately, your college essay isn’t about an event, it is about you.  So, don’t just describe an obstacle, tell how you overcame it and what you learned from it.  If you made a mistake, admit it, and take ownership.  Colleges are looking to see growth.

Don’ts

  • Write about an overdone essay topic
    Often students want to write about how they won the big game, or how their summer travel changed their outlook on the world.  These essay topics have become trite.  Unless you can write about them in a fresh way that brings the essay to life for the admission officer, you may want to avoid these topics.
  • Use overly flowery language
    You only get 250 to 500 words to present your case to the admissions office as to why you should be accepted into their incoming freshmen class, so don’t waste any of them.  The best writing for a college admission essay is journalistic.  That is crisp and concise.  It is ok to be descriptive in the opening paragraph to try and grab the readers attention, however, after the introduction, you should be overly descriptive of things, instead you should describe your feelings, emotions, and motivation.
  • Tell them what you think they want to hear
    Too often students tell admissions officers what the student thinks the admission officer wants to hear.  However, that often leads to an essay that isn’t authentic.  Instead, you should focus on what you want the college to know about you that they won’t be able to find anywhere else except in your essay.
  • Be afraid to take risks
    One admission officer told me that not enough students take risks. While you shouldn’t write anything that is too crazy, you do want to take calculated risks.  Don’t be afraid to tell a story that will reveal some of your personality and allow the admission officer to learn what motivates you, even if the story may seem to be a little unusual.
  • Write like you speak
    The college admission essay is a formal essay, it shouldn’t include slang, colloquialisms, or cliches.