It’s that time of year for rising high school seniors to get started on their Common App application, particularly The Common App essay! I’m sure it’s on your child’s To Do list, just like it is one mine. But where to get started? How to write an essay that shines?
I’m sharing the advice from Admissions officers who collectively have read more than 1 million college admissions essays! And they are sharing their sage advice.
How about you? What advice would you give based on your or your children’s experiences in the college essay writing process? Thanks for sharing!
How To Write a Great College Application Essay
Here are the takeaways that I’ve learned from college admissions officers talking about effective essays:
- In a 500 word essay, the first 50 or 60 words in the essay are the most important. You want to compel the person to keep reading.
- Edit carefully. Get other people to edit to catch any typos or grammatical errors.
- “Optional” essays are not really optional. Be sure to submit all essays including optional ones.
- Supplemental essays should be specific to each school. If you can remove the school from your essay and still identify the school, you have done a good job. Likewise, if your supplemental essay about “why this college” works for more than one college, it is not specific enough. Do your research.
- The goal of the essay is to show something about yourself that the reader might not glean by reading the rest of your application. Don’t write about something that your teachers or your counselor are writing about. Essentially, it’s about writing who you are as a person. You want the reader to learn something about you.
- Red flags include taking an extreme political or moral stance. Don’t do it in a way that might be offensive to someone who would disagree with your position. It’s ok to be passionate but be reasoned. Make your case respectfully.
- Humor is fine if this is your strength. Your college application essay is not the time to try humorous writing for the first time.
- Be authentic. Don’t try to be someone that you are not. Be yourself.
- Don’t talk about what makes you unique, talk about what will make you a great roommate or classmate.
- Share a personal story of who you are such as a defining moment or a time that you took a risk.
Here are some examples of great college application essays that I found on the internet:
p.s. My best advice is to do nothing. Honestly, don’t interfere. Don’t give essay topics unless requested. Don’t proofread unless asked. And don’t change any of their words.
My oldest used her high school English teacher for guidance which he provided to all his students. She only had 500 words because she applied to art schools. I never read her essay because she never shared it with me.
In a parent-teacher conference with this teacher, my husband and I got the gist of her essay because he shared what he could recall. It was about how glass blowing was a metaphor for her: that failure with a collapsed blob of hot glass is normal and how you just have to keep at it, despite the hostile environment of intense heat (added to a blistering hot summer day) and a building with no air conditioning. But that mental toughness to produce glass art has served her well.
All I can say is that I had an inkling that when my daughter took a bad art class at the Museum of Fine arts when she was in middle school, the Dale Chihuly art exhibit there appeared to be life-changing. We visited it twice (which meant that my free parking to pick her up from class expired and I had to pay for parking but that’s ok.) Both my daughters’ begged to learn hot glass after that but, alas, the hot glass studio was slammed after his exhibit and I could not get them a spot.
But the next summer, I tried again. It was not conveniently near us. The drive was challenging: bad traffic, rough part of town, and no parking. My husband was a champion and drove both ways each way. They asked to do again the next summer. He drove them again. I offered to do the pick-up. He said that I couldn’t handle it. He was right! It is stressful!
The pieces that my daughter made found her way into her art portfolio when she applied to art school. The admissions officer that reviewed her portfolio (twice!) remembered her because glass artists are a rare thing. She was accepted into her dream school and will start this fall.
As a parent, I don’t think we know at the time when our children have an epiphany but it is wonderful to remember in hindsight and know that all that driving was worth it.
BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.