I’m going to tell you what to say in your college admission letter (or college admission essay) so that the readers at or will want to choose you over everyone else. The people who are going to be reading your letter want to see that you tick certain boxes. So you need to think about these people as your market. You are trying to sell yourself to these essay readers at , or . So you’ll want to answer the essay question in a way that let’s you touch on the Four Traits every top college wants to see in their new students. The good thing is that once you’ve developed your letter for one school you can use much of the same content as a Stump Speech, to use (slightly modified) for another college’s admission letter. Below I describe the four traits (that the readers of your essay are generally looking for) and explain how you can show that you have these traits.
Your college application admission letter or essay is one of the most important documents you will ever write. I want to show you how to write yourself to the head of the pack. To do that I need to first explain to you the concept of , which are often used by politicians. Regardless of the question a politician is asked they will try to answer it in a way that lets them talk about a few areas where they are strong. One guy will always come back to talk about cutting taxes. Another will always come back to talking about economic growth because they know, from their research, that when they talk about these specific things, people like them more.
Here's the thing: your college application essay needs to breathe life into your application. It should capture your genuine personality, explaining who you are beyond a series of grades, test scores, and after-school activities. But that’s not nearly as scary as it seems, because you get to choose what to share and how to share it.
Take a minute and think about the college or university admission officers who will be reading your essay. How will your essay convey your background and what makes you unique? If you had the opportunity to stand in front of an admission committee to share a significant story or important information about yourself, what would you say? The college application essay is your chance to share your personality, goals, influences, challenges, triumphs, life experiences, or lessons learned. Not to mention why you're a good fit for the college or university—and why it's a good fit for you. These are the stories behind the list of activities and leadership roles on your application.
You already know how to write an academic essay: you start with an introduction, throw in a thesis statement, find about three paragraphs’ worth of evidence, and wrap it all up with a tidy conclusion…
Now forget all that, because a successful college application essay is totally different.
Because the application essay can have a critical effect upon your progress toward a career, you should spend significantly more time, thought, and effort on it than its typically brief length would suggest. It should reflect how you arrived at your professional goals, why the program is ideal for you, and what you bring to the program. Don’t make this a deadline task—now’s the time to write, read, rewrite, give to a reader, revise again, and on until the essay is clear, concise, and compelling. At the same time, don’t be afraid. You know most of the things you need to say already.
Check out the lesson plan ideas attached for how to help students get a head start on their essay writing topics for college. Great interactive ideas!
Admission officers realize that writing doesn’t come easily to everyone, but with some time and planning, anyone can write a college application essay that stands out. One way to do that is to work step-by-step, piece-by-piece. The end result should be a carefully designed, insightful essay that makes you proud. Take advantage of being able to share something with an audience who knows nothing about you and is excited to learn what you have to offer. Brag. Write the story no one else can tell.
The lesson plan also includes more than a dozen New York Times articles that serve as “mentor texts” for students’ application essays, as well as many other resources from The Times on how to write an essay.
Imagine the worst-case scenario (which may never come true—we’re talking hypothetically): the person who reads your essay has been in the field for decades. She is on the application committee because she has to be, and she’s read 48 essays so far that morning. You are number 49, and your reader is tired, bored, and thinking about lunch. How are you going to catch and keep her attention?
Get several people to read it and write their comments down. It is worthwhile to seek out someone in the field, perhaps a professor who has read such essays before. Give it to a friend, your mom, or a neighbor. The key is to get more than one point of view, and then compare these with your own. Remember, you are the one best equipped to judge how accurately you are representing yourself. For tips on putting this advice to good use, see our .
Once you grasp how to structure an essay, you will need to brainstorm to come up with some ideas for topics. Even though you may be given a prompt on the application, you will still most likely need to come up with a unique and creative topic that allows you to write an interesting and compelling essay. Brainstorming involves more than coming up with a topic, however. It also involves seeing whether or not you can expand upon a topic. Basically, you have to determine whether or not a topic is worth writing about.
Curry, Boykin, Emily Angel Baer, and Brian Kasbar. Essays That Worked for College Applications: 50 Essays That Helped Students Get into the Nation’s Top Colleges. New York: Ballantine Books, 2003.
As you know by now, the essay portion of your college application is probably the most important part. This is the spot where admissions reviewers get to see what you are like as a person and what you want out of life. Or, they simply get to see how you develop an argument and where your writing skills are in comparison to other applicants. Either way, the essay is extremely important and a good one can make your application stand out.