Your college application essays – and you’ll probably write more than a few of them – may be as short as 150 words or up to a few pages. It can be one of the most stressful parts of the application process because it’s the most open-ended.
And those words can mean the difference between a “yes” and a “no” from the college you’ve been dreaming of.
Admissions essays are designed to tell an admissions committee – the folks responsible for deciding who gets in to a particular college or university – how students are different from each other. These people read hundreds of essays from students with similar experiences, so when it comes to your essay…
You need to stand out.
Wyzant Under Five is a video series featuring tutors on Wyzant doing what tutors do best: fitting a ton of learning into a short time!
We challenged tutor Nick S, The College Guy to tell us the five things top-tier colleges want to see in your admissions application essay. Watch it below, and check out all the other videos in Wyzant<5.
The One Thing ALL Colleges Want to See in Your Application Essay is Good Writing
You can write conversationally, but your grammar, spelling, and word count still need to be correct.
Remember: good writing is invisible. It’s about what you’re saying, not how impressively you say it.
When you’re in the middle of something truly great, you don’t sit there saying “Gee, this sure is well-written.” You just read it.
Writing isn’t exactly a walk in the park even for people who use it to make a living – be it best-selling authors or professional copywriters. So if you’ve had to struggle with an assignment because you just couldn’t write…
For students, writing a good essay is one of the most challenging parts about getting through a class or course. You may understand the lessons and you may even have a few interesting ideas on related topics. The big problem…
Be clear, be focused, and be honest. Don’t worry about saying “the right thing”; worry about saying “the you thing”. Schools read enough of these to recognize when someone is just saying what they think they’re supposed to say.
Be creative and push the boundaries, not just for the sake of being different but because you don’t fit into any one box.
Colleges Want to Understand Your Motivations
They want to see that you have a plan and the drive to bring it to life.
The more specific you can be about your plan, the better. Colleges know that people with a plan tend to be the most motivated, the most effective, and the most resilient. Don’t just say you want to study psychology or computer science. Say that you want to “learn about the psychological effects of ingroup bias so you can apply them to marketing”, or that you want to “study software analytic methods for optimizing peer-to-peer lending”.
The beautiful part of plans is that they can change. And, in reality, they nearly always do. Colleges know this as well.
You’re not binding yourself to any one trajectory for your future by being specific in what you would like to explore.
You’re simply demonstrating that you have a course, and that you can adjust over time.
Be sure to stay on message
Your essays should all contribute in some way to show how you plan to pursue your stated goals. For your personal statement, be sure your essay reflects the way that your chosen topic has propelled you towards your chosen path. Think of your essay like a string connecting your past and your future.
Go Ahead and Brag
Your drive and motivation will likely be reflected in your past accomplishments. Don’t be afraid to talk about those experiences and show that you have the chops to make your plan a reality.
Ideally, your past accomplishments relate to your future goals, but, even if they don’t exactly, showing enthusiasm, experience, and commitment goes a long way.
Most Schools Want to See that You Contribute to Your Community
As much as you’ll take away from your college experience, you’ll also give a great deal.
This doesn’t only mean volunteering and formal extracurriculars at school. You probably contribute to your community in a lot more ways than you realize. Do you help friends and classmates to study? Do you make people laugh?
After you finally get your acceptance letters and head to campus next fall, you’re going to be part of a huge community that will expect a lot from you academically and personally. No school wants a student who hides in their dorm waiting to collect a degree. Schools want students who will put themselves out there and make the university a better place.
Remember: those with the most to offer are the ones who offer the most to other people. And, if you need a selfish reason for doing it, the more you give, the more you get. Show colleges that you’re one of the people with the most to offer.
Colleges Also Want to See Diversity of Experiences
As important as it is to stay on message, it’s also important to balance it out with other aspects of your experience, so colleges don’t see you as one-dimensional.
Thinkers, leaders, and doers take ideas from anywhere they can get them. Show schools that you’re willing to explore far-ranging and surprising places in order to learn and improve.
Sharing quirks or a sense of humor is a great way to show that you’re not a robot, but sharing information about your background that makes you who you are can also help bring your personality to life for an admissions committee.
You’re Different Than Every Other Applicant
Whether you realize it or not, you are unique in important ways from every single other applicant applying to the school of your dreams. It’s your job to discover and express what makes your background unique.
Try to think beyond ethnicity, religion, and geography. These are certainly important parts of who you are, but what combination of influences meet in you and you alone?
Observe your friends, family, and other people in your community. How are you alike? How are you different? This can help to get you started thinking about what makes some of the people close to you who they are and, in turn, what that means about you.
And Lastly…Remember to Be Succinct
Admissions officers are human. If you send them a Tolstoy novel of information about every gold star you’ve gotten since 2nd grade and excuses for why each and every tiny thing didn’t go perfectly, they’re going to feel overwhelmed and unmotivated to read your application when they still have 200 to get through that night.
Don’t worry about saying “the right thing”;
worry about saying “the you thing”.
Keep it concise. Keep it focused.
This is as much for your own sake as it is for theirs! By choosing your words and application materials carefully, you will stay focused on your message better and present an overall more cohesive picture of you as an applicant.
Both your personal statements and school-specific essays should have one, single, cohesive point. It’s often best to express this thesis statement directly right at the beginning of your essay. If you don’t know what your thesis is, you’re not done with your essay.
Sometimes it takes a few tries and a few drafts before you narrow in on what you really want to say. But, when you find it, make sure you can express it in a single sentence.
Get More College Admissions Help
Five important things you should consider in your own college admissions essays will get you started, but for the rest of your college admissions journey, connect with a tutor on Wyzant, and check out all the other videos in Wyzant<5.