How To Write A College Essay
This guide will help you write a college essay. Use it to help you plan your college essay, write your essay, and format your college essay.
What is a college essay?
The term 'college essay' (or 'college application essay') usually refers to a critical writing assignment required by a college as part of their admissions procedure. When you apply to college, the institution will see a great deal of impersonal information about you - for example, your grades, test scores and recommendations from your previous schools. However, this doesn't tell the college very much about you as a person and so, the College will often set a written assignment.
Various types of assignment may be set for you - often they require some self-analysis to show people something about yourself personally. For example, you may be asked "tell us about you" or "what do you hope to achieve in life?". These questions, on the face of it, seem quite simple but in fact, are difficult because they require that you analyze questions you have asked yourself personally, and the answers you have found to those questions.
In addition to telling your proposed college something about yourself, you will also be demonstrating your ability to write well and to evaluate the question set. Further, the college will be looking for evidence of particular skills or traits that they value in their students.
Planning your college essay
The first step is to decipher the question. What is being asked of you?
Let's take, for example, the question: "What do you hope to achieve in life?"
First off, guaranteed, the college doesn't just want to hear how you want to play on stage with Tenacious D. Whilst this would be a formidable achievement, it doesn't tell the college very much about your values or aspirations. The sort of aspirations you want to include, in order, are:
- Academic - What level do you want to study to? What subjects interest you? Why? Who do you admire in the academic field? Why?
- Personal - What are your core values? (No, what are they really? Don't just make them up - relate them to specifics in your life. If a core value is protecting the environment, are you a volunteer? Do you help out? Do you do anything to help the environment at all? If not, don't include that. If a core value is caring for others, how do you do this? Do you visit older people who don't have any relatives and spend some time with them? Do you help care for members of your family? Be specific!) How do you hope to grow as a person? What qualities do you want to develop? Why? How do you hope to achieve this?
- Interests - Here's where you can include your dream of playing with Jack Black but relate it to your interests (for example, that you're a keen musician and love sharing your music with others)
Create a brief structure of what you plan to include in your college essay. Unlike a regular essay, the introduction and conclusion will be very short. So you need to list the points you are going to make and the specifics you are going to mention in support of those points.
Writing your college essay
If you have a good structure planned out, writing your college essay won't take too much additional effort. You just need to flesh out the points you have listed and ensure they are supported by specifics and examples. If you're writing a college essay with a similar title to our example, don't forget that the idea is to provide an honest reflection of your strengths and weaknesses. The College is looking for strong values, honest self-criticism, a positive, determined attitude and other such traits that make a good student. They are not looking for the perfect person, nor are they interested in someone who can only identify their strengths and not their weaknesses, or vice versa.
Formatting, editing and proofreading your college essay
When you've finished writing out your college essay, you need to go back over the material and cut out anything unnecessary.
This includes getting rid of:
- Pointless, empty statements. For example: "I am a dedicated, hardworking and honest person". Great. Anyone can write this and such statements frequently appear in CVs and on job applications but they mean nothing. You can instead demonstrate how dedicated, hardworking and honest you are by providing specific examples of your achievements and the things you do to practice these qualities.
- Unnecessary or emotive description. For example: "I spent last summer undergoing intensive training on a grueling law course". Your college essay really doesn't need to be so emotionally charged and the college will be well aware of the demands of a law course, without you having to spell it out for them.
- Colloquial or unnecessary expressions. For example, "On the other hand" .. "I called it a day" .. "I hadn't a clue" .. "I couldn't make head or tail of it". These have a place, but not in a college essay.
Before you decide that you've actually finished, read over your essay and ask yourself if it's interesting. Would it stand out on a pile of 2,000 applications? Is it exceptionally well written, concise, of a sufficient length (without being too long) and a true reflection of you as a person? If not, go back and revisit the writing stage, adding in or taking out material that doesn't meet these requirements.
Finally, don't forget to proofread your college essay carefully. Read it out loud, give it to a friend or relative to read out loud, run a spelling check and a grammar check if you have a word processing program like Microsoft Word - ensure your presentation is neat and well formatted and ensure that you have complied with any guidelines that the College provide.
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