6 Tips to Help You Master the College Essay

master the college admission essay
Kim Bryant, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions, University of Michigan wants to hear the student’s voice in the college essay.

Good news for the graduating class of 2015! Several college applications that allow you to apply to multiple universities at once are already out; the largest, the Common App, goes live on Aug. 1.

Each of these applications requires at least one college essay. Many colleges require additional supplemental essays.

At Wow Writing Workshop, we talk to admissions professionals at top universities across the entire country, and we know what they are looking for. We’ve used our unique insight into the world of college admissions to create a variety of materials that take the stress and confusion out of the process of writing a college application essay.

During our interviews, most admissions professionals noted a few common mistakes that they see students make over and over again. Below are 6 important tips for writing your application essay.

  1. Listen to your voice. Be truthful, and write in your own voice. “This is your interview,” University of Michigan Assistant Director of Admission Kim Bryant told Wow. “Let me know who you really are. I like it when I can hear a student’s voice.”  What does yours sound like? To find out, do a little stretching with a warm-up exercise you can get by signing up for Wow Writing Workshop’s free resources.
  2. Decide what you want readers to know.  What do you want college admissions counselors to know about you that they won’t discover from your grades, resume and extracurricular activities? College admissions already know a lot about you, but they do not know whether you are a hard worker, a good listener, creative, decisive, determined, self-motivated or cautious. They do not know how you have changed or why you might be a good fit for their school. Make a list of what college admissions officers already know about you from your application, transcripts, recommendations, resume. Then, list the qualities you want to share. As Matt Price, Brown University’s Assistant Director of Admissions, explained: “We are looking for someone who gives us insight into who they are, not what they think we want to see.”
  3. Keep it positive. What message are you sending to colleges if you write about how much you dislike your father? If this story demonstrates something positive about you, then use it. But be careful. “There are very few absolutes when it comes to writing an admissions essay; one is to write about something positive,” said Brent Benner, director of enrollment management, University of Tampa.“Every kid has had a hardship, but life is about problem solving and conflict resolution. I want to read anything that paints a picture of moxie, drive, determination and courage; those are compelling, and tells me how someone problem-solves.”
  4. Brainstorm ideas. Don’t just dive in and write. Brainstorm alone, with a friend, parent, consultant, teacher or sibling. Just don’t let anyone else tell you what you should or shouldn’t write. Ultimately, the only idea that will work is the one you choose.
  5. Stay focused. If you want readers to know you are hard-working, describe a time when you worked hard. Focus on an important moment or a small piece of your experience, and then demonstrate why that moment matters. How did your experience change you or prepare you for college?  As Tamara Siler, senior associate director for admission, and minority recruitment coordinator, at Rice University in Houston, suggested, “Focus on a moment you feel has defined you as a person, and as a student.”
  6. Write it yourself. If you do not write your college application essay yourself, or if you get too much help, admissions people will know. They know what a high school senior’s voice sounds like. “You can get help, but in the end, it must be your voice, and a savvy admissions officer will know if it isn’t.” said James R. Fowler, Jr., assistant vice president of enrollment, Dean College.

For a more in-depth look at how to give admissions officers what they are looking for, download Wow Writing Workshop’s free eBook, How to Write an Effective College Application Essay. Wow offers a variety of products and services that can help your college application essay stand out.

We can guide you through the essay writing process more quickly, with less stress, and toward an essay that will give you a better chance of getting into top choice schools.

Find out more at www.wowwritingworkshop.com.

Picture of Kim Lifton

Kim Lifton

Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop. Perceptive, resourceful and curious, Kim can get a story out of anyone. Kim is a former newspaper reporter and corporate communications manager. With Susan Knoppow, Wow’s CEO, Kim developed the Wow Method by combining her journalistic training with Susan’s organization and instructional design skills. She holds a BA in Journalism from Michigan State University. Kim’s articles on the college essay appear regularly in print and on the web, and her work has been featured in a variety of newspapers, magazines and online publications. Kim and Susan have co-authored three books – How to Write an Effective College Application Essay (The Inside Scoop for Parents, Students, Counselors). They are members/affiliates of the Michigan Association of College Admission Counseling (MACAC), the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC), the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA).
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