What Does Your Voice Sound Like?

Everyone talks about voice when it comes to the college application essay. Do you know what your writing voice sound like? We can help you find out!

Juniors, it’s a good time to start thinking about the essay so it is not so overwhelming when you begin filling out applications to college. Your voice is important because it is one of the biggest factors that can help you stand out inside the admissions office.

College admissions officers from every type of school tell us time and again that your voice is the only one they want to hear when they read your application essays; they often lament the numbers of essays they read year after year that are sanitized because they have been edited or “fixed” by well-meaning adults.

“If the essay is sanitized, there won’t be any value added to the application,” said Michelle Larkrith, the Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions at the University of California – Berkeley. “It won’t help you. The essay is the only opportunity we have to understand who you are. Take advantage of it.”

How can you learn to write in your own voice?

Relax and write freely, and your writing voice will shine through. To recognize and develop that voice, try this:

1. Open a new document or turn to a clean sheet of paper in your notebook.

2. Set a timer for 10 minutes.

3. Describe a place where you feel relaxed.

  • Capture as many sensory details as possible.
  • Write in first person, present tense (e.g., I am standing on the pier behind Melanie’s cottage, looking out on Lake Michigan.)
  • Be specific, but don’t worry about making sense or sounding clever. You can write fragments, sentences, lists or run-ons.
  • Don’t read your work as you go along. Just keep moving forward.
  • Feel free to be candid. No one will read this but you.

4. When the timer stops, you can either stop writing or continue. You can always write for more than ten minutes, but you should not write for less.

5. Look back at your free writing, and find three segments that sound like you.

  • Each one can be anything from a short phrase to a multi-sentence description.
  • They don’t have to be exciting or clever; they just have to sound like you (e.g., something you always say, do or think; a phrase you like; or a description of something that screams my house! or my backyard! or my sister!)

These are examples of your writing voice. This is what you sound like when you are not trying too hard to be clever or creative. This is also the voice you should use to write your application essays.

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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