As you plan, outline, brainstorm, and draft your college application essay, you may be wondering, “How can I write a great college application essay?” You may also be wondering which topics you should not include in your college application essay or if it is okay to ask questions throughout your application essay.
If you are looking for guidance in selecting the proper subject matter or tips for writing a great college application essay, then use this article as a point of reference for advice and strategies to make your application stand out to the college admissions board reading your work.
Tips To Help You Write A Great College Application Essay
- Make Sure That You Fully Understand The Prompt
Before you begin writing your college application essay, it is imperative that you take the time to fully understand the prompt. Every question posed in the application prompt is important and failing to answer one or two parts of the prompt can be detrimental to your first impression as an applicant.
Always read the entire prompt. If you have any questions about what the prompt expects from you, then work with your college admissions counselor or ask a teacher to gain a specific understanding of what you need to include in your writing.
Some students only answer one of the questions posed in the prompt. This is a major mistake.
Here is an example of a Common ApplicationⓇ prompt that you may choose to write about:
“The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”
If you write an entire essay about the lessons you have learned without reflecting on how the “challenge, setback, or failure” affected you, then you will have failed to answer the full prompt. Do not just tell a story about an obstacle you faced. You need to answer the two questions: how did it affect you and what did you learn?
Avoiding specific parts of an essay prompt leaves an impression that you are avoiding the question or that you do not care about the prompt. To give the reader a deeper understanding of who you are as a person, be sure that you fully understand the prompt and answer every question posed by the admissions board.
- Talk About Yourself
To write a great college application essay, you need to talk about yourself. Many students will err by recounting an event, telling a story about their hero, writing about their struggles, and discussing their accomplishments, without taking time to reflect on how these things have changed who they are as a person.
You need to be specific in providing information about yourself to the reader. Remember, the goal of your college application essay is to provide a personal view of who you are. The admissions officer reading your essay has all of the data about your grades and academic history.
The college application essay is your opportunity to insert your voice into the application and give the reader an introduction to who you are. Significant space on the page should be dedicated to talking about how an event shaped you, or what core values you live by, or how a person, place, or thing has shaped the way you live your life.
As you select your college application prompt, consider both the story you can tell as well as the personal reflection you can offer to your reader. If you struggle to find a prompt that suits these criteria, consider the things that are most important to you, and ask yourself “How has this thing shaped my life?”
- Write About Something Important To You
If writing about yourself feels like a daunting task, you should select an essay prompt that allows you to write about something important to you. Writing an essay based on what you think your reader wants to hear will be obvious. Be genuine about the things that matter to you! Writing a great college application essay requires you to be honest.
College Application Essays: What NOT To Include
There are several key topics that students should avoid when writing a college application essay. Here is a breakdown of some subjects that may be taboo for your personal essay or weaken your first impression to the college admissions board reviewing your application.
- Information You Have Already Provided In Your Answers To Short Response Questions
You should not repeat information from your short answer responses in your personal essay. Consider each writing prompt (for long or short answer responses) as a new opportunity to personalize your application. Any chance to insert your voice and your story into your application is unique.
Repetitive information will be seen as lazy and careless. With such a small window of opportunity for the admissions board to get to know you, it is crucial that you take any chance you can get to deepen their understanding of who you are as a person.
- Overly Personal Subjects
You should avoid focusing your college application essay on overly personal subjects. Some students write their college application essays about breakups or romantic partners, and these writings typically fail.
Remember, your goal should be to share information about yourself, including your goals for the future or your core values. Your reader should have an understanding of how you will impact their school and the role you will have on their campus. Overly personal subjects, like romantic relationships, can limit your ability to talk about who you are as a person.
- Controversial Or Polarizing Topics
Writing about overly controversial or polarizing topics risks alienating your reader should they take an opposing stance to your claims. Ask yourself “Is this topic central to who I am as a person?” If a topic interests you and is relevant to a discussion of your values and morals, consider if it is overly controversial or polarizing.
Essays about sports stories, travel stories, and volunteer trips struggle to stand out as unique. Many, many students will write about their championship game, a sports injury, encountering different cultures in their travels, or their experiences volunteering. Because these are such common topics, it is hard for one essay to stand out from the rest.
Asking Unnecessary Questions In Your College Essay: Is It Okay?
Some students will format their essays around rhetorical questions. Keep in mind that your college application essay will likely have a word count. Are the rhetorical questions in your essay more impactful than the direct statements you can make in their place? It is okay to ask questions in your essay so long as they are necessary to the structure of your writing or the points you want to make.
Can I Discuss My Emotional Health In My College Application Essay?
If you are considering writing about your emotional or mental health in your college application essay, then you should consider how you plan to accomplish the goal of your college essay with the discussion. Your college application essay needs to provide the reader with an understanding of how you will fit into their campus. What positive attributes will you bring to their college or university? Why are you a good fit as an applicant? Can you answer these questions in an essay about your mental health?
The most important question to ask yourself is “Are your mental health struggles an important part of the discussion of who you are?” Writing about mental health can be extremely difficult. If you do choose to focus your college application essay on your emotional or mental health, be sure that your reader understands that your mental health is crucial to understanding who you are.
Many applications will offer space in the short answer questions for any details that you were not able to discuss in the rest of your application. If your mental health impacted your grades, you could use the Additional Information short answer question as an opportunity to bring this part of your life to light. If you want to talk about how mental health has impacted your life, but do not want to write an entire essay about it, then consider inserting the information into the short response portion of the application.
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