How Will Your College Essay Standout?

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The fall is a busy time of year for college admissions representatives. They spend a lot of it on the road visiting schools and presenting at college fairs. Their days are spent rushing between appointments, attending working lunches, and end late at their hotel rooms when they finally sit down, open their computers, and pull up the latest 25 or so applications they need to review for next year’s incoming class. Knowing this, how will your essay capture and hold their attention? How will it stand out?

My Pathway to College recently hosted a college essay webinar for it’s rising seniors and below are the takeaways:

Start Early & Brainstorm:
The first piece of advice we can offer high school juniors is to start the college essay writing process early.
Give yourself plenty of time to write and rewrite your essay—plan for the final product to take multiple drafts. Before you dive into the essay, brainstorm—a successful essay requires self-reflection. Get comfortable talking about yourself and reflecting on what is relevant and meaningful to you. What are the significant lessons you’ve learned? Where did you develop the values that you carry with you today?

Your Voice:
Consider your essay your opportunity to speak directly to the college admissions representatives. The essay is your voice amidst all the other data points that make up your application, such as your GPA, your test scores, and your extracurriculars.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What do you want to tell your readers?
  • What do you want them to know, that may not be evident in the rest of your application?
  • After the admissions reader finishes your essay, what type of person do you want them to see you as?
  • What traits are you bringing to their campus?
  • Write as you would speak to an adult family friend. Respectful, but less formal than your traditional high school English class essay.

Selecting the Right Topic:
Be aware of what is already clearly displayed in your application; avoid telling your reader what they already know. If you have taken the most rigorous classes throughout high school and earned excellent grades, you do not need to write about this in your essay.

Don’ts:

  • Your essay is not meant to be a list of your achievements nor a resumé in an essay form. Neither of which are that compelling to read.
  • Be careful you don’t get lost in the drama or the details of the story you choose to write. Remember, admissions representatives read hundreds of essays.
  • Avoid cliché and overused topics that they’ve heard thousands of times, such as sports’ triumphs, mission trips, and COVID-19 challenges.

Do’s:

  • Think about what is not apparent in your application? Were you maintaining over a 4.0 while working weekends in your neighborhood’s community garden or caring for your younger siblings?
  • Pick a topic that highlights the attributes you will bring to a college community.

Remember, no matter the topic of your essay, YOU are the star. It is okay if you have not experienced a life-altering event or hardship. Sometimes a simple topic (such as baking with your grandmother or being part of a theater group) creates the perfect setting for the reader to learn how you see yourself, how you think, and how you understand the world. The essay prompts are general enough that you can truly write on anything that you choose. Find a subject that you will enjoy writing on, and that reveals a bit about you and hopefully helps the reader get to know you too.

Start brainstorming now. How can your essay be a memorable highlight of what will be a long, tiring day for the admissions representatives next fall?

My Pathway to College is here to help, and we have brainstorming exercises and essay coaches to assist you in identifying the right topic. Please reach out to us to schedule a virtual essay coaching session.

Want to read essays that worked in admissions? Check out some below samples for inspiration:

Johns Hopkins

Tufts

New York Times 

Connecticut College