The college essay—dreaded by many high school seniors—can cause even the most promising students to break into a cold sweat. So, what makes a compelling college essay, and more to the point, how do you make yours stand out enough to grab the attention of Admissions Officers?
A lot of colleges require applicants to submit their personal essays, and you may be wondering what the purpose of this is. With so many institutions moving to test-optional admissions, the essay is the one portion of your application where you may describe your character in words and concepts rather than numbers. It’s your chance to demonstrate schools who you are, and why you stand out from other applicants.
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There are seven different prompts you can choose from for your personal essay in the Common Application. You can write about a time when you faced difficulties, something you’re proud of achieving, moments when you felt extremely grateful, or any other topic of your choice.
While there is no prompt that could be considered “superior,” they may change slightly from year to year. To play it safe, read through all of the prompts before you start your applications. If you’re really passionate about a certain topic, don’t worry! You can probably still write about it and make it fit one of the prompts.
How many words should your essay contain?
The 650-word essay may sound daunting, but you will be surprised at how fast the word limit is reached once you get started. I have found that most students need to cut their essays down before submitting them. The word limit is final and cannot be exceeded by even one word.
Creating the College Essay
If you’re hoping to make a great impression on admissions officers and help your application stand out, start with these tips for writing an essay that will get noticed.
When your parents, instructors, and guidance counselors urge you to start working on your essay before your senior year, in summer, they know what they’re talking about. Don’t put it off until the last minute. Life is a whirlwind in September when school starts. Take time out of your schedule to work on the essay in June or August if you don’t have other homework or extra activities hanging over your head. Set a goal of beginning by July before senior year.
Keep the topic focused.
Do not try to cover too much ground. Your essay should not be concerned with a major world-changing event. Some individuals in their teens have yet to experience a major life transition. Some people have experienced it. In any case, it is acceptable.
So, what to write about?
This brainstorming technique will help get the creative juices flowing: think about a time when you faced a particular challenge and how you coped with it. Another way to come up with ideas is to ask people who know you well to describe you in a few words and explain why they chose those particular adjectives. Use their responses as starting points for your essay.
Many students believe that only significant or life-changing events make for interesting and unique essays, but that is not always the case. Sometimes, it is the small, seemingly mundane details of everyday life that can reveal a lot about a person’s character.
Where to get help with a personal essay
There are a few different ways that you can get help when writing your personal essay. Here are some of the most popular methods:
- Get a tutor
One of the best ways to get help with your personal essay is to hire a tutor. A tutor can help you with every aspect of your essay, from brainstorming ideas to editing and proofreading your final draft.
- Use an online service
If you don’t want to or can’t afford to hire a tutor, you can use an online service like The Princeton Review or Kaplan. These services will connect you with a professional editor who can help you improve your essay.
- Ask a friend for help
If you have a friend who is a good writer, you can ask them to read over your essay and give you feedback. Just make sure that you return the favor by proofreading their work as well!
- Get help from your teacher
If you’re still struggling with your essay after trying some of these methods, don’t be afraid to ask your teacher for help. They’ve probably seen a lot of papers in their time and can offer some valuable insight.