August is a great time for high school seniors to work on their college essays! Students have had a chance to unwind and relax from the previous school year, while the stress of senior year hasn't started yet. Moreover, the Common Application for 2018-2019 just went live yesterday, allowing students to see this year's prompts for any supplemental essays for specific colleges and universities. Whether you're writing your Common Application Essay (the one that is sent to every school to which you're applying) or a Supplemental Essay for a specific school, here are 4 things to keep in mind:
1) Use your own voice! Too many students think that college essay writing has to be convoluted, filled with flowery language and run-on sentences that are hard to follow. The exact opposite is true! The college essay allows the reader to finally get a REAL insight into a student's personality and character - in other words, the essay should demonstrate the ESSENCE of the student beyond the facts and numbers that fill the rest of the application. Because of this, it's always best to write in your own voice, using your own words. This also means that parents, counselors, or consultants should NEVER write any essays for the student!!!
2) Be clear and concise! The harder your reader has to work to understand what you're trying to say, the more likely it is for the reader to just give up and put your application file in the "deny" pile. Keep in mind that your reader is plowing through hundreds of applications for days on end. You want to make the job or reading your application as easy as possible, and as *memorable* as possible. To that end, aim to write short, clear sentences that get right to the point. The tighter the writing, the better.
3) Use active verbs! Just as with overly flowery language, many students falsely assume that writing in the passive voice is somehow more formal or sounds more "academic." Nothing could be further from the truth! The passive voice deflates writing, draining your words of their potential power. Instead, choose to write in the active voice to communicate your charisma and energy! Active verbs make writing come alive, and that's precisely the effect you want to achieve - use active verbs to help the reader imagine what you experienced and why.
4) Don't be afraid to be vulnerable! Using your own voice and demonstrating who you are as a person require honesty. Especially when you're addressing challenges, setbacks, or disappointments, it's particularly important to let yourself be vulnerable in your writing. We have all been there, and we understand! Sharing your vulnerability in a genuine way will increase the connection a reader feels with you, triggering empathy and making your application that much more memorable. It will also increase the chances that your file readers will want to fight for you when it comes time to make decisions in the Admissions Committee meetings. Just make sure that your vulnerability is authentic - trying to fake emotion when it is not sincere is as bad as a parent writing the essay (readers can spot fake emotion from a mile away).
Following these tips should help your essays shine, no matter which prompt you choose to answer! However, if you find yourself stumped or suffering from writer's block, please contact me for further assistance on how to present your best self on paper for your application. Happy writing!
Maruta Z. Vitols is an independent educational consultant in the metro-Boston area. When not helping students achieve their dreams, she enjoys hanging out with her dog, exploring new places with her husband, and doing yoga.