8 Ways to Write a Stronger College Admissions Essay

The college essay can be a source of stress among high school seniors applying to their schools of choice. An SCSU administrator who oversees admissions shares ways to write a winning essay.


January and February can be a stressful time if you’re a high school senior.

The glorious days of fall – when the promise of one’s future is close enough to be exhilarating, but not so close as to be anxiety-inducing – are over. Yet, the inevitable thaw of spring, when  college plans are finalized and “senioritis” can set in, is still a few months away. Instead, the cold, hard realities of weather and life coincide — prompting students to choose from among the colleges to which they would like to apply.

And while filling out forms can be both tedious and time consuming, the oft-dreaded essay is often the biggest source of stress for students when applying to schools. After all, except for the interview that some schools require, the essay is the last opportunity to stand out from the crowd — to show the admissions offices that you are a thoughtful student with good writing skills and are worthy of acceptance.

Kimberly Crone, associate vice president for academic student services at Southern, has plenty of suggestions on how to write the application essay. Her experience includes dealing with various aspects of the admissions process, including how to write an attention-grabbing essay. Here are some tips she offers:

  • Respond to the topic. You can be the best writer in the world, but if you don’t address the main point or question of the essay, it may not matter. Creativity is encouraged, but don’t stray too far from the topic.
  • Highlight your distinctiveness. Colleges often look for individuals who bring something unusual (in a good way) to the school. If there is an opportunity to talk about your accomplishments, activities or interests, try to include something that sets you apart from most other students.
  • Remember your audience. It’s a good idea to do a little research about the school in terms of its location, values and mission, as well as its academic and athletic offerings. If there is an opportunity to link what you do to what they offer or value, that’s a plus.
  • Mind your grammar, words and humor. Properly delivered, a good sense of humor can be an effective communication device. But a joke or humorous anecdote may not come across the same way in writing as it does verbally. Remember, you can’t use inflection, pitch or other speaking devices in an essay and that can change the context. Also, if you do attempt to use humor, be sure that the comment is tasteful.
  • Write in your own voice. Don’t try to be someone you’re not, or write in a way that is so bland that your voice ceases to come through.
  • Follow the instructions. This applies to the parameters of the essay – length, format, etc. If the application asks for 800 words, don’t submit an essay of 2,500 words. It not only risks putting the readers to sleep, but it calls into question both your ability to comply with basic rules and to outline your thoughts concisely and coherently.
  • Proofread. Everyone makes mistakes in their initial drafts. Even Thomas Jefferson made revisions to his copy when writing the Declaration of Independence. Some readers are less forgiving of typos and other careless errors. You might get away with one or two minor errors, but a pattern of mistakes indicates sloppy work. Most schools don’t want students who don’t pay attention to essential details.
  • Get feedback. Your essay should reflect your own thoughts, in your own voice. But that doesn’t mean you can’t share your drafts with others to get their suggestions on how to improve them. Accept those suggestions that you think make sense and discard those that you don’t like.

For those who have read college admission essays – administrators, teachers, parents – what advice would you offer students?

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Bailey Ave March 07, 2013 at 06:13 PM
"So volunteers who coach don't matter? " Ha! I've seen some coaches make incredibly bad decisions when it comes to the kids in their charge. The last person I would want to influence my children is a coach. Separately, when parents say it takes a village, I think sometimes they use it as an excuse. Parents think they don't have to do their part because after all, the responsibility lies with everyone.... not. I think the parents are just too lazy to help their own children with their homework, so they pass off that responsibility to the teachers. And when the kid fails, well, it's the teacher's fault. I don't know how parents these days live with the guilt of screwing up their own kids. I guess that's the real superpower of toaday's parents. They are selfish and feel no guilt.
jim laguardia March 07, 2013 at 06:27 PM
Back on topic... would a good tip be not to use the # and to spell it out?? As in "eight"
Bailey Ave March 07, 2013 at 08:30 PM
I've always thought that to be true, if a number is less than 10, spell it out. 10 or greater, use the numerical form.
Wondering March 07, 2013 at 08:45 PM
What percentage of all is some? Of course nobody is perfect. But the more of us that get out and work with the community, the more of a community we will be.
Bailey Ave March 07, 2013 at 09:01 PM
I think it depends on the reasons a person volunteers. In some cases I don't think it's really for the students or the community at large. I think some people do it for power and glory. I think there are quite a few obvious examples of that kind of land grab in this town.


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