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A Guide to Writing a Winning College Application Essay

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Posted by Saint Leo University Online on Oct 18, 2017 9:01:00 AM

Young male student typing on netbook computerFall is that time of year when the air turns a little crisper, stores start to stock up their shelves with a plethora of holiday goodies, and everyone begins to think about their goals for the upcoming New Year. It’s also when soon-to-be college students work hard to assemble their paperwork for the following fall.

If this is you, then you’ve likely already realized that part of this admissions process often requires the completion of a college application essay. However, before you can craft an essay that earns you admittance to the school of your choice, it helps to first understand why schools of higher learning require this type of writing in the first place.

Why Schools Require College Application Essays

In a 2016 post on Grammarly’s blog, the author explains that there are five basic things that a school looks for when reading a college application essay. The first is whether or not you can write a piece that is organized, coherent, grammatically correct, and free from spelling errors. This gives an indication of where your writing skills and academics stand.

Your essay also tells the school a little bit about you as a person, along with the reasons behind your academic and career-related goals. Together, these provide a glimpse of who you are and where you want to go in life.

The fourth thing a college application essay reveals is what type of contribution you stand to offer both the school and society at large. The fifth is the qualities you possess, which can indicate whether you’ll fit in to their environment.

When considered in whole, all of these factors can tell the school a great deal about what type of student you’ll be and whether you’re the right match for them. So how do you write a college application essay that tells them that you’re worth admitting because it’s going to be a win-win?

Keep Your Essay Short and to the Point

Imagine that you’re the admissions officer at a university, and you get thousands of applications every year. Which is going to stand out more to you: an essay that portrays a prospective student in a clear, concise manner or one that rambles on and on…and on? You definitely want to hit the school’s minimum word requirement, but try not to go too much over that amount, or you risk providing so much information that you get lost in the pile.

Be Introspective and Uniquely You

Because so many prospective students will be sending in essays, instead of trying to be like everyone else, focus more on what it means to be uniquely you. That’s really what the school wants to know anyway. What makes you tick? What motivates you? What sets you apart from other students? Answer these questions in an introspective way, and your college application essay will be as distinctive as you are.

Be Genuine

While it’s important to be concise and distinctive, you also want to be genuine. Your college essay is not the time to embellish, brag, or pretend that you’re someone you’re not. It’s simply your opportunity to let the school know exactly who you are and how you interact with the world, giving you the perfect platform to show them how you will be an asset to their academic community in an honest and frank sort of way. It’s okay to share the accomplishments that you’re most proud of, but if you show that you’re more humble than boastful about them, it can go a long way.

Tell a Story (Your Story)

If you’ve ever been sucked into a book after reading just the first page, then you already know the power of a story to compel a reader to want to know more. The only difference with a college application essay is that instead of you creating a fictitious story to draw the reader in, you’re using your own personal story. Tell it in a way where the person reading it says, “Wow! We simply must have to have this applicant attend our university!”

Remember That the School Doesn’t Know You

Have you ever received an e-mail or text message from someone you didn’t know real well and weren’t real sure how to take what was said? You don’t want your college application essay to have the same effect, so remember that the person reading it doesn’t know you. For this reason, you likely want to limit your use of humor or any wording that can potentially be taken out of context.

Edit, Edit, and Edit Again

Most professional writers will tell you that the key to creating high-quality pieces of writing is actually in the editing. This means taking the time to go over what you wrote, remove what doesn’t add to it and clarify any points that seem vague or detract from the essay.

This is also a good time to catch any final grammar or spelling errors before turning the application essay in. You may even want to have someone else go over it for you to see if they see any issues or anything that needs to be clarified or changed.

Writing a winning college application essay isn’t always easy, but if it will get you where you want to go in life, it is necessary. Follow these general guidelines, and you’ll be on the right track…your track.

Share Your Experience

Are you in college now or attained a degree in the past? Tell us about the strategies you used in your college application essay as a comment below.

Topics: College admission, college application essay

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