Instantly Improve Your Application Essay in Three Easy Steps

Writing an application essay doesn’t have to be scary or tedious. Admissions officers examine your ACT/SAT test scores, transcript, extra curricular activities, and your application essay. With the possible exception of doing well on standardized tests, the application essay is the most daunting part of the admissions process for many students. What you, as a student, may not realize is that the essay is your chance to shine.

Step One: Personalize Your Essay

A unique essay is a great essay, and what is more unique than writing about yourself and your life experiences? Of course you’ll want to make sure that you personalize your essay within the confines of the prompt, but most of the essay prompts/questions asked are designed for you to answer with your own flair. If you’re answering a prompt about failure, success, or becoming an adult, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable or use humor. Having said that, it’s important to avoid using vulgar language. Your essay will certainly stand out, just remember that not all attention is good attention.

Honesty

Admission officers read tons of essays every day. They know when you’re writing what they want to hear versus what you actually believe. Being honest in your essay is a great way for the college to get to know you, and they’ll appreciate that you didn’t give a canned answer.

For example, a common essay question asks a about a problem you either have solved or would like to solve. Just because writing, “I would like to solve the problem of world hunger,” looks good, doesn’t mean that’s what you should write unless you really mean it. Again, admission officers have a ton of experience, and no matter how convincing you think you are, they will pick up on your insincerity.

Step Two: Have a Strong Opening

Grab the reader’s attention as soon as possible! Opening with a relevant statistic or story is a great way to get the college’s attention. Peaking the admission officer’s interest in the first paragraph, encourages them to read your paper more thoroughly and enjoy it. You don’t need to use long drawn out sentences or complex words. Yes, you can sprinkle them in, but diversity in both word-choice and sentence structure are key. Sentences of varying lengths creates for an interesting read.

As you start your essay, it’s tempting to show off your vocabulary. Be careful when using those ten-dollar words, since having too many can come across as though you are trying too hard. Friends may be too old of a reference for some of you. However, I think this clip hilariously illustrates why it’s not always in your best interest to use “smart” language. You can either watch it below, or here.

You can absolutely use “fancier” words, just make sure that you do so sparingly and correctly.

Step Three: Read it Out Loud

You might be thinking, “Wait, shouldn’t proofreading/editing be one of these steps?” Have no fear, that’s exactly what this step is. A great way to improve your essay is to read it out loud. You’ll want to do this several times as you write your essay. When you do, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does my essay flow well, or is it choppy? If it’s choppy, look for places where you can insert transition words or phrases like “furthermore,” “however,” and “for that reason.” Again, varying the length of your sentences will improve how your essay reads. You’ll want to pay attention to any areas where you have too many long or short sentences in a row.
  • Am I using the same word too many times? Especially when people are addressing multiple points in their essays, the word “also” is used excessively. Instead, try using “likewise,” “in addition,” “as well as,” or simply, “too.” Replace the word you’re favoring with its synonym (again, be sure to use words correctly) and, if you must use that same word again, try to space them out in your essay.
  • Do I have any typos, and is my punctuation/grammar correct? It’s easy to not notice these errors if you’ve been working on the same paper for a considerable period of time. Take a quick break, then come back and read it out loud. Yes, spell-check will highlight some grammatical and punctuation errors, but not all.

Try reading your essay to someone else, rather than out loud to yourself. It is best to read what you have written to someone who would be able to edit and proofread your paper the traditional way as well.

Whether your transcript, extracurriculars, and test scores are an accurate reflection of you or not, the application essay is your chance to highlight the best aspects of you. For other tips on writing application essays and the admissions process, check out these other posts written by the YesCollege team.

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Scott Hawksworth

Scott Hawksworth is YesCollege.com's founder and editor. He writes with a focus on the challenges faced by students entering higher education, with an eye to making our readers aware of the pitfalls and opportunities that await all would-be graduates. Scott has a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from The Ohio State University.