For virtually every selective school, there are more students who meet the academic criteria than they can admit. And that is where the college admissions essay comes in. A great admissions essay can help set you apart from all the others who might get in. And unlike your grade on a Calculus course, a great college essay isn’t an objective evaluation, it’s a subjective decision. Different admissions officials at different schools will make different decisions.
That’s because what makes a college essay great isn’t based on what you learned in English class. A great college admissions essay might not get a good grade in school. Think “narrative,” not “analytical.”
Here’s what college officials are looking for in an admissions essay:
- Is it authentic and interesting? College admissions officials are looking for an essay that really shows who you are. As Parke Muth, who served at the admissions office for the University of Virginia, and read thousands of essays, put it: “I wanted to hear and see and touch and smell and feel the world you are in.”
- Does it stand out? Admissions officials read dozens of essays each day, so make sure yours stands out. The standard five-paragraph essay you wrote in high school doesn’t. So use literary devices (like one-sentence paragraphs, starting at the high point of your story, or dialogue) to set it apart. Pick a subject that is unusual, interesting, and personal, and isn’t just meant to “impress” someone.
- Does it tell a compelling story about you that shows how you’d fit into the school’s community? Different universities value different kinds of students. Some value creative minds, some value students who care about causes and communities, some value students who are passionate about their culture or religious faith. Depending on where you’re applying, make sure your essay shows the admissions official how you’d fit in.
- Does it read like an adult wrote it? Too many students outsource their essay to an adult. A parent or a coach writes it for them, so they can write an “impressive” essay. But admissions officials can tell. It is the killer mistake, so don’t make it.
A great college essay is critical if you’re applying to selective schools. Writing a good essay takes time, and several edits and rewrites. So start early, and make sure you tell a story that sets you apart.
What Does it Take to Write a Great College Application Essay?
How to get started writing a great essay?
LifeLaunchr has many resources that can help:
- Check out LifeLaunchr’s Webinars on College Essays and Personal Statements:
- Secrets of Writing a Winning College Essay, with Jane Hirschhorn and Venkates Swaminathan
- Answering the University of California Personal Insight Questions, with Jamie Wallace and Venkates Swaminathan
- College Admissions in the U.K. for U.S. Families, with Amy Garrou and Venkates Swaminathan
- Make sure you plan for all the essays you have to write, including supplementals. You may end up writing as many as 20!
- Check out our blog piece on the Keys to a Great College Admission Essay for some tips, including Dos and Don’ts.
- Get expert help to brainstorm, edit, and write your essays. It can make a difference!
Whether you use an essay for college or not, learning how to write is a crucial skill for success. Take the time to build the skill early, and you can use it to be successful wherever you go to college!