SRC Admissions Consultants

Five Tips for Starting your College Application Essay

As students prepare to submit college application essays, it’s not a surprise that the CommonApp essay and supplemental writing pieces garner particular attention. After all, it is a primary area in which students can exercise control over the application process. Whereas GPA, recommendations, and extra-curricular experiences are the consequence of cumulative hard work, college application essays are a unique opportunity for students to tell their story and convince admissions officers to accept them. For this reason, it is essential that students seriously consider what they want to say about themselves. And as they work to draft their essays, SRC Educational Admissions offers the following tips to get started:

What are your best qualities as a prospective college applicant?

In essence, college application essays are a chance to brand and market yourself to admissions offices. Are you a particularly good writer? Do you have volunteer experience you would be able to continue at college? Are you exceptional in the sciences? Colleges want to know what you would bring to their campus. And as much as these essays are, on some level, a good opportunity for self-reflection, it is important to never lose sight of the fact that you are ultimately trying to make yourself seem appealing and accomplished to admissions teams. So how do you begin? We suggest you start by coming up with a list of all the accomplishments, experiences, talents, or interests. This will also help you narrow down what you want to discuss, which is essential.

Can you tell a progressive story that highlights those qualities?

Once you have identified the aspects of your candidacy that you want to highlight, we recommend finding a way to tell a story about those qualities that is progressive. This is to say, you should tell a story that has a start, middle, and conclusion, in which you direct your attention to your plans for the future. For instance, if your goal is to highlight your experience in social justice work, begin your essay with a hook and by making it clear that it is this quality you will be focusing on. Consider describing how this interest developed, significant experiences you have had within the realm of social justice work, and any challenges you might have faced. Often describing the ways in which your interests or beliefs have shifted is a compelling approach. Conclude by discussing how you would like to continue the work you started in high school while in college.

Outline your essay, and follow that outline

After developing a sense of what story you want to tell, it’s time to outline it. Instead of simply following the generic five-paragraph essay formula, which can be helpful in certain cases, we recommend thinking about what points you want to make. Make each paragraph correspond to a “stage” of your story. When outlining consider using once sentence descriptions of what each paragraph would say so that the final product of your outline reads almost like a concise summary of your essay.

Get your ideas onto paper first. Worry about editing later.

Once you have your outline, write your essay without stopping for edits. In your outline, you developed a plan of what you want to say in your application prompt, get that plan onto paper. In addition to saving you valuable time as you complete a first draft, there are other good reasons to focus on writing quality only after you have something finished. Many students try too hard to write eloquently and instead lose their own voice in favor of jargon and verbosity. If you are writing quickly, you do not have the opportunity to do this. Once a draft is written, focus on rewriting sentences and detailed edits. For more on this, consider reading Creative Writing Lessons from Daniel Kahneman.

Avoid cliches above all

This is pretty straight forward; however, cliches are a common ailment in students’ college application essays. In short, don’t use narrative tropes that are overdone. And use precise language and original metaphors as opposed to recycled phrases (e.g. the quiet before the storm). Not only are cliches poor writing practice; they also have the added effect of making your essay seem less original and sincere.