Simplify your College Admission Essay

By: Caroline Koppelman

There’s an episode of Friends where Monica and Chandler need a letter of recommendation for an adoption service. Joey volunteers to write the letter but becomes flustered. He tells Ross, “I want it to sound smart, but I don’t know any big words or anything!” Ross shows him the thesaurus and Joey proceeds to pick the “smartest sounding” word for every single word in his letter. 

Like Joey, students writing their college essays share the common misconception that the bigger the words they use, the smarter their essay will sound. We want our students to know that the admissions committee is more focused on content than wording. They want to be able to hear your voice, not the recommended suggestions of your online thesaurus. There’s no reason to feel like you should take out your SAT vocab book and start adding those words to your essay. Although you might think it’ll make you sound smarter, there is no direct correlation between intelligence and high diction. 

A better approach to conveying your intelligence is coming up with an interesting theme and then writing about it in an intriguingly simple way that shows the reader the real you. Being “simple” does not mean you are under qualified or unintelligent. Instead, it shows self control and the fact that you have developed a complex idea and then delivered it in a manner that was informative and easy to follow. 

One of the greatest transcendentalist writers said “simplicity, simplicity, simplicity” and that is the exact mindset you should embrace while writing your college essay. You should try and stay away from these 3 myths about how to sound smart in a college essay.

  1. The longer the sentences, the more complex your writing sounds. 
    Wrong. While writing complex sentences you start to lose the subject and get lost in what you are trying to communicate. When writing your college essays you should focus on being direct and effective. You have a word limit, which means that you want to make the most of the space you’re given. Don’t waste it on attempting to sound advanced.
  2. Bigger words mean you’re smarter than your peers. 
    The reader can see right through your attempts to replace “easy” words with more complex ones. It’s your job to treat the essay as the most authentic and genuine piece of your application. You want the essay to show the reader who you are. Keep the thesaurus closed and the test-prep books out of it; you’ll be fine with the words you already know.
  3. The most complex theme will show the reader that you are profound and deep. 
    Sometimes your best idea for what to write about might be your simplest one. You don’t need to choose the theme that seems like it would be most impressive. There are many options for the topic for a reason. Choose the theme that best suits you.

When it comes down to it, we want you to remember that the essay is just a platform for the reader to get a better sense of you. Don’t be like Joey who completely changed his own writing to make himself sound more intelligent. In doing so, he lost his voice within the writing and sacrificed his credibility. There’s no need to be stressed over “sounding smart.” Don’t waste the opportunity to show the reader who you are just because you want to sound like a more knowledgeable version of yourself.