How To Write a Standout College Admissions Essay

It’s easy to write a college admissions essay that makes you stand out. We promise. All you have to do is: 1.  be interesting, and 2. tell a really wonderful story. Easy enough. End of article. Thanks for reading.

OK, we’ll expand on that a bit because we have your attention. There are a few things that we suggest and a few foolproof nuggets of advice that we harp on to all of our students.

1.     We’re serious: don’t be boring.

Do you know what’s boring? A cliché. An essay that the admissions reader has read before. An unoriginal interpretation of one of the Common App prompts. Don’t do this.

2.     Show, don’t tell.

Talk about how you did something, don’t just say that you did something. Color outside of the borders and speak to the context that is sitting there in between sentences. That’s the interesting meat of it all—it’s not that you make a perfect bowl of cacio e pepe and you’re happy about that. It’s how you had to make it 72 different ways before it tasted right and were frustrated until you perfected it. That’s the story. Talk about the frustration and the lead-up—tell us the story, don’t skip to the end.

3.     Keep it simple.

Tell us about all of your emotions but tell your story about something small. Always think smaller. Believe it or not, that story we mentioned about the bowl of pasta is so much more interesting to read than pretty much anything else. It’s even more interesting than the story about your week-long trip to Italy where you volunteered at a soup kitchen and had a really meaningful time because it changed your life (and also ate pasta). That trip is a detail, not the main character.

4.     Get personal.

This doesn’t mean revealing an intimate detail about your life or family that you think is going to get you in because it’s particularly #shocking or #intense. This means discussing a part of your personality through this story that is not obvious by reading the rest of your application. Tell the story about what makes you tick. Talk about the inner-workings of your brain that you think would be bizarre to the outside world but it all makes sense in the context of you. Give that context. Admissions readers can’t read your mind, they can only read what’s on the page, so make it jump and punch them in between the eyes. Wake them up. They’re basically drooling of boredom because hundreds of these essays that they have to read are exactly the same. Not yours.

5.     Be creative and open-minded.

You know that crazy idea that you had about writing your college essay in iambic pentameter? Do it. Be creative and surprise your admissions reader with your ability to express yourself in an unexpected way. There aren’t rules about format, but there are rules about length. But don’t tie yourself to one idea, because it might evolve. That’s why we suggest writing it all out at the beginning and then editing down. Once you have the content, it could go in any one of many directions so be open to another direction. It might be the right one. We can help you if you’re lost, by the way. Just call or email us.

Seriously. Just call or email us. We really want to help you.