Start Now: College Entrance Essays!

Summer is the perfect time for high school Juniors to write their college entrance essays!  Independent College Consultant, Marie Morris, stopped by with tips to help those essays stand out from the pack.

Summer is a great time to get the college essay done (or scholarship essays for that matter!).  Students typically have more time without other schoolwork and believe it or not, a well written college essay will take time.

Why is the college essay important?

  • Colleges are trying to put together an interesting class.  There is only so much you can learn from transcripts, test scores and activities.
  • It is one part of the application that the student has control over at this point.  It gives almost every student an equal chance to share an interesting story that makes them likeable.
  • Some sort of writing is required for almost all college applications. 
  1. Insight resume used at OSU and Eastern Washington measure non-cognitive qualities that are not academic in nature and give great insight about the applicant.  They can be used for scholarship consideration and are typically read separate from the rest of the application.
  2. Many schools have an additional essay that may ask “why us?”, “what will you bring to campus” (as in qualities, not physical stuff), discuss a meaningful extra-curricular activity, or why a particular course of study.

What are some tips for essay writing?

  • Don’t try to impress, just be honest. (Examples, be likeable.)
  • Own your story. (Examples, details that make it your story, could someone else tell that story?) The best essays are meaningful experiences that also make for good stories.
  • Don’t repeat information already on the application.  (Examples, pick as story not mentioned or share new information about something already shared.)
  • Your essay should sound like you.  (Examples, high school English assignment is academic and formal, college essays are about the writer.

Some overused topics:

  • Sports taught me the importance of teamwork and goal commitment. (Find a story you own, like being the slowest runner on the track team)
  • My trip to another country broadened my horizons. (Make yourself, not the country the focus.)
  • Community service taught me the importance of helping others. (Only write about this if it really was important to you and you really made a connection with the organization.)
  • My leadership position proves I work well with others. (Tell a specific story within the leadership experience)
  • How I overcame a hardship. (Be specific and own the story so no one else could tell it.)

What are the prompts on the Common Application this year?

  • Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
  • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  • Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Off Limit Topics:

  • Nothing too personal that would embarrass the reader.
  • Avoid being too political or religious to the point of being intolerant.
  • Problems with drugs, alcohol, violence, mental and/or emotional disorders. In the case of abuse, the college would have a responsibility to report this if I an essay.
  • Excuses for failure.
  • Only be funny if you are funny in real life.  Be yourself.

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