Students Looking to Stand Out in Admissions Should Focus on their Personal Essay

Outside of standardized tests like the ACT and SAT, your student’s personal essay is one of the most important parts of their college application. Here is a quick back story on this personal essay and how it works:

Most college applications require a personal essay. Common App is the most popular way of applying to college and is accepted by over 1,000 Universities worldwide. This platform makes it easier for students to apply to multiple schools with less manual work. They also keep a list of college’s specific personal essay requirements to help students prepare.

The personal essay portion of an application carries a lot of weight for most colleges, making it a bit daunting and time-consuming to complete. In this post, we will cover some tips and tricks that help students do their best on their essays and get recognized by their ideal schools.

Start Early
It can take a long time to get your college essay to a place you are happy with. Revisions, getting feedback, and brainstorming can be very time-consuming, and you don’t want to be rushing against the clock. The best time to start is in the summer before your senior year, when you don’t have competing priorities.

Also, once you begin to apply for schools, many will ask for supplemental essays which will also require time and dedication. These are often associated with getting into a particular honors program or for additional scholarships and grants. All these essays should be viewed equally so starting early can give you more time to focus on each application because procrastination only leads to a build-up of work and added stress.

Show Don’t Tell
This isn’t a resume, so you don’t want to create a bulleted list of your achievements. Rather you want to tell a story that represents who you are and why you are a good candidate for the specific school, without explicitly stating it. Because schools are already receiving your transcript and test scores, you need to focus on your successes outside of the numbers.

Be Creative (But Don’t Over Do it)
There’s a fine line between being expressive and exaggerating, and you’ll want to navigate it carefully. Try to add emphasis where possible, but don’t dramatize to the point where your story is untrue or unbelievable. For example, it’s one thing to say you started a successful fundraising club for your school, and another to say you started a non-profit foundation.

Don’t Underestimate Revisions
The renowned English Writer, Robert Graves said, “There is no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting.” You need to be ready to rewrite many times, and between each new draft, you will need time away to get a fresh perspective. You can catch times you’ve been repetitive, take out fluff, or refine your language and argument.

Pay Attention to the Prompt
The prompts for college application essays are deliberately open ended, so that the writer can write freely and be creative in their response. However, there is a specific argument or point that they are looking for and you need to structure your essay to address it.

For example, take this common app essay prompt:
Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

It’s easy to focus on writing about your specific background and identity, but that is not the only thing this prompt is looking for. It wants you to demonstrate its meaning and importance, and why it’s so important that your application would be incomplete otherwise.
Common App also has a list of other typical personal essay prompts.

Write Something Memorable
Think of a unique angle that sets you apart from the rest. Whether it is through humor, personal anecdotes, or unconventional storytelling, strive to leave a lasting impression on the reader.

Many students think they need to have an incredible story to write a good admissions essay. This is a misconception. Pay attention to the details of your daily life—the small things that define who you are and why, the emotions that come from experiences, and your reactions to situations. You can write a meaningful and interesting essay that will surely grab an admission officer’s attention.

Get Feedback
Counselors, teachers, family and friends can all be a resource for new perspectives and may spot things that you missed.
The Royal Literary Fund says, “Writing should almost always be a communication between writer and reader, and therefore feedback is the best way to sample how that communication is developing.”

The End and the Beginning
Think of the first line of your essay as the first impression you are making on the admissions officers. It’s also what’s going to get your reader’s attention and inspire them to keep reading. It’s no easy feat, with one line, you need to make a positive impression, spark interest, and set the stage for the rest of your story.

Equally important is the last line, also known as “the kicker”. It’s usually a punchy sentence, that drives home your most important point, leaves a good impression, and hopefully leaves the reader thinking about the significance of your story.

Writing a good first and last line is as hard as it sounds, but it’s also a great secret weapon. If you focus on making them count, it can really distinguish you from others that didn’t take the extra time to make it their best.

In Conclusion
Our best advice is to approach your college application essay as an opportunity to tell a story that the admissions office wouldn’t have otherwise known.