How important is it to write a winning college admission essay?
That depends on how badly you want to get into college.
Admissions committees for incoming freshmen typically look at high school grades first thing, before looking at anything else. The idea is that the incoming students’ grades will often be a reliable indicator of work ethic and academic ability.
However, it is becoming more and more common for students seeking admission to college to have very high grades. Whether this is due to grade inflation, advanced placement classes, college credit courses or students simply doing better doesn’t matter.
What matters is that today’s incoming freshmen need something more than good grades and high test scores. Two things that can help you stand out from the crowd are well-chosen extra-curricular activities and an excellent college admission essay. Writing a winning college admission essay is challenging, but it is also a skill that can be learned and polished with practice.
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the writing process, it is important to understand the guidelines and requirements that are usually connected to the college admission essay. In today’s world of electronic applications, you might think that the word-count requirements are more lax, since you can usually type faster than handwrite.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Typing is faster, but because of that increased speed, it is far too common that essay writers don’t stop and think about what they are writing with any real deliberation. Handwriting lends itself more to this deliberation.
And you can believe that admissions committees are quite strict about the word count requirements. The thinking is that if a student cannot follow the directions on their application, then how can it be expected that the student can follow rules on campus?
All of that aside, you want to stay under your word count requirements because the admissions committee looks at essays for a long time. The shorter and more powerful your writing, the more impact it will have on those who make decisions.
Now to the writing.
The process for writing a winning college admission essay is just like the process for writing any other essay: Brainstorm, Organize, Write, Revise, Edit.
Brainstorming consists of putting ideas on paper quickly, not slowing or stopping to fix grammar or spelling and not slowing to judge an idea. So if your writing prompt asks you to share an important learning experience you have had, immediately start listing experiences. One important brainstorming strategy is, when your first flood of ideas slows down, to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. This means you pretend to be someone else who is telling you more ideas to write about.
So act like you are your mother or father telling you about experiences you have had. Or pretend to be a friend and use that new perspective to get new ideas.
Organizing is a vital part of writing the winning college admission essay. It is during the organization stage that you judge your ideas and select which ideas you will write about. You will also put together an outline, either in your head or on paper, of how your admissions essay will progress.
To organize, simply decide which idea or ideas appeals to you as an enjoyable subject to write about. You also want to consider whether the idea you choose will be something the admissions committee would be interested in. With your idea or ideas chosen, decide what logical order would serve the topic best. Do you want to organize your essay chronologically or based on order of importance? Or is there a different organization that would serve the topic well?
Your next step is to write the college admission essay. Don’t worry much about grammar. Instead focus on getting your ideas out and making them clear and compelling. Think about your thinking and be sure that you are connecting your ideas to each other well.
The fourth step, and this is a vital one just like the others, is to revise your essay. Here is where you will make sure your ideas are clear and organized well. You will make sure that your paragraphs are focused on one single, connecting idea. You should make sure one paragraph leads to the next one and that you are keeping your reader in mind as you express your ideas.
Don’t stop revising until your essay feels clear and tight. You want to revise like crazy to make sure you are compliant with the word count requirements. You want to make sure your language is good and that your writing has impact. Less is more, so cut out excess words and redundant thoughts. Be brutal.
The fifth step in writing your college admission essay is to edit. Be careful. The admissions committee will be quite unimpressed if you leave misspellings, comma splices or run-ons. It can be useful to have someone else who is a good editor look at your essay to make sure it is perfect.
There is one more step in making sure your college admission essay really stands out from the crowd. Write another one, then maybe another. Sometimes our thoughts really get flowing and we really get in the groove only after we have completed our first essay. Write one or two more and then decide which one is the best. Be sure to get opinions from parents, friends and school counselors. When your essay of choice is perfect, you are ready to submit and have it represent you well.