College Application Essay: Write Your Way into Your Top School

College Application Essay: Write Your Way into Your Top School

College application essays are an essential component of your application. Don’t listen to the movies that have romanticized or made light of these process with frivolous regard. Students should approach with caution and understanding as these essays have the ability to make or break you in the college application process. A carefully crafted and compelling essay allows prospective students to showcase their personality while conveying their goals, dreams, and motivations. On the other hand, an essay that was quickly thrown together – or worse, forged – is easy to spot.


Why Essays Matter

Nearly every college requires an application essay. It allows them to understand, in greater depth, more about the students, their motivations, motives, interests, and what they will bring to the school as a whole. Much like entering a work environment, the college or university is a collection of people that work to create a unique culture. Your essay is demonstrating whether you belong in their tribe and are a good fit for their student body.

A candidate with an assortment of extracurricular activities, an impressive GPA, and hours of volunteer experience is already well on his or her way toward college acceptance. However, paired with a mediocre essay that misses the mark, this student is less likely to leave colleges enamored. Of course, this statement is not meant to provoke fear; all is not lost for those who struggle with writing.

This is meant to serve as an explanation that students who take their essays as seriously (if not more seriously) than their four years in high school are more likely to win over the university recruiting staff. While putting time and effort into an essay might seem like a lot of work during the application process, it can make all the difference during decision time.

Top Writing Tips

Writing is a craft that is nearly impossible to perfect. For example, variations in spelling (The American “color” vs. Britain’s “colour”), and grammar rules (Should a writer use one or two spaces after each sentence? Is the Oxford comma necessary?) lead to discrepancies among writers around the world. However, that does not mean that talented writers do not exist. Regardless of a writer or editor’s personal preference, it is obvious to readers when they experience a well-written composition. The following suggestions are Florida National University’s (FNU) tips for developing a great college application essay:

Be Compelling and Draw the Reader In

An interesting title will excite the readers. Understand, those reviewing applications have likely read hundreds of essays. Students must make sure that their essay title and content catches attention and stands out. Also, within the first paragraph give a start a story that the reader will be eager to know the conclusion to.

If you bore the reader in the first few sentences then it won’t bode well for how they will receive the rest of your essay. It’s often said in sales writing that you need to give the goods up front. Don’t imagine that you will deliver the best bits about yourself in the last paragraph – imagine that they can stop reading at any time! Therefore, make sure you put the most interesting facts about you first and supply it with history or data later.

Take the Time to Tell a Compelling Story

Students should spend a good amount of time when crafting college application essays. While there is no set amount of hours that should be spent on each essay, it is important for students to be patient and thoughtful when developing an essay. Writing this essay will be a process. First, you will write something that is just a jumble of ideas and facts about you. Eventually with time, feedback, and more thought, you will weave a compelling story about who you are and what you want to become.

Use Complete Thoughts

In the world of texting, blogging, and Face-Timing, it is easy to forget what a sentence should actually look like on paper. Ensure that each sentence is a complete thought—including a noun, verb, and even a few adjectives to spice things up. The college application essay is not a blog post or an extended caption.

This should be an academic piece of writing but the only source you need to reference is yourself. It should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. With some skill, it will have a theme that will leave a lasting impression for the reader on what you’re like as a person. Aim for the reader to get to know you on a personal level even if you’ve never met.

Avoid Attempts at Impressing Readers with Big Words

Students that have an expansive vocabulary should, by all means, slip a few SAT words into their essay. However, flooding a single essay with countless large words can easily come off as insincere. Not to mention, the staff reading this type of essay will see right through it. Remember, they’ve likely read hundreds of essays already!

This will be especially true if you try to copy passages from another source. Anything that doesn’t sound like you will be immediately apparent, so it’s better to let your essay reflect you 100% from the start.

Only Use Words When the Meaning is Absolutely Clear

For example, students who want to explain that they are humorous, funny, or witty might use the word “comical.” However, stating that one is comical implies that others find it easy to laugh at them rather than with them. Clearly, word choice is very important — avoid embarrassing mistakes by ensuring a clear understanding of each word used, regardless of how common the word is.

Sometimes it’s hard for you to see the meaning of words outside yourself. This is why it is important for you to get feedback from multiple sources who have a different relationship to you for example, a sibling, a teacher, or a coach.

Don’t be Robotic

Sprouting off an extensive list of accomplishments does not show a university your personality. This does not mean that you should not address some of your proudest moments; this only means that students must make sure that their real personality shines through.

Using one’s own voice is important. Students who have not determined their personal written tone and voice should begin writing well before college admission application deadlines. The more students write, the more they will uncover their tone and style; the sooner this is discovered, the sooner students can learn editing techniques to improve their writing without losing their tone.

Look To The Future

Recruiters look for essays where student are aware of their growth and introspection, so your essay should examine how you’ve learned and grown as a person, not simply your accomplishments. Your essay should have a moment of revelation that made you the person you are today. Colleges don’t want to read essays that are set exclusively in the past. Actively look towards your future even when describing a past event. Show how you connect it to who you are now and how it will impact you as a person moving forward.

Concise Writing is the Key to Effective Content

Wordy essays are dull and readers can become impatient. Instead, keep writing short and sweet. This will save a lot of time during the editing process and will keep readers from getting overly bored or confused.

This is hard to do at first and shouldn’t be curbed right away. Go ahead and allow all your thoughts to flow into your first draft. Then craft your essay within the editing. This is how all the great writers compose their essays and manuscripts. Learn from them and be concise and precise.

Edit, Proofread and Edit Again

As said before, editing is not just being precise with words but hacking away at all of the unnecessary words, explanations, and thoughts that do not add substance to the piece as a whole. Check for misspelled words, confusing structure, and incomplete sentences.

Nothing is worse than a great read that is interrupted by an obvious grammatical or spelling error. Plus it reflects poorly on your attention to detail and commitment to spend the time to catch these errors.

Check for Tricky Words

When proofing, always check for commonly mistaken homophonic words. Students should review their essay for the accidental use of words that sound alike but are spelled differently. Some common mix-ups include:

  • Your & You’re
  • There, Their, & They’re
  • Week and Weak
  • Break & Brake
  • Affect & Effect

More Benefits: Scholarships

Application essays are not the only time during which students must learn to write great, original content. Students interested in applying to scholarships can put these tips to use, as many scholarship applications require an essay. With a great essay under your belt, you could tweak it to fit into several applications for scholarships or fellowships down the road.

FNU has several scholarships that require an essay submission.

FNU: Your Next University

Florida National University, an accredited university, is located in South Florida. We pride ourselves on the flexibility we allow our students. We offer online courses, hybrid courses, and courses in the traditional classroom setting. Be sure to browse our catalog for programs. If you are ready to make the move and put our tips to the test, apply today!