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Writing tips and techniques for your college essay

Tip #1

Pose a question the reader wants answered

This doesn’t mean you should literally pose a question in your essay, but you should certainly keep the reader wondering, “How is that going to turn out?” “What does she mean by that?” “How is this all going to tie back together?” To accomplish that, begin your essay with a hook that encourages the reader to want to find out more. You might write, for example, “I sat down in the back of the crowded auditorium without a clue that I’d soon be standing center stage.” This establishes a forward momentum right off the bat that makes your reader want to continue reading. Tips for essays can also be found at Big Future.

Tip #2

Don't focus exclusively on the past

Admissions look for essays where student highlights their growth and introspection, so your essay should focus on you learning and growing as a person. Don’t just brag or describe. Your essay should have a moment of revelation: what did you learn from your experience? How did it make you the person you are today? Colleges don’t want to read essays that are set exclusively in the past. They want students who are actively looking at their future so make sure that if you’re describing a past event, you connect it to who you are now and how it will impact you as a person moving forward.

Tip #3

Open up

When recounting an event or experience, make sure to include how it made you feel, how it changed the way you think, and whether it had an impact on your priorities and/or values. Readers connect more when you reveal a vulnerability than when you tout a strength.

Tip #4

Experiment with the unexpected

If it makes sense within the context of your essay, give your story a twist or reveal something unexpected, i.e. something readers wouldn’t have necessarily thought you’d do, think, or care about.

Tip #5

Don't summarize

Avoid explicitly stating the point of your essay. It’s far less effective when you spell it out for someone. Delete every single “That’s when I realized,” “I learned,” and “The most important lesson was...” It's unnecessary, unconvincing, and takes the reader out of the moment. Instead, let them read between the lines and interpret the meaning of your story on their own. You shouldn’t have to say anything like, “And that’s how I learned to stand up for myself,” because the admission's officer should already know. Oftentimes when you watch a movie, an actor’s expression, sigh, or closing of a door speaks louder than words. Your actions can be small, but they should be loaded with meaning, i.e. that you’re taking a stand, making a decision, giving something up, or taking a risk. It can be simply deciding to get up in the morning or to smile. It just needs to represent that you’ve made a decision, change, or risk.

Want to join the conversation?

  • blobby green style avatar for user Mostafa Mohammed
    How shall I let my audience know how the situation I describe changed me without saying the changes that I experienced?
    (12 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user Ravengal101
      You're allowed to express HOW an experience changed you, but you're warned to forgo explicitly saying "I learned xxx from this."

      Picture this: you're driving in the passenger seat of your friend's car. She keeps texting and driving, but you say nothing because it seems harmless. You guys meet in an accident and your friend dies. After that experience, you start/join a "don't text and drive" campaign.

      Now, you clearly learned something from that experience. If you simply relay the event(s), people can understand and make their own conclusions. Admission officers are smart. They'll use everything (how your sentences are structured, your choice of words, why you chose THAT topic for your essay) to evaluate you. They know exactly how to look and find your message without you explicitly telling them.
      (21 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user saremleghari52
    This is confusing. In the samples collage essay critiques the admission officers clearly said that we should explicitly explain what we mean by our essay and not simply describe. But the in the last tip we are encouraged not to do so and simply leave the admission officer guessing. Which route do we take?
    (4 votes)
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    • leaf orange style avatar for user T
      If you read the tips more carefully, the events you discuss in your essay should be explicit and there. For example, (piggybacking on @alay42's example below) how you and a friend were driving and she was texting and you guys got in an accident. Those are parts of the essay that should be clear. However, you shouldn't write the "What you learned" part so bluntly. In the example given, you don't say that "I learned that texting while driving is wrong". You say that a foundation was created to teach teens to not text and drive.That's the portion that the officer should be forced to think about. Don't direct him/her. Let them figure it out. That's what the tips mean.
      (12 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user marchi lukhkhi
    i have no idea what to write, how to write, i am so weak at writing and i am 12th grader, it is not like i can't but the reason is i am new, and also learning English and i also have SATs coming soon, i don't know what to do!!
    actually i am looking for videos which also read the paragraph and can type on computer that's what i want...
    are this kind of videos are available.. .
    (2 votes)
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    • leaf red style avatar for user Shaunina
      First, don't panic. It's okay. There are lots of options out there.

      I'm not quite sure what type of videos you are looking for, but you name it, YouTube's got it. (If you look on YouTube, find videos that are posted by a school, institution, company, or at least an educated person so that you're not led astray.)

      Doing a general search on a search engine can pull up some good educational websites. I'd encourage you to do that.

      I'd also encourage you to talk to a teacher or someone who has already done several application essays (and knows what they're talking about). They can also point you in the right direction in terms of videos and, if you struggle with English, perhaps they could also help you out in that regard. Finding a teacher who could help you along the way would be invaluable. If you could get them to proof-read your draft and give pointers, that would be even better.

      Understand that in most cases, the admissions officers want to get to know you. They are looking to see who you are as a person, and if you're the type of person they want at their college. So when writing an application essay, you can write about anything as long as it describes you and your character. Like it says in the article above, "Admissions look for essays where student highlights their growth and introspection, so your essay should focus on you learning and growing as a person." So you don't have to write about the "most important thing that ever happened to you" or some other monumental event. As it said in a video, you could even write about walking the dog!
      (8 votes)
  • female robot grace style avatar for user Serkalem Thomas
    When you are writing what would help you relax and help you consatrate on what you're doing? Would reading out loud help hear if what you wrote does not make sense. And what would I write about if I don't have any ideas?
    (4 votes)
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  • mr pants teal style avatar for user Kaitlyn
    What is a good way to conclude an admission essay? Out of all the tips and videos, I've only found examples of the introduction and the body.
    (3 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user deborahcraft8
    How log is the test going to take. Will I be about to take my time on it. or am I getting Timed
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user 3033969
    how do change the story about me and my mom in the story to have main idea in the story to expresses are yourself
    (2 votes)
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  • leafers sapling style avatar for user galaxyle2110
    How would we make an essay that talks about our life vulnerability stand out?
    (2 votes)
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  • leaf orange style avatar for user Mili Dave
    What is the difference between the essay and the personal statement?
    (2 votes)
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  • starky seedling style avatar for user Jonna Galli
    I would like some advice. I am doing the prompt:

    You’ve got a ticket in your hand- where will you go? What will you do? What will happen when you get there?

    The reason why I would like advice is because I want to know how I can make this relate to me and my interests and my goals in life. I know colleges need to understand your interest in a certain field that you want to go into, etc.

    I want to go into animation and film, and I want to go to England. The reason why is because I love the culture and the lifestyle of England, I've been researching it for years and I've even been to London before, but I'd love to go back. I even thought about living there in my future. Also, what tips from the videos will also help me with this essay?
    (2 votes)
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