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How formal should the tone of your college essay be?

Sarah McGinty shares top tips for writing a standout college essay. Start fast, keep it simple and sound like yourself. Focus on the story, not fluff. Be specific and detailed to make your essay memorable. Remember, it's your personal story that matters!

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Video transcript

- [Interviewer] We're here with Sarah McGinty, researcher and author of the College Application Essay. Sarah, what are some of the things I need to be thinking about in terms of style when I'm writing my college application essay? - [Sarah] Well I think the most important thing to think about is pace. So, start fast. The reader is very knowledgeable, they're reading 25 or 30 of these things a day. You can jump right into your story. Maybe that means you eliminate your introduction, maybe that means you shrink your conclusion. But, it's a sandwich, so the beginning and end is just the bread to hold it together, it's the meat in the middle that matters. - [Interviewer] Great, so I start fast, I focus primarily on the story itself, not with any fluff in the intro or conclusion. What else should I be thinking about in terms of the style and tone that I'm using? - [Sarah] It's a personal essay, not an academic research paper, try to match your vocabulary to the kind of person you are and to the fact you're a young 17, 18 year old person. Make sure it sounds like you and that means not so many $10 words and a lot of just conversational and relaxed language. - [Interviewer] So can you give me, I think I know what you mean, but could you give me some sort of example? - [Sarah] Well I did have a student once who wrote I encountered this terrestrial sphere on a vernal evening in 1997 and after a little conversation, we decided it would be okay to say, I was born in April, 1997. - [Interviewer] Gotcha, so in other words, keep it simple. It should sound like when I'm talking to a friend. - [Sarah] Exactly. - [Interviewer] Great and anything else that I should be thinking about in terms of style, tone? - [Sarah] Well my last words would ask you to be as specific as possible in the story that you've told and in the writing that you supply, so that it is vivid and detailed. Maybe one way to do that is to convey some of your story through dialogue of what the policeman who pulled you over said and what you said back, that would certainly help us be in the scene. But, be as specific as possible. It's very common at the beginning to write sentences like, I had many new and surprising experiences then. And that's a great first thought, but the second thought needs to be, okay, what was new and surprising about them? And maybe that sentence can be made, I slept in a tent, washed my face and hands in a saucepan and survived on bread and candy bars. - [Interviewer] Gotcha, so we're really, really kind of getting into the nitty gritty details of the story as opposed to kind of surface level, broad brush sentences. - [Sarah] And that's what's gonna make it memorable. So, if you're specific that will lead admissions to say, what about the kid that lived on bread and candy bars? They're not gonna say, maybe we'll take that kid that had a surprising experience. - [Interviewer] Gotcha, so just to recap, start fast, sound like yourself, and be specific. - [Sarah] That's it! - [Interviewer] Great, thanks so much.