You’ve done your research, you know where you’re applying, your SAT scores are finalized, and you’ve put in your time with your extra-curricular activities. Now all you have to do is get picked over the thousands of other applicants to your top-choice school. How are you going to do it?
Writing truly compelling essays can absolutely make the difference, assuming the rest of your application is strong. Here are 3 tips for making the most of those 500 words:
1. Choose a topic that you’re passionate about, and that is unique to you.
Students often choose topics that are either vague, too broad, or overused. Memories of the day you won the big game for your high school or a series of observations on life you gleaned from serving food to the homeless are unlikely to make a strong impression on the reader. Ask yourself: What is a story that I can tell that no one else I know could? Write that essay, and be fearless about it.
2. Have a trusted educator read a draft.
You may feel pressured to come off as “smart” and to use a lot of big words. Be aware that once you’re busting out the thesaurus, you’re likely to not be writing in your own voice. If it sounds like a PhD dissertation, it probably doesn’t sound like who you are at this point in your life. Having a teacher or guidance counselor who knows you read a few drafts can help you be sure that your true self is coming through in the best way possible.
3. Be concise.
Make every word count, and be sure that every sentence makes the reader want to find out what happens next. Cut the repetitive bits and make sure each line gets across a new piece of information. That way, admissions officers can walk away from your essay with a sense of who wrote it and a better idea of who you are. Hopefully, this will mean they actually remember you and your application. That said, don’t feel compelled to stick to the word count exactly. If going over a little bit gives you the chance to say something you absolutely have to say, then go for it.
Dan Stern is the founder of College Essay Organizer, a groundbreaking website that instantly streamlines the entire essay process for applicants. He also runs a private college admissions practice in New York City, and has worked with hundreds of college applicants over the last 15 years.