Here are 4 basic steps for writing winning admissions essays:
1. Pick the Right Topic. The topic of your essay is vital. Make sure you put in a lot of time deciding what to write about. Brainstorming exercises such as a “written interview” in which you elaborate on each of your interests and memorable experiences from the last few years can prove to be deep wells of material. Don’t make the common blunder of picking a topic that seems obvious and just running with it. Spend as much of your time selecting the right idea as you do crafting the story around it.
2. Get Your Thoughts Out First. Write your first draft with your heart, not with your head. Make sure the story belongs to you, and that you’re writing about what you find interesting, not what you think someone else wants to hear. And don’t overly concern yourself with writing the perfect essay, certainly not on your first shot. It takes time, so start by focusing on getting your thoughts and feelings out, rather than putting them in the right words.
3. Your Life Is In the Details. Once you’re ready to refine your drafts, make sure you’re being specific, detailed, and direct. Try to avoid writing about abstract concepts or philosophical notions. Instead, use colorful details to reveal your personal experience. Write about the actual events that you remember, rather than their results or the lessons you’ve learned. Try your best to be evocative and sensory in your word choice – pick things that give a strong sense of an experience and the odd, unique details that stand out to you. For example, readers don’t want to be told that it was raining. They want to have the sensation of being rained upon.
4. Review Your Essay. When you’re done, read the essay back to yourself—out loud! Does it have a good rhythm? Are all the sentences the same length or are they mixed up for a nice balance? Does it feel like it loses a sense of its subject at any point, or have any unnecessary digressions? You might be surprised that this helps you find more energetic ways of conveying your story. And try to put the essay aside for a week or so before reviewing it. Some time away from your writing will give you perspective, and you’ll suddenly see and hear what works and what doesn’t.
And trust us – these simple tips makes the whole process far more enjoyable. After all, if you aren’t engaged in your own writing, no one else will be either.
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.