The College Application Essay

A college application essay (or personal statement) is required by the University of California and by many private schools. Rather than being put off or discouraged by the effort required to compose an essay, you should be thrilled to be offered the opportunity to show an admission committee what is most special about you. Your essay must differentiate you from other applicants who may have similar academic records or activities to yours. Think hard before beginning your essay about the qualities you possess that make you an outstanding applicant; consider both what you would bring to the college (your talents, personal qualities, etc.) and what you can take from the college (your ability to take advantage of the opportunities the college has to offer).
  • Read some effective college essays written by others. The Career Center has examples.
  • When offered a choice of prompts or essay topics, be sure to select the topic that enables you to say the most about yourself and that offers the greatest opportunity to bring in information that will not be found elsewhere in your application (personal or character qualities, cultural or ethnic traditions that have helped to form you, obstacles or challenges you have faced and surmounted, explanations [NOT excuses!] for irregularities in your record, etc.). Once you've selected a topic, stay on the topic-answer the question asked.
  • Start your essay with a "grabber" sentence that will intrigue the reader and draw him/her in to learn more about you. Remember, admission officers readthousands of these essays. Yours must stand out! At the same time, avoid gimmicks-your essay can be original and creative without pushing the limits.
  • Remember the advice you have heard from your English teachers for years: show, don't tell. Which sentence below sounds like a more interesting description of a school project?

    We worked really hard to create an interesting decade project.
    OR
    We devoted endless hours to script writing, depleted countless markers and rolls of butcher paper, and made several pilgrimages to thrift stores, where we sought our perfect twenties-style apparel.

  • Both content and style are important. Colleges want to know what you have to say, but they are also interested in your style and in your ability to say it articulately, engagingly, and correctly.
  • Proofread CAREFULLY! If you are using the same essay for more than one college, be absolutely certain that you have changed the name of the college, if it is mentioned.
  • Follow directions! Colleges expect you to adhere to their specific instructions regarding length, headings, and extra pages attached. Ignoring these directions is a real red flag to colleges that you may believe rules don't apply to you.
  • Be sure you express your thoughts in positive terms. Look carefully for telltale negative words or expressions in your essay drafts ("unfair," "bad," "I never could ...," etc.).
  • Don't write lists! Remember that your activities and achievements are detailed in other parts of your college application. The essay should not reiterate them or listwhat you have done. The essay is your opportunity to show how you have approached your academics and activities: your motivation, your initiative, your style, your spirit, your values, your personality.
  • Be sure someone else reads your essay. You might want to ask one person who doesn't know you very well, and another who does, just to be sure the essay is a clear and complete reflection of who you are. The final copy should then be proofread by someone with strong grammar and spelling skills!

ENJOY writing your college-application essay! The entire process of thinking about it, writing it, and sharing it with others is an opportunity to know and appreciate yourself.