College application essays, also known as admissions essays, are the first type of academic writing that high school students face when they apply to colleges. These pieces of writing determine the future of thousands of students every year. Of course, it’s crucial to know how to write a good college application essay that will make a favorable impression on the admissions officers.
Every college has a different policy when it comes to application essays. Some institutes receive a Common Application, and others require specific essays. This process can be confusing and even terrifying for high school graduates even though entering a particular university is frequently one of the most popular adolescent dreams.
We care about our readers and want them to be prepared for the complex application process. That’s why we’ve prepared a full college application essay guide with topics and recommendations. This article will give you a general overview of the subject. For specific details, we recommend checking instructions from specific universities.
What Is a College Application Essay?
Before proceeding to the writing process, you should know what all the fuss is about. Why is this essay so important?
College application essays allow admissions officers to take a closer look at your personality. While the GPA is an essential indicator of your knowledge, the essay demonstrates your personal qualities and inspirations. That’s extremely important, especially for prestigious colleges with history.
The Princeton Review claims that “the college essay is your opportunity to show admissions officers who you are apart from your grades and test scores (and to distinguish yourself from the rest of a very talented applicant pool).”
The best colleges get thousands of applications every year, and an unforgettable essay means a chance to become a first-year student. Now, everything is clear with the importance of our writing. Let’s move on to the most common college application essay formats!
5 Types of College Application Essays
1. College specific applications
The point of such essays is clear from the name: colleges offer specific prompts and requirements to applicants. This tendency is common for private institutions.
2. System-shared applications
Sometimes, groups of public universities supported by the same state share one application. This simplifies the process if the student is focused on a particular geographical location.
3. The Common Application
The Common Application is accepted by more than 700 institutions. This system simplifies the application a lot, as a student may complete it online and send to as many member schools as needed. However, some colleges might require additional documents or answers.
4. The Universal Application
The Universal Application is similar to the previous option, but this system unifies only 34 colleges. The majority of institutions that support the Universal Application also receive the Common Application.
5. The Coalition Application
This type of application is received in 90 member colleges. Not every institution can join this system, as it has a range of standards. For example, member schools have to offer need-based financial aid to students.
Admissions officers assure applicants that the type of the college application essay doesn’t matter when they evaluate them. However, we recommend you check with an alumnus and find out which format is preferable.
How to Write a College Application Essay: Tips and Recommendations
If you’re in a hurry and want to get a general overview of how to compose an impressive admissions essay, you may read this part and leave the rest for later. We’ve gathered all the time-tested recommendations in our guide so that you won’t have to look for material somewhere else.
1. Take your time
That’s the most important among the tips for writing college application essays. You aren’t composing an ordinary text for your school assignment. The content and the formatting of the admissions essay will define your future. Don’t be over-confident – prepare a few drafts before submitting the best version.
2. Read examples of winning essays
You can find collections of the best application essays on college websites. As a rule, the admissions board will not try to hide these examples from the general public. Sometimes, you’ll also find explanations of why a specific text drew the attention of its members. Write down criteria that might influence the decision about your entering the school.
3. Don’t copy
As we’ve mentioned above, the application essay is your only chance to demonstrate your extraordinary personality. Your qualities and inspiration can become a decisive factor in the application procedure. That’s why we strongly recommend not copying even from the most successful admissions essays. Members of the board are experienced examiners, and they’ll smell a rat.
4. Provide real-life examples
General phrases and vague claims won’t help you. Imagine how many phrases like “I’m straightforward” or “I have leadership skills” admissions officers see in college application essays. But they’re not ready to trust fluent phrases or citations from classic literature. They need to know more about your life and actions. If you have a life-changing experience that presents you in a good light, that’s the most reliable way to attract attention.
5. Be emotional
Expressing emotion might not be appropriate for academic writing, but application essays are something between academic and personal writing. If you show that you’re passionate about your goals or that you have some regrets, it isn’t a mistake. You’re a human being, as well as the admissions officers. Don’t be afraid to add some feelings!
6. Add some humor
If you are able to make one of the officers laugh, your essay definitely won’t remain unnoticed. But you have to be careful with picking the right joke. We recommend you to test it on your parent or teachers – in other words, adults. They might have the opposite opinion about what is funny. Avoid black comedy, racism, and gender jokes.
7. Get feedback
Your application essay might be love at first sight. But it might work only for you, not for other people. Gather as many opinions about your work as possible. Ask your friends, parents, counselors, and teachers. Write down all the comments and edit your college application essay. Then do it again. And again.
8. Be original
A good college application essay isn’t about fitting in specific requirements. Members of the admissions board want to hear your personal voice and decide whether this voice stands out or blends in the crowd. You never know which of your statements will be the decisive one. Try to be honest, as the officers will appreciate that.
9. Avoid banal topics
Sometimes, colleges specify the topic for admissions essays, and you don’t have a choice. Then, your task is to find an unusual approach and explain your point of view. And in case institutions leave the topic to the discretion of students, you get a chance to surprise the officers both with your topic choice and presentation. Avoid predictable themes such as academic success, sports victories, world peace, etc.
10. Don’t mention your scores
Your application essay’s purpose isn’t to restate the content of other documents. If you have great academic results, admissions officers will learn of this from your test scores or letters of recommendations. Bragging about your GPA is boring, banal, and unnecessary. But your achievements in other spheres of life can be mentioned.
11. Answer the question
If the institution answers a specific question, for example, “why do you want to study at…?” or “what makes you a good candidate for…?” answer it! You may use a non-standard style or bring unexpected examples, but, after all, they need a clear answer. Don’t let your willingness to be original overcome your logical reasoning!
12. Avoid overused words and expressions
Not only certain topics but also phrases and words can be banal. You can demonstrate your culture and sophisticated writing style by using precise wording. Avoid vague words and replace them with the expressions right on point. We’ve composed this simple table to help you with word choice.
|Good/nice||Decent, wonderful, worthy, well-mannered, attractive, courteous, amiable|
|Amazing/awesome||Delightful, breathtaking, splendid, unbelievable, phenomenal, tremendous|
|Best||Leading, supreme, incomparable, unmatched, unsurpassed, unbeaten, ultimate, second to none|
|Important||Essential, significant, crucial, primary, top priority, predominant, urgent, vital, cardinal, major|
|Like||Adore, approve, cherish, admire|
|Interesting||Fascinating, engaging, impressive, pleasing, provocative, exotic, unusual, refreshing|
|Big||Enormous, mammoth, immense, massive, colossal, sizable, vast|
|Very||Extremely, utterly, considerable, certainly, excessively, remarkably, deeply|
13. Pick a winning topic
Wording, humor, and emotions are significant for an admissions essay. But they won’t save the situation if you pick the wrong topic. If you have freedom of choice, select the topics that will help you show your best side. Then, pick the one that isn’t overused. Make sure that your topic isn’t insulting or terrifying and start writing!
14. Add details
Vivid details are crucial for any kind of writing. They help readers to understand your thoughts and emotions in a deeper way. Besides, it’s much easier to imagine a scene or a person if you describe them with the help of details, not vague sentences. Specificity gives your readers a chance to empathize with you, and empathy is the first step on the way to sympathy.
15. Choose a structure
Admissions officers are also interested in how you structure your thoughts and put them on paper. They check both your writing and logical skills. Make sure that the flow of your thoughts is clear and adequate. You can pick one of the common formats.