An admission essay is one of the most important pieces of writing you are ever going to work on. The topic you select, your ability to cover it, your personal style – all these things define whether you will be accepted into the college of your choice.
Therefore, it pays to approach this task with a certain degree of preparation. So let’s see to that.
Before you can even select a topic to write on, you should dedicate some time to reflection and brainstorming. Don’t be in a hurry to start writing (however, do start brainstorming as early as possible) – it is alright to extend the process of brainstorming for up to a couple of weeks. During this period, you should simply write down possible topics and your general ideas about what you may write.
Here are some questions you may ask yourself to get closer to the answer:
- What is your most prominent character trait? How did it develop?
- Have you ever had a moment of epiphany, a life-changing event that made you see life and yourself in an absolutely new light?
- What are your most important achievements?
- Why you want to join this particular college? Why is it important for your future?
- What is your dream for the future?
- Have you ever achieved something through a great deal of struggle and effort?
Mind you, these are just some of the possible questions that may guide you to the right answer. The thing is, you should think about something that makes you interesting, that underlines your uniqueness in the best possible way. It may be anything – from an unusual hobby to a year spent in an obscure country half a world away.
Choosing the Topic
Your admission essay is your best opportunity to show the college in question who you are and prove that you have place within its walls. It allows you to provide the information about yourself that doesn’t fit into other parts of your application – as well as to show whether you are capable to work on an independent writing project over a period of time.
- Don’t try to guess what admission officers want to hear from you. Don’t try to make up your own idea of what their expectations are. Each admission officer has to read through hundreds of essays that do just that, and you may be sure – they know all the tricks better than you do and are bored stiff of them.
- Be yourself. Nobody can imitate you, and you are one of a kind – which means that you should concentrate on those aspects of your personality that you consider to be the strongest, and select the topic accordingly. Share your thoughts and your personal story – don’t write yet another essay about the responsibility and dedication necessary in the vocation of your choice.
- Choose a topic that will allow you to avoid repeating information. If some facts are present anywhere else in your application, there is no need to mention them again.
- Choose a topic that will stand out. Remember – your essay will be read along with hundreds of others, and if you don’t apply special effort to make it, well, special, it will be lost among them.
Normally, an admission essay has the same structure as any other essay:
However, the beauty and terror of this kind of work is exactly in the fact that you are given almost complete freedom about what you are going to do with this structure. It doesn’t even have to be an essay per se – if you want to write a short one-act play or a short story and know you can pull it off without sounding pretentious, you are free to do so.
Most admission officers spend no more than 2 minutes reading an essay. Theoretically, they are supposed to read every essay in its entirety; in reality, the only part you may be sure is going to be read is the introduction. Which means that you should make sure you do your best to capture the reader’s attention with the first sentence. Give the reader a reason to read on:
- create a sense of mystery, make the reader intrigued;
- use a well- or not-so-well known quotation by a famous person and throw the reader off by presenting an unusual reaction to it;
- make a shocking, ambiguous or just plain bizarre statement that will make the reader interested in what it is all about (however, avoid writing anything that may be considered to be outright offensive);
- share an anecdote from your personal experience; these small stories naturally grab attention, at least if you can make them feel genuine and candid.
One important rule – don’t do anything for the sake of doing it. A gimmicky opening line is only good if it is really witty and intriguing. If you force yourself to write something original and unusual, it will turn out exactly in this way –unnatural and cheesy. Make sure to prepare numerous introduction paragraphs and bounce them off with the help of somebody you know isn’t going to praise you out of the false sense of obligation.
Let’s assume you’ve captured the reader’s attention with your introduction. Now you should keep up the pace and lead them to the end without getting bored.
- Make sure the body relates to the introduction. It is especially important to check if you’ve rewritten individual segments of your essay multiple times – you may end up with parts that made sense when they were attached to something that is no longer present. Create a unifying theme running through the entire essay, an underlying image or something else along these lines.
- Ascertain that your language stays simple, crisp and snappy. Students often believe that using six-syllable words and five-line sentence makes their writing look more impressive. In reality, it just makes it boring, confusing and unreadable. Admission officers don’t have time to unravel your long-winded sentences.
- Add as much personality as possible. Personal experience spiced up with striking imagery, specific examples, interesting events from your life – all these are things that only you can write. As long as you avoid clichés in your descriptions, reasoning and conclusions drawn from these experiences, they are going to improve the general effect.
- Show, don’t tell. If you can illustrate your point with an example, go for it. Don’t say that you never lose an opportunity to have a life-changing experience – show how this trait of yours expressed itself in a particular situation.
- Answer the question. Your admission essay isn’t supposed to contain your full autobiography. Every sentence you write should add to the answer, everything else is superfluous and should be removed.
- Don’t use slang. It is the direct opposite of overly formal, long-winded formal, and it is equally bad for your image.
Conclusion is your last opportunity to persuade the admission officer that you are going to be a fine addition to the college’s student body (provided they read this far into your essay). Therefore, you should make sure it expands on what is written in the body and follows the motives presented in the rest of the essay. Here are 9 tips on what you should and should not do:
- In most admission essays, you write about something that happened in the past. Conclusion is the right place to connect it to your aspirations for the future;
- If you describe a moment of interaction with a particular person or place, you may mention how they are doing now;
- If you start with a story of a particular experience, you may show how this story relates to your current life;
- End earlier. It is always better to end earlier than later. Make sure you’ve reached the high point of your essay, described some climactic event – and then cut short to the ending.
- Avoid saying “That’s when I realized”, “I finally understood”, “The most important thing about it was” and other words to that effect. They are obscenely clichéd, boring and cheesy. In addition to that, telling the reader the point of your story in plain text suggests that you don’t think your audience intelligent enough to understand it on their own.
- End with an action – it is an excellent way to signify an important event or decision in your life;
- End with dialogue – a short exchange is a powerful way to make a point and to simultaneously make it stand out in the text.
- Throw back to the beginning – if you talked to somebody in the opening part of the essay, or described something, or was in the middle of a certain situation, you may mention it again – especially if what you write in the body of the essay gives you a new insight on how you may view it.
- Direct address to the college – tell them what you are going to do as a college’s student, why you are excited about going there, what your motivation is.
It is impossible to write a good essay without revision, full stop. No matter how good you are at writing, there are some avenues of thought that only open up after you’ve allowed your essay to sit still for a couple of days, and some mistakes only become obvious after you’ve taken a rest from writing. Therefore, leave the essay alone for a while, and reread it asking yourself these questions:
- Does it answer the question?
- In what light does it show your personality?
- Does the introduction grasp readers’ attention? Does the conclusion provide closure?
- Are there sentences or words that can be removed without any adverse effects for the essay in general? Make sure to remove everything that isn’t absolutely necessary.
- Do you avoid summarizing your thoughts and telling the reader what to think?
- Are there any parts that don’t really support your primary argument?
- Do you avoid using passive voice?
- What is the weakest part of the essay?
- Do you vary sentence length? (You should)
- Do you use proper transitions between sentences and paragraphs?
- Do you use any clichés?
Better still, show your essay to people whose opinion you trust and ask them to read it paying attention to these questions. If you want to be on the safe side, hire a professional editor – these people know how admission essays are supposed to be organized and can help you bring the best in your writing.
Some General Tips
An admission essay should be a coherent whole, which means that there are certain principles you should follow throughout the entire writing process. Here are things you should remember:
- Be ready to spend a lot of time writing, rewriting, editing and polishing your essay. Normally it is 500 words long or even less – but it doesn’t mean you should write it in half an hour and be content. Be prepared to spend at least a couple of weeks brainstorming, thinking up topics, trying out different approaches and starting anew.
- Your essay (and especially introduction) should be original but not silly. Some students mix up wit and clownishness, with ruinous results.
- Give yourself a lot of time. Don’t write all the time. It pays to spread the process of writing over a long period, as it allows you to take long breaks and then see what you’ve written from a fresh perspective. Meanwhile, do something else entirely and try not to think about the project at all.
- Constant revision is the key. You can never be sure you’ve fished out every grammar mistake and logical fallacy, so don’t stop revising until the very end.
Writing an admission essay is an intense and stressful experience, because of all the things that depend on its success. However, if you approach the task systematically and follow through with each subsequent step carefully and with deliberation, a lot of this stress is bound to go away.
So don’t be afraid – simply follow these steps and you will be able to pull through.