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Three Steps to a Great College Essay

A college application essay is a chance to explain yourself, to open your personality, charm, talents, vision, and spirit to the admissions committee.

You, in 500 Words or Less

A college application essay is a chance to explain yourself, to open your personality, charm, talents, vision, and spirit to the admissions committee. It’s a chance to show you can think about things and that you can write clearly about your thoughts. Don’t let the chance disappear. Stand up straight and believe in yourself!


COLLEGE ESSAY


Okay, boot up your computer and let’s get to it. To write a college essay, use the exact same three-step process you’d use to write an essay for class: the first prewrite, then draft, and finally, edit. This process will help you identify a focus for your essay, and gather the details you’ll need to support it.

STEP 1. Prewriting

To begin, you must first collect and organize potential ideas for your essay’s focus. Since all essay questions are attempts to learn about you, begin with? yourself.

Brainstorm: Set a timer for 15 minutes and make a list of your strengths and outstanding characteristics. Focus on strengths of personality, not things you’ve done. For example, you are responsible (not an “Eagle Scout”) or committed (not “played basketball”). If you keep drifting toward events rather than characteristics, make a second list of the things you’ve done, places you’ve been, accomplishments you’re proud of; use them for the activities section of your application.

Discover Your Strengths: Do a little research about yourself: ask parents, friends, and teachers what your strengths are.

Create a Self-Outline: Now, next to each trait, list five or six pieces of evidence from your life??”things you’ve been or done??”that prove your point.

Find Patterns and Connections: Look for patterns in the material you’ve brainstormed. Group similar ideas and events together. For example, does your passion for numbers show up in your performance in the state math competition and your summer job at the computer store? Was basketball about sports or about friendships? When else have you stuck with the hard work to be with people who matter to you?

STEP 2. Drafting

Now it’s time to get down to the actual writing. Write your essay in three basic parts: introduction, body, and conclusion.

An application essay doesn’t need to read like an essay about The Bluest Eye or the Congress of Vienna, but thinking in terms of these three traditional parts is a good way to organize your main points.

There are three basic essay styles you should consider:

Standard Essay: Take two or three points from your self-outline, give a paragraph to each, and make sure you provide plenty of evidence. Choose things not apparent from the rest of your application or light up some of the activities and experiences listed there.
Less-Is-More Essay: In this format, you focus on a single interesting point about yourself. It works well for brief essays of a paragraph or half a page.
Narrative Essay: A narrative essay tells a short and vivid story. Omit the introduction, write one or two narrative paragraphs that grab and engage the reader’s attention, then explain what this little tale reveals about you.

STEP 3. Editing

When you have a good draft, it’s time to make final improvements to your draft, find and correct any errors, and get someone else to give you feedback. Remember, you are your best editor. No one can speak for you; your own words and ideas are your best bet.

This article is based on information found in The College Application Essay, by Sarah Myers McGinty.


COLLEGE ESSAY PROMPTS


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