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Five Tips for Breezing Through the College Apps Essay Writing Process

Melissa Zhuang As a high school senior this year, my fellow classmates and I struggled to write our dreaded college apps essay. I’m not gonna lie, it was a very busy first semester, but it’s a process that truly forced me to take a step back and realize how far I had come. You’re giving yourself and college representatives a chance to see how you think and why you think the way you do. So current and future high school seniors, here are a few tips I have for you:

Read, Read, and Read!

Read the requirements, the deadlines, the essay prompts, the college website, and even the fine print! Take note of supplemental applications and their deadlines. You may have to upload your materials through a separate link/website. Pay attention to the details!  Colleges will reject essays if they do not fit their prompt, so don’t risk it! As you are writing your college apps essay, be sure to pause and re-read the prompt to make sure you haven’t gone off track.

Mark Your Calendars

Make sure to keep track of your deadlines. Some of my classmates created spreadsheets, others kept track with Google Calendar or their phones, and others took note in their planners. Here is what I did: I wrote down each school and my application deadline on a post-it note and stuck it on my wall to be sure I had an in-your-face, bold lettered reminder of the approaching deadline. I find the process of physically writing down my reminders much more efficient and memorable versus an online calendar.

Research for Your College Apps Essay

I’m sure at some point in the college apps essay process, you’ll be asked something along the lines of: “Why do you want to go to our college?” It could be a short response or an essay answer and one of the best ways to show your passion for the school is to make specific references to the programs, student/faculty activities, and other strong points of the school. Remember that there are literally hundreds of other applicants that will write similar-sounding responses about:

  • Active, diverse student body
  • Study abroad programs:
  • (All schools have programs like this, so if you mention it, be sure to take note of any university-specific quirks. For example, schools may have study-abroad programs targeted towards the study of film-making in London or programs that focus on volunteering for the needy. Emphasize why you want to participate in those activities)
  • Amazing/ talented/ award-winning faculty

Don’t Be Afraid to Delete

Go back to the first tip. What does it say? READ. Read the prompt and read the requirements. College apps essay requirements include “word count.” College admissions reps have to filter through hundreds of essays everyday so they must limit the length of the essays they receive. Make your words count. Remove unnecessary sentences, phrases, and words that do not contribute to your story or your message.

When you write your essays, the first draft is going to be absolutely, positively, dreadfully terrible. Read your drafts out loud or, even better, have someone else read it out loud to you. (*shudder*) Sometimes I found myself deleting full paragraphs and realized that it helped improve the flow my essay! Please, PLEASE remember to press save and make copies of each draft you make. Feel free to change your essays, but just make sure to have a backup in case you liked your original better.

Reduce and Reuse

Reduce your workload by reusing your essays. Now pause again and look back to the first tip. Re-read your essay and re-read the new essay prompt you are writing for. Similar essay prompts do not mean same essay prompts. There could be slight differences and you want to make sure you are answering the specific questions they are asking. Please also remember if you mentioned the university’s name anywhere in the essay, be sure to go back and change it so that it matches the university you are applying to (it happens more than you think)!

Here is an example:

Florida State Uni – Personal Journey Statement 2016 Film Application:

“A 500-1000 word essay describing who you are as an individual and why you want to be a filmmaker. This statement should concentrate on how your background has influenced your storytelling and filmmaking development…”

Uni of Southern CA – Personal Statement 2016 Film Application:

“We are looking for a sense of you as a unique individual and how your distinctive experiences, characteristics, background, values and/or views of the world have shaped who you are and what you want to say as a creative filmmaker. We want to know about the kind of stories you want to tell…(1,000 words or less)”

Both essay prompts are looking to see you write about your:

  1. Individuality
  2. Background Influences
  3. Storytelling

BUT only the USC prompt is looking for “the kind of stories you want to tell”

Applying to colleges is like dating. And in the words of Rhianna, make sure you make them feel like they are “only girl in the world.” Convince them that you’re in love with them and that you two are “destined for each other.” The college application process isn’t as hard as it seems!

Suffering from a slump that is making your college apps essay writing impossible? This might help!

 

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