It is by far the scariest, most difficult, and all-around-worst part of applying for admissions to a college or university. I know this might seem a little extreme, especially when you consider all of the time-consuming documents that you have to prepare and collect for your application for admissions (think FAFSA, the SAT, recommendation letters, etc.), but I am secure in my belief that this one part of the process is the part that makes many people avoid applying until the final deadline is upon them. What am I talking about? The personal statement or application essay, of course.
Many schools require applicants to submit a personal statement as part of their admissions application. This essay is supposed to sum up, in three pages or less, why you are an amazing person and worthy of attending their school. So, obviously, there’s a little bit of pressure to get it right. After all, you only have one chance to make a first impression on the admissions committee and this is it.
Recently, students have began using YouTube videos as substitutes for the traditional essay. Although this is a cool, new alternative that might become mainstream in the future, it currently is more of the exception than the rule. Unfortunately, that blank piece of paper is still the most common format for college admission essays.
If you are currently struggling to write your personal statement essay, do not freak out just yet. Here are a few of my tried-and-true tips for writing a college admissions essay that will convey a sense of who you are and why you are a good fit for the school you are applying to.
Pretend you are writing a letter to a friend instead of the admissions board. I know this might seem a little strange at first, but it makes sense. You are going to be more comfortable with a friend than with a group of strangers, and when you are comfortable, you are better able to be yourself. So think about what you would say to a friend if you wanted to convince him that he should let you into his club (I’m assuming your friends are more likely to control access to a secret club than to an entire university). You might tell a funny little story to demonstrate your merits for joining the club. (“Remember the time I searched for hours for your missing CD and found it under the bed? That shows I am diligent and hardworking.”) Your tone would be more conversational than lecturing. These tricks can also be used when writing an admissions essay to make your essay more personal and engaging. Also, by pretending that you are writing to a peer instead of an authority figure, you are going to take some of the pressure off of yourself and make it easier for you to write.
Watch your tone. Since you are writing your essay for a “friend,” it might be easy to slip into a tone that is too relaxed and casual. Do not do this. You are still writing a professional document and it is important that your tone conveys this. The best way to make sure you are using the proper tone is to reread the essay after you have finished writing it and observe how you come across. Do you seem stuck-up and snobby? Try throwing in a few more personal stories. Do you use the same short words over and over? Show that your vocabulary is more advanced than that by making different choices concerning your diction.
Stay on topic. Sometimes it is easy to get off-track when you are writing an essay about yourself, but it is very important to stay on topic. You can do this by creating an outline before you start to write and following it. After you are finished writing, reread your essay to see if you followed the outline or got a little lost along the way.
Follow the rules. A personal statement is supposed to be a way to let the admissions board get to know you better. However, if you do not follow the rules, they are likely to notice and might get a bad impression of who you are. What rules am I talking about? Well, there are several rules that you need to keep in mind, but luckily, they are not that hard to follow. The rules you need to follow include: abiding by the requirements set out by the application (ie. proper length for your essay, specific font requirements, writing about an assigned topic, etc.), using proper grammar and spelling, and submitting your essay before the deadline.
Those are my most important tips for writing the best college admissions essay that you possibly can. However, here are a few more things you should keep in mind while working on your essay:
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