Ten Tips to Improve Your Essay

What makes a great college application or scholarship essay? What you say about yourself comes first. How you say it comes a close second.

The people who read your essay are looking for a match between you and the college or scholarship. They don't expect highly polished prose. In fact, they get suspicious if it looks like mom or dad had a hand in it. They do expect to learn more about you than grades and scores can show.

Here are some insights from admissions counselors about how to write a strong essay:

  1. Make it personal. Whether your topic is chosen by you or assigned, show what you care about and what makes you "tick." You are not writing a book report. You are writing a "self report."
  2. Choose a unique topic. If you need to pick a topic, don't use common subjects like "my trip to XYZ country," "my winning sports season," "my political views," or even the death of someone close to you. Be focused and specific. For example, write about a single experience that profoundly affected you. Or a failure that taught you something important. A unique personal story can speak volumes about you.
  3. Follow the instructions. If they say 1,000 words, they mean it. If they ask you to talk about your favorite subject in high school, don't write about the time you had hypothermia.
  4. Don't be afraid to be funny. Admissions officers have been known to have a sense of humor. Just make sure it comes naturally and would be funny to anyone.
  5. Be honest. Don't make it an exercise in creative writing in order to stand out. And above all, don't get someone to write it for you. Show admissions officers who you are, not who you wish you were.
  6. Use words you know. Using words you don't know will only make you sound less like yourself.
  7. Bring your topic to life. How do great documentaries fascinate the viewer? By boring narration about lofty ideas or by using vivid details and examples? That said, keep it PG-13. Shocking the admissions officer is definitely not a good idea.
  8. Use good grammar and punctuation. Ask an expert to proofread your essay.
  9. Write as many drafts as you need to. Revise until you feel confident that it's the best you can do.
  10. Neatness counts. It doesn't matter how powerful your words are if no one can read them. If you aren't submitting your essay electronically, type it. In fact, type your whole application.

Following these tips may not guarantee you admission to a college, but it can help you create an authentic and original essay—one that gets favorably noticed.

For more help with essay writing, take a look at CollegeData's article The Application Essay: Your Opportunity to Shine.

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