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.

Here are some "tried and true" tips for creating a strong essay that will engage a college application reader with your voice and personality.

  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. 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 admission officer is definitely not a good idea.
  4. 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.
  5. Don't be afraid to be funny. Admission officers have been known to have a sense of humor. Just make sure it comes naturally and would be funny to anyone.
  6. 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 admission officers who you are, not who you wish you were.
  7. Use words you know. Using words you don't know will only make you sound less like yourself.
  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.

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