Every year, more than 3 million essays will land on the Admissions desk in universities across the country. With so many eager young minds seeking acceptance in a school of higher learning, one can easily see just how difficult it is to get noticed when applying to a quality university.
It is a common belief that students who get good grades have a greater edge when it comes to getting accepted to the school of their choice but that is not always the case. With so many students applying even with good grades the competition is fierce. The single thing that will really set you apart from the pack and ensure you get your foot in the door is your admission essay and how you present it.
Know What the Colleges Are Looking for
Most universities are looking for two different packages when you submit your college application.
- Your academic resume, which should include your GPA, completed coursework, and SAT/ACT scores. You should also include some evidence that you are ready for college, a record of your extracurricular activities, work experience, and recommendations.
- Evidence of your leadership skills, personal initiative, your level of maturity, proof of personal integrity and a sense of your social responsibility, and anything else that could show your personal characteristics and individual qualities.
If you do an online search of any university application requirements, this is pretty much the blanket list they will give you. But these are only surface materials that anyone can give. What they are really looking for is the underlying truths they will find in these documents.
- Your potential for future success
- How you will interact and affect other students in the community
- What qualities you can bring to the university itself
These three facts give us the first clues as to what should be included in your essay. Universities are not just looking for students that hope to acquire good skills; they are looking for those who have a promising future. Your future success makes them look good and encourages more students to want to study with them. Your essay should reflect a powerful sense of commitment to your goals and your future success.
They also are looking to see how well you interact with other students, your willingness to see others succeed. Your essay should show evidence of how you interact with others. Evidence that you’re not just out there to help yourself but that you are willing to extend assistance to other students who may need it. It should reflect your social skills showing that you are an interesting individual that others will want to share their college years with.
Their goal is to pull together a certain mix of people. They don’t want a collection of copycats all doing the same thing in their respective high schools. Your essay should show something that is unique; a demonstration of a distinctive quality that no other student may choose to offer.
In essence, your essay should deliver a complete package that includes all of these qualities and anything else that will give the assurance that you are one destined for great things and will be proud to carry their name to the winner’s circle with you.
You need a strategy to get all of that into an essay and still tell a compelling story. You will have to pull out all the stops to make it happen. Here are some practical guidelines you can use to make sure that the essay you create delivers the exact message you want them to receive.
Step 1 - Learn the Prompts
Each university has its own set of prompts you should write about. Some may be relating to your personal goals in life, others could be related to accomplishments you have already achieved, and there are those who may ask you to detail the lesson you learned from a personal failure or setback in your life. Here is an example of a prompt from the University of California.
“Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.”
Make sure you look through all of the prompts for the university you are applying to and contemplate each of them. Take your time, don’t rush as this will become the foundation of your essay. Take a notebook and write down whatever comes to your mind that would fit with that particular prompt. Make sure you include personal experiences with each one. When you have finished, go back and choose the ones that you are most excited to talk about and make a note of why they motivate you.
Step 2 - List Your Life Experiences
Next you will compile a list of your personal life experiences. You can categorize them in different ways. You might want a list of people that have had an influence on you, another list of your unique skills and talents, a list for your personal interests, one for your achievements, and one for your personal experiences.
After you complete each list, start elaborating by adding in details. Anything you can think of should be added to the list as long as it meets the three criteria we mentioned earlier. These will become the first morsels of truth you will include in your essay.
Now, take a highlighter and highlight those items that show what motivates you. For example, someone applying as a theater major might have a list like this:
- Wrote my first play in the fifth grade and then directed the production for the entire school.
- Influencers may be your high school drama teacher or a famous actor or actress (make sure you detail why they are your influencer.
- Talents could be acting, music, dancing, etc.
Step 3 - Decide on Your Story
It’s time for you to narrow down your options for an essay topic and begin to build your story. At this point you already have all the information you need to create a powerful essay but now you need to start building it. Remember, that every story has a main plot, a few characters that the reader can connect with, and a slow build up to the climax. This is the same approach you need to use in your essay. Line up your scenes in chronological order so that the story is easy to follow.
Look at the lists you’ve already made and choose one or two topics and boil them down to the bare bones. What makes these elements so special? Remember, you won’t have a lot of time to impress your readers so your story must cut to the chase pretty quickly. Think of it like you are creating a preview to a new movie. You want to draw the reader in with the first words you say and keep them there until they finish your paper.
Your list will serve as your outline, and the expanded story you create will become the first draft. It won’t be perfect but all of the elements are already in place. At this point, you just want to write. Your goal is to make sure that you get all the details of the story in place and that you are following the prompt of the university.
Step 4 - Write Another Draft
Before you start your second draft, set your first draft aside for a few days and then read it again with fresh eyes. You’ll quickly be able to spot what’s wrong and know what to do when you begin your second draft. Make sure to include elements from each of your lists.
Make sure that when you set out to write that you write the entire thing from the beginning. Avoid the temptation to cut and past but instead, open up a new file and start all over from the beginning.
Step 5 - Insert the Hooks
This is the point where you will create the opening sentences in your essay. These will be the words that will draw your reader into the story. You need to create three separate hooks.
- The opening hook needs to be intriguing enough to get the reader interested in the story.
- The theme hook needs to be strong enough to make your message clear and set your essay apart from everyone else’s.
- he ending hook should deliver a strong message that will remain with the reader even after he or she has finished their essay.
Example of a well-known opening hook: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
Example of a theme hook: “I have always been drawn to art. It has been a passion of mines even in my earliest memories.”
Example of an ending hook: “All through my life, I have been taught to nourish my imagination, to embrace my versatility, and to harness my creativity. What I have learned however, is something much more deeper than these facts. It is something that is hard to put into words but I know that it is now a part of who I am and it is what will allow me to grow into the person I have always dreamed I would be."
Step 6 - Revise
This final step will likely take much longer than writing the entire essay. You may have to revise several times before your essay delivers your message perfectly. As you go through your revision keep these basic guidelines in mind.
- Avoid using too many words
- Make sure it is not boring
- Don’t try to impress them with the use of big words
- Don’t over sensationalize it
- Watch out for spelling and grammatical errors
As long as your message is succinct and to the point, brief, and realistic your essay should have an impact. By following these simple guidelines you can be confident that you will be able to tell your story and deliver a powerful message that will get the attention of your admissions office in the university of your choice.