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The DO’s and DON’Ts of the College Essay

July 07, 2008 By: Category: Admissions insider, College application essays

Last time, we discussed how to approach the college essay. Now, before you take a pen to paper (or keyboard to monitor), there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind as you write your application masterpiece.

Photo courtesy of mag3737

DO be specific. Avoid the generic, bland, predictable phrases that admissions officers will see in everyone else’s essays. The best way to do that is to use vivid and specific details – but don’t go over the top!

DON’T use 20 words when five will do. Keep your language tight and concise.

DO write about what interests you. This is what the admissions officers want to read. The worst mistake you can make is writing what you think they want to read; by doing this, you are avoiding being you. Being open and honest is refreshing; admissions officers can smell contrived and fake writing a mile away.

DON’T try to impress with vocabulary. If you use a ‘big word,’ you better know what it means and how it’s used. Filling up your essay with such verbosity only annoys the reader; it doesn’t impress anyone.

DO prove your points. Use concrete examples from your life experience to support your theme, as it will help distinguish you from other applicants.

DON’T write a resume. The essay is a place for you to put in information that isn’t going to be found elsewhere in the application. If you just rewrite your application in your essay, you’ll be more boring than a laundry list.

DO revise your essay at least twice. Three times is better. Look for punctuation errors, spell checking errors, and information that doesn’t connect with your overall theme. And have a trusted friend or family member read it and give honest feedback.

DON’T be a clown. Using gentle humor is okay, but trying to force a laugh will usually flop and may even backfire. Resist the temptation to insert questionable wording and anecdotes – you never know who will be reading your application essay.

DO end your essay with a concise conclusion that ties up your theme and restates it for the reader. Most people tend to remember the end of an essay over the beginning, so you want to leave a positive impression with the reader.

DON’T make things up. You would think this tip’s a no-brainer, right? Wrong. Every year, there are hundreds of stories by college admissions officers regarding applicants who lied, exaggerated, and just plain fabricated facts and information – often in hopes that the reader wouldn’t be paying attention. Making stuff up is the quickest way to be rejected.

And there you have it, some quick do’s and don’ts to help you with writing your college essays. If you need any help with this – or any other part of the college application process – feel free to call my office at AdmissionsConsultants at 703.242.5885 or drop us an email. While we won’t write your essay for you, we can help you brainstorm ideas or provide some quality feedback on your application essay.