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An Ivy League Essay: You in 500 Words or Less

June 09, 2008 By: Category: Get into College

While sparkling SAT test scores and a flawless transcript put you in the running for Ivy League admissions, your college essay can make or break your application. There are a few important things to keep in mind when writing your college essay.


  1. This is you. Those grades will show you’re a great student and your list of extracurricular activities will show you’re a dedicated athlete or star thespian, but your college essay gives a glimpse into who you really are. So be yourself. Choose a personal, revealing essay topic. I’m not telling you to talk about your parents’ painful divorce or the time you wet your pants in the second grade, but be sincere and show the admissions office something about you they couldn’t get from the rest of your application. The essay that got me into Yale was about helping my dad on the family farm. It showed my rural background, my apprehension of dirty work, and finally the pride I had in the farm after working on it that summer.
  2. Avoid cliché essay topics. Think twice before writing about your grandma or the mission trip that gave you a new life perspective. Can the reader really learn something about you from these topics?
  3. Show. Don’t tell. In my essay, instead of saying that I was out of place on the farm, I showed it through actions. I wrote “A horsefly landed on my cheek and I swatted at it, flailing my arms around in a panic. My skirt dropped to the water.” By describing action instead of explaining emotions, you can grab the reader’s attention and let him or her live the experience.
  4. Be detailed. Mind your word limit, but a few details can set the scene. Mentioning your best friend wore a red shirt or the sign was written in cursive letters can make your writing stronger.
  5. Speak like yourself. Many aspiring Ivy Leaguers get caught up in trying to sound like mini-professors or the next great American novelist in their essays. Don’t use elaborate vocabulary or flowery, literary language. You aren’t fooling anyone when you write “the pavement glittered like a channel of diamonds in the searing, carroty crimson sun as my naked feet sauntered across,” when you’re trying to say “I walked carefully across the street, trying to avoid the broken glass and hot pavement.”
  6. Revise. Revise. Revise. When you think you’ve finished with your essay, you’ve really just begun. Give it to friends, family, teachers and classmates to read. Ask them if you think it accurately portrays you and give them a red pen to circle those typos and grammatical errors. Write several drafts. But don’t edit the soul out of it.
  7. Have fun with your essay! If you enjoyed writing it, there’s a good chance admissions officers will enjoy reading it.

Student blogger Laurelin Kruse is a recent graduate of Alamosa High School in Colorado. She will be attending Yale in the fall. If you are interested in becoming a student blogger for myUsearch, please email your resume and cover letter to [email protected].