The quickest way to blow it is to ignore the directions. If there is a suggested word count, aim to come as close to it as possible. If there is a direct question, answer it without veering off on a tangent.
If you are asked to submit the essay as a single-spaced document in Comic Sans font okay, probably not, but you never know , then so be it. You should have impeccable spelling, grammar, and punctuation throughout your essay, and avoid texting slang or vulgar language unless there is an absolutely compelling reason why it needs to be in your story.
Admission folks will not be impressed by a litany of syllable words or Shakespearean quotes, unless there is a reason why they tie into your story. Use conversational language and a consistent, friendly tone. Try reading your essay out loud to make sure it sounds natural. Better yet, they should come from your heart. In other words, be descriptive and detailed, use colorful metaphors, and avoid superlative terms.
You want to try to take your reader to a place or time, and help him or her understand who you are and what makes you tick. For instance, you might take a different approach for a small Christian university like Olivet Nazarene in Illinois as opposed to a large, urban public institution like New York University or a more specialized program like at the Rhode Island School of Design. Anyone can write about how they won the big game or the summer they spent in Rome.
When recalling these events, you need to give more than the play-by-play or itinerary. Describe what you learned from the experience and how it changed you. A student who can make an admissions officer laugh never gets lost in the shuffle. What you think is funny and what an adult working in a college thinks is funny are probably different.
We caution against one-liners, limericks and anything off—color. Set it aside for a few days and read it again. Put yourself in the shoes of an admissions officer: Is the essay interesting? Do the ideas flow logically? Does it reveal something about the applicant? What you write in your application essay or personal statement should not contradict any other part of your application—nor should it repeat it.
A teacher or college counselor is your best resource. And before you send it off, check, check again, and then triple check to make sure your essay is free of spelling or grammar errors. Connect with our featured colleges to find schools that both match your interests and are looking for students like you.
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