College Essay Do’s and Don’ts

College essays are difficult for many students because they are unlike the writing taught in high school. Personal statements are first-person narrative stories. (I can still hear my high school teachers saying, “Never use “I” in your writing.”) College essays are full of “I’s” as students present their unique stories. Revealing personal experiences and deeply held principles in a well-written and convincing manner can challenge any writer. Add in the pressure of college admission and many students experience writer’s block. More than any other element of the application, the essay gives admissions officers insight into who students really are. So it should really “sound” like the applicant, revealing personality, interests, quirks, personal style, and voice. Here are my top essay tips for students: • DO make your point by using relevant, purposeful examples (don’t just tell readers what to think). • DO select your subject matter thoughtfully. Why is your topic important? • DON’T copy or emulate successful essays; they are good because they are unique. • DO write on different topics if you have more than one essay. • DO write it yourself. Colleges expect to hear from a thoughtful teenager not a professional adult author. • DON’T plagiarize! (Unfortunately, I needed to say this.) • DO show variety – in your examples, vocabulary, and tone. • DON’T try to sound more sophisticated; just be yourself. • DO write in a conversational—but professional—tone. • DON’T rely on gimmicks. They don’t work. • DO answer the question and adhere to the word limit. • DO proofread and revise. • DON’T get too much help. Essays created by committee are like Frankenstein; they are made up of disparate parts and rarely represent the student well. Keep in mind essays can rescue a borderline application if they present strong personal and intellectual characteristics. Essays can also sink an otherwise strong application if they reveal poor writing, carelessness, lack of interest, or poor character. Essays count; make them work for you not against you.]]>

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