Tips for Creating a Strong College Application Part 2 – How to Write a Strong Essay

Part 2 How to Write a Strong Essay

Part 1 of this series focused on preparation for standardized tests. In part 2, I’ll focus on another critical component of the undergraduate college application – the essay. A poorly written essay can cause a really strong applicant to get rejected, and an exceptional essay could help a student with marginal scores get into a school of their choice.

While there is no formula for cracking the essay, here are some useful tips that can help you write an essay to impress admission officers.

1) Be Patient While Ideating

Starting an essay can be the hardest part. It is important to spend time thinking about what the essay is asking you and brainstorming different ideas - your strengths, personality traits, and so on. Good essays aren’t written in a day. Once you’ve decided what to write about, create an outline, list out examples from your life that you want to use and where you want to insert them. Your first draft will not be great; be prepared to go through several drafts before your perfect your essay.

2) Avoid Repetition

Essays have word limits, so don’t unnecessarily repeat facts that are already covered in other parts of your application, such as your test scores, or listing out all your extracurricular activities. Utilize the essays to talk about things that the admissions officer won’t know from reading other parts of your application. 

3) Write about ‘Yourself’

Essays help admissions officers understand how you, with your unique personal qualities, will contribute to their college. So your essays need to focus on YOUR story - your thoughts, achievements, failures, and aspirations. Use your writing to highlight your maturity and depth in character. Don’t waste your words to talk about how the college you’re applying to is great. The admission officer already knows you probably think so if you’re applying there!

4) Narrow Your Focus

Avoid ‘lists’ while writing an essay. Don’t try saying too much about too many things. This restricts the reader from understanding what you want them to concentrate on. Develop a focus on a few aspects about yourself, and ensure the story has impact. For instance, pick one or two extra-curricular activities you’ve really excelled in, and talk about how they influenced you, instead of listing out 20 different things you did at school.   

5) Show, Don’t Tell

Merely stating facts doesn’t always get an idea across. You need to include specific details, examples and reasons to demonstrate a point. For instance, stating “I like to help people in need” doesn’t really say much. Instead, explain a situation where you did help someone in need – who did you help and how? What impact did it have on them? What did you learn from the experience?

6) Grammar and Structure is Important

Besides your personality, essays also showcase your writing skills. Follow a logical structure and make it easy for the reader to understand what you want to communicate. Avoid grammatical or punctuation errors and bad language. These reflect a careless attitude and lack of quality control in your written work.

7) Get Feedback and Improve

Show your essay to your family, friends and teachers. Ask them if it brings out your personality, and if it sounds like you. Take their feedback seriously, because they know you and understand you the best. But keep in mind, that at the end, the essay should sound like your own. Don’t feel compelled to talk about things you aren’t sure about. Be convinced about everything you write, and write it yourself.

8) Be Honest

Don’t get tempted to write what you think the admissions officer wants to hear. Instead, stick to the facts. Exaggeration might make your stories more exciting, but remember that Admissions Officers have years of experience reading thousands of essays. They can tell when you aren’t being honest, or when an adult has written or edited your essay. Keep the language simple - don’t use unnecessary words, and avoid an over-formal tone.

Writing good essays is hard work, but the experience can be fun. Good essays have tremendous impact on your college application, so don’t neglect them or leave them till the very end. Start early and work hard to get into a college of your dreams!


About Author: Ms. Lisa Jain

Lisa Jain is the Representative of The College Board in India. In her role, she works extensively with schools across India to help with the implementation of College Board programs. She also interacts directly with students and parents, educating them about how College Board’s programs and resources (such as SAT, AP, PSAT or Big Future) help in the college application and admission process.

Lisa was previously the Head of Marketing at an international school in Kolkata and has worked in the Equities division at UBS Investment Bank in London for two years.

She pursued her MBA at the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad and her undergraduate degree in Industrial Economics at the University of Warwick in UK, on a scholarship. Lisa has also successfully completed Level II of the CFA Exam.