Why the College Application Essay Is Important
There are several answers to this question, each of which are equally important.
First and foremost, the college application essay allows you to demonstrate your ability to write concisely, coherently, and creatively. For many majors, writing is a significant part of the coursework. Therefore, it's crucial that candidates understand the basic fundamentals that make up a strong personal essay, such as the three-part structure and creating a compelling story.
Admissions officers want to understand where you come from, what your goals are, and what you can bring to their university.
Aside from writing fundamentals, an application essay is important because it's the one piece of documentation that allows an admissions clerk to get to know the real you. While it may seem contrary to the purposes of an academic application, admissions officers want to understand where you come from, what your goals are, and what you can bring to their university.
Most universities require a college application essay alongside other pieces of documentation, such as test scores, the classes you took in high school, and of course, your overall grades. Some schools may also consider letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, or work history. But, the essay is the portion of the application where recruiters will really get to know the person behind the pencil.
College Essay Prompts
Prompts are questions, general ideas, or situations that the university wants you to cover in your essay. They are designed to allow students to express themselves, tell interesting stories, or discuss how they are equipped for the tough road of higher education that lies ahead of them.
One of the most common prompts you'll come across is "Why do you want to attend our university?" This can be a hard question to answer, especially if you're applying to several universities at once.
Remember, this is a personal essay at its core. Even though the question may be about the school, it's important that you include information about yourself and your personal experiences as well. If you can tie your personal life to that specific school in a meaningful way, you'll no doubt impress the reader.
Another example would be a question asking you to elaborate on a skill, interest, background, or personality trait that you believe helps define who you are as a person. Although this is a deeply personal question, you should be able to relate it to your aspirations of higher education or your desire to learn and grow as a student. Some schools may ask you to discuss a meaningful event, accomplishment, concept or even an ethical or moral challenge that you've come across in your life. These types of broad prompts allow you to truly express yourself and offer an unique, interesting or enthralling story for the admissions officer to read.
Good College Essay Topics
If you're given a more generic prompt that asks you to tell a personal story, discuss a challenge you've encountered, or outline a lesson you've learned, then it's good to have a list of topics that could help you find the right story. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable and let an admissions officer know what you learned from your experiences.
Recalling a memory from your past that helped to transform you into the person you are today. This can sometimes be through tragedy or even something you accomplished that you didn't think you were capable of.
Experiences often form who we are as individuals. Detailing a personal experience can give great insight into who you are and why you're here. Maybe you took a family trip as a child to another country that opened your eyes to different cultures or perhaps you simply had a conversation with a stranger that changed your perspective.
Much like memories and experiences, individuals can impact our lives more than we often realize. Taking time to discuss one of your personal heroes, whether it be someone you knew well — such as a family member — or even a historical figure that inspired you, can provide the reader with great insight into your life.
Take a sentiment, such as happiness, grief, expression, or curiosity, and write about how it shapes your way of thinking. What were your experiences with grief? How have you struggled with defining happiness in your life? Has curiosity driven you to explore what life has to offer? These are questions that will showcase your personal attitude and allow the reader to truly understand your perspective.
How To Write a College Application Essay
Choose your topic
Oftentimes, the university you're applying to will include a basic topic prompt to get the ball rolling. They may ask you to write about yourself, including your background, interests, or family history. Alternatively, they could ask you to describe something you've overcome in your life that will help them learn how you tackle tough challenges. These prompts are generally described as personal essays. Some colleges may ask you to explain why you chose their institution over others. Before you begin writing, it's important to fully understand the question you're answering.
Incorporate your own voice and experience
Something to remember before you start your essay is that you should always be speaking from your own perspective. Admissions officers want to get to know you and understand how you'll fit in with their school. This is why many of the generic question prompts are personal in nature. Avoid approaching your essay from an academic viewpoint. Although this may seem contradictory, considering you are applying to a university, they ultimately want to understand your personal traits and qualities as an individual. After all, this is a personal essay, not a thesis statement.
Add solid examples to support your ideas
Personal experiences go a long way in college application essays. If you're describing yourself with a specific personality trait or quality, add some examples that prove it. Convincing a faculty member that you are dedicated and hard-working won't be as easy if you don't offer some concrete examples that include past experiences. Maybe you started a small business during high school where you sold a unique product that taught you the importance of being industrious. Or perhaps you went on an arduous excursion in the wilderness that helped form your sense of resolve. Whatever point you're trying to get across, be sure to support it with facts from your life.
The college admissions essay format is fairly simple. Start with an introduction, then pivot to the body before ending the piece with a well-rounded conclusion. But, before submitting your essay, be sure to thoroughly edit the piece. Run through the bullet points below to ensure you meet the proper criteria and that you didn't make any grammatical errors. Read your essay out loud to yourself to get a better grasp of what you wrote.
- Did you actually answer the question that was prompted?
- Check for misspellings, proper punctuation, run-on sentences, and overall structure.
- Rewrite paragraphs if you're unsure of their composition.
- Ask someone else to review your essay to get a different perspective.
Things To Highlight and Avoid in Your Personal Statement for Your College Application
There are a couple of things that should be avoided in your personal essay. One of the biggest mistakes students make is focusing too much on their accomplishments or academic accolades. Admissions officers read personal statements all day, everyday — many of which focus too heavily on trying to impress the reader. Let your grades, classes, and test scores do the talking in that regard. Instead, focus on highlighting what makes you a unique or interesting person. As admissions officers read through piles of essays, a deeply personal story from a fascinating student will keep them interested far more than a list of your academic achievements.