Writing the college application essay is hard. It is not like any essay you have written for a high school English class: it’s not a five-paragraph essay, it’s not a persuasive essay; and it’s not an analysis. It’s just about you, with the pronoun “I” and all.
Here are some do’s and don’ts for writing this essay that might help you over your writing block.
• Do not write what admissions readers already read too much of: looking at big issues, my room, my trip to help the poor, my success, an athletic achievement. If you do go with any of the above, make sure your story and your writing approach to telling it are unique.
• Do not be high and mighty, intellectual, or aloof. Admission people want you to be friendly and honest.
• Do think about the ordinary in your life. The day-to-day things can be important in revealing who you are. The least significant can often have the most significance.
• Do start with a sentence or two that catches the reader’s attention. One of our favorite is : BAM! I was startled awake by a— No. I’m just kidding; my story doesn’t begin with a bam or a bang or even a boom.
• Do make sure one or two sentences (usually near the end) summarize what you want the essay to say about yourself. But, never spell it out. The reader should be able to infer from what you’ve already said in 650 words.
The end result should be polished.
• Check for grammatical errors and misspellings.
• Make sure to cut verbiage. Say it directly.
• Word choice should be clear, not from a thesaurus. Also verbs should be active. Try to describe without using adjectives.
• The tone should be friendly and reflect your personality: funny, positive, curious, positive.
If you are having trouble getting started, try one of these exercises.
• Write about what is boring to you.
• Write a rant.
• Write a news story about a memorable experience you have had.
Writing for an exercise may give you the fodder you need to start your personal essay.
In the end, writing the essay should be an honest account of how you see the world, even from your little corner, and what that can tell a college admissions reader about you. Write it well, and write it like you mean it.