Admission News

What Makes a College Application Essay Successful?

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In cutthroat competition for admission to selective colleges, a great application essay can make the difference. AdmitSee is a new online presence that collects application materials from students who have been accepted to colleges for high school students in the process of applying to access. Although AdmitSee is only one year old, it already has over 15,000 essays that won college admission.

After analyzing their archives, AdmitSee has found several helpful pointers for students seeking admission to Ivies. One finding is that for students applying to Harvard and other elite colleges it is not a good strategy to submit one essay across the board because each college is looking for specific things, sometimes quite different.

For example, Harvard likes
• The words mother and father rather than mom and dad,
• Words like hard, cancer, and, tough,
• Content that narrates overcoming challenges, and
• Proof of accomplishment.

Stanford likes the opposite of Harvard: mom and dad, positive words, content that focuses on what the student cares about, and demonstration of student personality.

What are common traits of successful essay at all the Ivies?
• Describing a major change in an applicants’ life.
• Taking risks with content. One successful applicant wrote about a grandparent’s incarceration; and other wrote about a parent’s addiction to pornography.
• Using different structures like lists or different and separate sections.
• Taking risks, but doing that well and with style.

Most important, again, is that applicants should not write one essay but tailor each essay to the school one applies to, especially to reflect that school’s community: creative high-powered, competitive, recreational, socially responsible, etc.