5 tips to shine in your college application essay

The time to apply for college has finally arrived and if choosing your stretch schools, target schools and safety schools aren’t enough, you still have to write the dreaded college application essays. Take heart, writing the essay may not be as bad as you think. With a little self-reflection and a lot of editing, you will be on your way to an essay that shines and showcases who you are as a student and an individual.


1. Brainstorm, Brainstorm, Brainstorm!

You read the essay prompts on the common application and one pops out at you. You immediately think that’s the one. I’m going to write about a struggle I have overcome to get to where I am today. Although that may end up being the winner, I advise a hard stop and reflect. Give each prompt an equal chance. Look at each one individually, and write down the words that jump out at you. Scribble a few words, phrases, ideas, or sentences that come to mind when you think about how to answer that question. Take your time on this step. Really reflect and write every thought down, Even if you end up with the original knee-jerk prompt you started with, the exercise of brainstorming may bring up details, ideas, or anecdotes you can add to the primary or supplemental essays. Brainstorming is the most overlooked, but also the most important step in establishing the best possible foundation for your college application essay.


2. Write Your Rough Draft and Don’t Think

Students often get stuck and overwhelmed in the writing of the rough draft step. Don’t make this mistake. No one is ever going to see this version except you and maybe a school counselor or professional tutor who is helping you through the editing process. Put it all out there. Say it. Don’t worry about sentence structure or organization or grammar at this point. Just write freely and get your brain on the page. Don’t worry about length either. The important thing is to write until you feel like every piece you may want to use is expressed. Don’t be stingy at this point. Just write.


3. Cut it Up!

Now that you have everything on the page, it’s time to cut and begin the revision process. During this step, it is helpful to have another set of eyes on your college application essay. A school counselor or essay coach can assist you in deciding what passages should stay and which don’t add value to your story. Take advantage of outside adult eyes reading your work. After all, the admissions counselors evaluating it will also be adults looking at it from that perspective. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring a neutral opinion of your work.


4. Rewrite and Further Revise

Once you have snipped all extraneous material from your rough draft it is time to dive deeper and really do the detailed revision work. At this point, you are reading each sentence of each paragraph. Does it flow well with the other sentences? Is there a main topic sentence with 3-4 supporting sentences in each paragraph? Does each sentence add value and depth to your paragraph and the essay as a whole? It may sound tedious to look at each sentence so intently, but trust me once you have, all that remains is your absolute best work. Anything that doesn’t add value—explain a concept, showcase your personality, or add depth to your essay—may be a candidate for extraction. Of course, a few fluff sentences are allowed, but I recommend keeping them to a bare minimum.


5. Polish and Shine.

Last but not least, take the time to polish and shine your essay. Double and triple-check it for spelling and grammar errors. Make sure your formatting is consistent and without any mistakes. Read it through 3-4 more times to make sure it flows. I always tell my clients to read it out loud to themselves. If you stumble anywhere or your words get stuck, that sentence may still need a bit of work.

Once you have completed these steps and hit send it’s time to celebrate your effort and be proud of your accomplishments. Whether you get into your dream school or not, you have come a long way and accomplished much in high school. Take a moment to be proud and enjoy the possibilities and amazing things waiting for you in college and life. Remember the world needs your light. I hope you find the path that allows you to share your gifts. Congrats on taking the first step!