College application season is approaching. Everything has led up to this exact moment. You've done the homework and put in the hard work. You've spent countless hours researching and compiling a list of the top colleges you want to attend. Now it's time to start the application process. All that stands between you and submitting your application is the essential admissions essay. You have a stellar GPA, superb SAT/ACT scores, and commendable letters of recommendation. You know you have what it takes. So, what exactly is the purpose of college application essays, and why do they matter?
Many colleges include a supplemental essay as an opportunity to understand each applicant on a more qualitative level. The essay prompts students to showcase who they are, their goals, and life experiences. Admissions boards know that applicants are more than just scores on a piece of paper; they're humans with personal philosophies, experiences, and principles. The application essay is a student's chance to demonstrate what makes them unique. The Princeton Review adds, "Colleges are looking for thoughtful, motivated students who will add something to the first-year class." And what is the perfect opportunity to do just that? You guessed it – the application essay.
Let's dive into ways you can craft the perfect essay that speaks to who you are as a person and ensures that you stand out.
PAY ATTENTION TO THE VALUES, CULTURE, MISSION, AND VISION
You've probably already taken these into account. Still, it's important to take it a step further. How does each school invest in its education? What does campus life look like? What is the cultural makeup of the surrounding community, and how does that institution interact within the community? Then, take your findings, highlight those that align most with your values, and discuss them in your essay.
THINK ABOUT SIGNIFICANT MOMENTS THAT HAD LIFE-CHANGING IMPLICATIONS
You have a unique background, interests, and personality. Brainstorm real-life, impactful stories and discuss them in the essay. Don't just recount the moment you choose to share; be sure to reflect on the experience and talk about what you learned and how and what it changed within you. For example, saying you're an empathetic person is one thing, but showing how you're empathetic by telling the story about staying an extra hour to have a meaningful conversation with a patient at a nursing home paints a different picture. Instances like those will stick out to the admissions member reading your essay.
DO NOT FORGET ABOUT THE TITLE
Titles are not typically required for an application essay. However, opting for one can be a powerful tool to help make your essay stand out immediately. A strong, simple title will be perfectly effective. Benjamin Caldarelli, co-founder of Princeton College Consulting, came across a paper titled "The Cheesecake." The title was simple yet grabbed his attention right away and left him wondering what a dessert had to do with college. The essay, he summarizes, "...turned out to be a unique approach for showcasing the applicant's perseverance through making a fancy, labor-intensive cake, and the title was the perfect setup."
MOST OF ALL, JUST BE YOURSELF
Don't be afraid to open up and show genuine emotion. Being vulnerable and sharing an intense or even painful experience in an honest way can make a compelling essay. Talking about challenges you've faced, how you grew as a result and how you worked to overcome that challenge will connect readers more than touting a strength. Acknowledging a mistake, big or small, displays emotional depth, maturity, and vulnerability.
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