Being in the final year of your high school (secondary school) education, you’re definitely already thinking of where you’ll be spending the next four years of your life studying for a degree. With that also comes the natural curiosity and desire to research into what makes the perfect student for the different colleges you’re hoping to apply to.
By engaging in outstanding in extracurricular activities like starting your own book club or serving as President of your school Debate team; keeping your grades up throughout your stay at school. And acing all your college admissions; you have definitely already laid yourself a fantastic foundation for getting into college. However, there’s news, you still have some more work to do. You need to take out time to plan and write a compelling, killer college essay. Preferably the first semester (term) of your final year.
As you might have already assumed, working on your college essay will, by no means, be a walk in the park. In fact, it can be downright overwhelming with all the pressure to ensure that the essay is the best and the most perfect essay you have ever written in your entire life. It’s not just a big deal, it’s a major deal! This is the almighty college application essay we are talking about here!
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Anyway, overwhelming though it may be, crafting a college essay is also the most fun part of the college application process, at least, to most people. You know your college application consists mostly of mathematical elements, mostly scores, stats, percentage, numbers, and what nots; and none of these parameters are explanatory enough to completely reveal the real you to the admissions committee.
Now, that’s where your essay comes in.
Your essay is about the most effective way you can show that part of you that other aspects of your application won’t reveal and make a fantastic and indelible impression while at that.
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10 Steps to Write a Killer College Essay
Now that we know and understand the almightiness of the college essay, you’re probably wondering how you can make the most use of the opportunity this essay affords and write a killer one. Well, you have come to the right place. Prior to this post, we dug deep and did some serious research, the result of that research and a wealth of firsthand experience from experts have culminated into this comprehensive and exhaustive post that you have here.
So the question is, are you ready to dive in? Then let’s do this:
1. 100 Questions
This is a small exercise that will require you to give yourself some alone time for about 90 minutes. Disconnect from the internet and cut away from anything that has the potential to be a distraction.
It’s best to do this exercise with a pen and paper but it’s also okay to work with your laptop too, if you aren’t quite the tactile person. However, if you do choose to use your laptop, then you should ensure that you’re disconnected from the internet so that you can concentrate.
Now to the task, what you want to do is to write out 100 questions randomly as they come to mind. Don’t bother about how these questions sound, just write. Whether you repeat or not is not an issue for now, just keep writing till you get to 100. Do you want to know the best part? There are no rules. How do you like the sound of that? Very much, yeah?
Of course, anyone would like that cos it means that you can ask questions like: “why do I like ice cream more than I like most people?” “Why do old people frighten me?” “Who am I supposed to be?” “Why do I pretend I like chocolates when I actually hate them?”
You know, anything! Do not censor anything, just write.
Remember to keep the results of this task as confidential as possible. Then take a break for about 24 hours before going to the next task.
This task should take you about an hour. What you’ll be doing here is to group all the questions you’ve asked in the first task into categories.
For this task, what you want to do is to begin on a fresh page, and organize like questions into the same category, then name intuitively. Again, there are no rules, you can name any category whatever comes to mind; and you can come up with as many or as few categories as you want.
After categorising, you’ll probably end up having 10 to 20 categories in your book. After doing this, take another break for 24 hours just like you did with the first exercise.
Now, you want to go back to each of the categories you made the task before and begin to blow your own trumpet. That is, under each category, make a list of all the positive things you can think of about yourself that relates to that particular category.
Again, like we have consistently advised, do this exercise uncensored. Don’t try to be modest or worry yourself about coming off as a braggart. Just write. Remember, this series of exercises is meant to be confidential so, no one is seeing this but you.
The reason we want you listing out all your strengths is that it will help to boost your esteem and confidence. And these are two things you definitely want on your side when writing your college essay. And yeah, take another 24-hour break.
Just like you did in the last task, you will now go back to each category and honestly criticize yourself and your achievements. What were the challenges you faced? Did you make any errors? What were the areas you failed? You can bring up about 5 to 10 points for each category.
Reflecting on failures, errors, challenges and the likes can be really tough but this is where people most often strike gold content for their college essays. Stories from these experiences help you make your essays realer, less pretentious and more compelling.
They make you look more human and prove to the admissions committee that you’re comfortable in your own skin and are not afraid to show your weak side, knowing that it doesn’t in any way define you.
Points you can list under this category can be how you had a fallout with your project partner for a major competition, or how you struggled with dance classes till you quit, or how you nearly slipped into depression when a slip from you cost your relay team a trophy. After you’ve done this, take another 24-hour break.
READ: How to Write a Personal Statement with Little to No Experience
5. Twenty Paragraphs
The next thing you want to do after taking a 24-hour break from your last task is to draft out 20 paragraphs on the different categories you came up with (not twenty paragraphs each).
With all that you have learnt about yourself from weird questions to strengths, to shortcomings, you should be able to give a realistic and honest write up about who the real you actually is. Think wide and crazy and don’t be afraid to not conform. This database of information that you created between steps 1 and 4 will help you write a most personal college essay like nothing else ever possibly will.
This is the beautiful thing about college essays: it’s your chance to set yourself apart from the pack. There are so many people who will share same numerical stats with you (i.e. test scores, grades, etc). But no one else would have gone through the unique experiences you have gone through that makes you you. So, you have to milk that!
This is the time for you to think wide and deep: hobbies, standout experiences, things about you that your admissions committee can’t possibly get elsewhere, etcetera.
Remember to spice up your write up with stories, anecdotes and stuff to keep your essay from being boring.
Constructive feedback will help you write a killer college essay. After writing the 20 paragraphs, then meet with trusted advisors. They could be anyone whom you have a relationship with and whom you can trust to give you honest and useful advice.
This advisor can be anyone, ranging from your parents, to your teachers, to your older siblings, to your guidance counselor, anyone. The only advice we will give here is that the person must be someone who sincerely has your best interests at heart. The person must also be a smart thinker, able to know and understand the thought process of an average adult.
Let this person help you run through your 20 paragraphs and give his/her sincere opinion. They can help to refine it, so your message is clearer. They can also help you find your voice. Nonetheless, if you aren’t very comfortable with any advice they give or you think it doesn’t resonate with the real you, feel free to politely turn it down.
Not to sound narcissistic, but your college essay is really all about you, fam.
7. Follow Instructions to a T
For most colleges you’ll be applying to, you’ll be applying via the common application. That means that you will be allowed to use one college essay for several schools. But then, you’ll also have to answer different supplemental questions which are unique to schools.
Even for colleges where you do not apply via the common app, their college essays still share similar prompts with those of other schools. However, even in the light of all of these, you must pay attention to the instructions as given by the school concerning your college essay.
You might have to reconstruct your essay so it caters to the specific demands of a specific school. Plus, different schools have their individual specs for their essays and supplemental questions including word and character count. So, hopefully, you now see why you must read and follow instructions to a T.
READ: Preparing for Your College Interview
8. Rewrite. Rewrite.
Now that you’ve gotten feedback from your trusted advisors, it’s time for you to rework those twenty paragraphs into the greatest college essay about yourself. Write the way you would talk. Let the admissions committee be able to see you through your essay.
If you’re humorous, be humorous, if you’re passionate, be passionate, if you wear your heart on your sleeve, let your essay spark that emotion, etc. Try to draw your reader in by showing rather than telling. Don’t just give signposts with your essay. Hold the hand of your reader and take the person on a journey with you. Spice up your narrative with examples, and funny or heart wrenching anecdotes. Feel free to be yourself without excuse.
Remember the person the admissions committee wants to meet is you and no one else. Make it worth their while. Let them see you.
Make sure that this essay is written by you and is in fact, unembellished. Admission committees often run background checks. So, resist the urge to fabricate parts of your essay to sound more interesting or more extraordinary. It defeats the purpose of the personal statement. That is to get to know other things about you other than scores and grades. It is also very wrong and comes with its penalties.
9. Consult Again
You’ve drafted your first, uncensored, unedited, unfiltered essay. This time, it’s time to edit. This is the time to ensure that you’re working within the guidelines of the college. After editing, share with your trusted advisors and hear what they think. Let them give you an honest and constructive feedback on your essay and then see what needs to be reworked.
Now that heading is more a verb than a noun. You’d have to perfect your essay now. Remember what we told you, take advice but in all, do not lose yourself.
Quadruple check for grammar and spelling errors. And one way to not do that is to solely depend on your computer’s spelling and grammar check. That thin can be an idiot some times. You see my point? It totally missed out on two errors I made in my last sentence: “thin” instead of “thing” and “some times” instead of “sometimes”. You do not want to leave the grammatical fate of your essay in the hands of that thing. Nuff said.
You may also want to get other pairs of eyes to go through your essay for you as well. The more the eyes that go through your essay, the lower your chances of turning in a less than perfect essay.
And that’s it guys, your ultimate guide to writing a killer college essay! We are sure this post has helped you in a way most others couldn’t. And like we say here, caring is sharing, so don’t forget to share!