College essays are the bane of basically all of our students’ existence for the entirety of their senior year. Honestly, I can relate. I felt the same way not too long ago. I’ve realized though, it doesn’t have to be so hard. Here are some tips and tricks that we use to help our students write the best college essays.
What you write doesn’t matter! It’s why it matters to you that’s most important.
Somewhere in your many, many years of schooling, you must have heard of themes and topics. You may also remember that they are not the same. Make sure your essay has a theme and not just a topic. For example, a topic can be about “War”. A theme based around that topic could be “War does not solve problems”. That distinction is key to making sure your essay doesn’t get forgotten.
The best way to accomplish this is by NOT writing a Wikipedia article. (They always need a lot of help, by the way, so take your awesome technical writing skills and give them a hand.) Most essays have one serious problem: there’s too much what and not enough why. This is your story, write it like one.
There are many aspects of a successful story. The most important one for your essays is the main character. Guess who that should be? That’s right, it’s you!
Here’s how to check if you are truly the main character of your story. Do a word count check and see what percentage of sentences talk about you and what percentages of sentences talk about someone else. As you can expect, most of the sentences should be talking about you!
- Who was involved ?
- When ?
- Where ?
- What happened and how did you overcome it ?
- Why does it matter ?
You might notice that the What is missing. This is intentional because it’s already so emphasized, we don’t want to emphasize it more.
Well balanced W’s help even out your essay and convert it from that dreaded Wikipedia article into YOUR story. It also helps illustrate why your story matters. At the end of the day, the admission counselors want to know why they should read your essay. If you’re able to communicate that, then you’re already ahead of most of the submissions.
Humanize Your Essay.
Use names — not pronouns
Don’t use words like “(s)he” or “they”. These are words that are used by everyone in almost every essay. It makes your essay seem less unique. If you’re worried about privacy, don’t be. You can always change the first name, without compromising the integrity of your story.
Clarify your setting
Too many times, people start in one place and time in their essay and move to another without updating the reader. If you start in 8th grade and move to the 10th grade, use a transition: “In 10th grade, …”. There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?
What vs Why
We already discussed the importance of the well balanced W’s. I want to talk a little bit more about the ratio between the What and the Why. It’s important to explain what your story is about, but it’s even more important to outline why the story matters and why someone should read it. Here’s a graphic outlining different qualities of essays based on the What vs Why ratio. This ratio is easily calculated by using the word count feature. Just see how many sentences are discussing your What and how many are discussing the Why.
What vs Why ratio breakdown
That’s mostly it for the basics. Here are some final pointers to round out what we’ve discussed so far.
First, always start your drafting without a word count. It’s easier to remove words and content than it is to add it back. When you have to add more, you generally have to force it to line up with ideas that you already have, making your essay unbalanced.
Next, follow the 2-sentence rule. Don’t go more than 2 sentences without using the words “I” or “Me”. Remember, the story is about you, you, and you.
Finally, please read it out loud. I know that it can sometimes be cringey to read out your own work. This is exactly the feeling that you want to get comfortable with. Once you read it out loud, you can feel what your essay is saying and how that’s going to make the readers feel.
I hope that this has helped you start, edit, or even polish your essays. If you want some more advanced techniques, check out our YouTube video here, where we give in depth examples of all of the concepts discussed here and more.
We specialize in youth mentorship and college counseling. From 8th grade to 12th, we have you covered for any stage in your high school career. Schedule a free consultation with us here.
See you soon!