For some students, acceptance or denial into college can be determined by how well (or poorly) they craft their college application essays.
Even if you have an excellent GPA, brilliant test scores, and the most endearing, glowing letters of recommendation in all of existence, you could still get a denial letter from some competitive colleges for what's written in that essay. Or, at least, lose out to another student who has similar credentials but a better essay than you.
To possibly increase your chances of getting in, here are five tips for writing college admissions essays.
1. See the essay for what it is
Going into the essay with the right mindset can make all the difference. You should view it as an opportunity, according to an article by Carleton College admissions staff.
"The essay is one of the few things that you've got complete control over in the application process," according to the article. "You've already earned most of your grades; you've already made most of your impressions on teachers…So when you write the essay, view it as something more than just a page to fill up with writing."
This essay is a chance to tell admissions folks who you are as a person. Seize the opportunity.
2. Two words: clear and concise
If you want to write a compelling admissions essay, put that thesaurus away. Ditch flashy. You're not writing the next "Fountainhead" here. If you use lots of big words and sentences as long as those found in early 20th century philosophy texts, you'll just annoy the reader and make them suspicious that it's the sincere writing of an 18-year-old.
Heed the wisdom of Albert Einstein: Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.
3. Write how you speak -- to a point
Anyone who's tutored writing before has surely come across a common issue in essay writing: People too often become someone else in their writing. The gap between their writing voice and their speaking voice is sometimes insurmountable. In admissions essays, your true voice (minus the slang and "umms") should come out.
According to adMISSION POSSIBLE founder Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz in a Huffington Post article, "Remember, the purpose of answering the application questions is to help the college admissions officers get to know you. What better way of doing that is there than to write as if you are talking to them?"
It helps to read your writing out loud or to audibly say it before typing it. Then, once your writing voice and speaking voice are similar, your true self can come out in your essay. And that's what admissions officers want to see.
4. Never, ever use clichés
Clichés might be true. They might even wonderfully encompass something you want to say. But you didn't come up with these phrases and should avoid them completely. Avoid cliché topics or mistakes, such as writing an essay that merely lists your accomplishments. Admissions officers see too much of it and it's often a red flag.
Reverse clichés, where you start out with a cliché but finish with something unexpected, could work well, though it's hard to imagine a point within an admissions essay where it can be done. Don't force reverse clichés to look clever. And don't use clichés, because it will make you look the opposite of clever.
It might sound cliché but just be yourself. Seriously.
5. Write a new essay each time
Lots of things in life can and should be recycled. College admissions essays shouldn't be. It's a similarly tragic mistake to copying and pasting the same cover letter to every job. You won't land top jobs that way, and colleges will see right through that tactic, as Elizabeth Hoyt writes for Fastweb.
"...Personalize it (your college admissions essay) based on the school where you're applying," Hoyt wrote. "There's nothing wrong with having a standard format and adding in information, but one size does not fit all when it comes to admissions essays."
If you go into the essay viewing it as an opportunity, write clearly and concisely in your own language, and personalize it to the school you're writing it for, you'll be on the right path. Mix that with compelling content and no grammatical errors, and it may just be what delivers your application over into the "accepted" pile.