Landing Your College Essays

One way to think about college essays is that they are interviews on paper. Now imagine sitting down to meet your potential employer for the first time. You might have prepared for your interview by learning about the company and what skills the job entails so you can talk about the skills you have, like the ability to adapt and learn quickly. You probably will want to convey your excitement for the opportunity to grow with their company. You might even have a list of questions that show you know their business niche, products, and how they work with clients. You want to use this same approach when writing college essays, and demonstrate through your writing:

Your specific strengths and abilities.

Demonstrating a positive and can-do attitude. Sounds a little old-school, but showing that you have initiative and follow-through are qualities that can lead to success and what employer’s value.

Excellent communication skills. 

Communicating clearly is integral to any interview, and even more critical to writing a college essay. A succinct and reflective essay will address the question (“prompt”) being asked and will demonstrate your ability to understand and read between the lines. While many college essay prompts seem open-ended, the questions are, in fact, seeking specific information of interest to the interviewer/college. It is your job to figure out what that is. 

Writing essays that are clear and concise, and answer the essay prompt is akin to sitting across a desk from the person that may be determining your future path. You want to convey why you are the best candidate and how your academic and extracurricular choices have been intentional and how they will be an asset to the college you are applying to. Focusing on what you have done and how that will translate to the future, even when applied to a different activity, field, or major, is part of sharing what makes you unique and essential in writing college essays.

Just as you will highlight your strengths and skills in an interview, you probably want to steer away from areas that might put doubt in your potential employer’s mind. You might not start an interview by saying you need time off, or write about 1) wanting to take a Gap year, 2) express uncertainty about attending college in general, or 3) mention other colleges you are interested in. While these may be things you are thinking about, put them in your thought bubble, and keep your focus on the task at hand, which is conveying your interest or commitment as an intentional applicant. If the job has specific requirements, would you begin by sharing an issue that may impact your ability to do the job? In this same way, writing about an issue that is potentially a red-flag topic may be more about providing context for personal success and steps to overcoming a challenge than solely about the challenge.

The strength and perseverance to overcome a health or life challenge is extraordinary and should not be dismissed; one question to consider is where that story fits best when applying to college. If attending school or participating in extracurricular activities were impacted or limited, you might want to include details to give context in the Additional Information section, a supplemental essay, or for this year in the COVID supplemental essay. Writing about overcoming difficult life and health challenges in your college essay requires answering questions that may be in the admissions rep’s mind like:

How does this aspect of your life fit with all of the other compelling pieces of who you are?

What were the steps you took or implemented to be successful?

Did this impact your ability to attend school or your grades, and if so, how did you address this?

How did this challenge shape who you are today?

The college essay helps colleges know your individual characteristics and life circumstances. Finding the best place to highlight each of your unique qualities should be intentional and just as important as choosing your Personal Statement topic or story. Highlighting your strengths, framing them, and giving them the weight they deserve is not limited to your Personal Statement. Taking advantage of all the essay opportunities involves work and more writing, but it is an investment in revealing all aspects of your character and what you value. There is no way to predict 100% of the outcome during the admissions process or applying for a job. Writing essays that translate what defines you, so your reader hears your voice, understands your ideas and intentions clearly, and sees that you are ready to attend college are things you can control in your college journey.

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