When you apply for scholarships or to certain colleges, you will be asked to write an admissions essay. The subject requirements are usually vague, and you will be left with less than a thousand words in which you must convince an admissions representative that you stand out above the crowd.
Many times, students are overwhelmed with the task of writing a short essay that will depict them as smart, confident, worldly, ambitious, motivated, mature and interesting … all without sounding cocky. As a result, they end up writing pretentious, generic-sounding essays full of clichés, attempts at humor and exaggerated maturity.
The admissions representatives have seen all that before and won’t be impressed. What will impress them? A simple, meaningful essay about a moment, experience, person or idea that is important to you. You will need to convey your best qualities in an original, poignant thousand words that make you stand out among all the applicants. Choosing the all-important topic is entirely your decision, but here are some tips for putting the subject in its best light once you have decided on it.
· Write in your own voice. Don’t think that using your computer’s thesaurus feature to replace every third word will make you sound smarter or more interesting. Instead, it will make you sound like a thesaurus. Write your essay in the same conversational, respectable tone you would use when talking to an admissions representative in an interview.
· Be original. While you might think that the mission trip you went on 5 years ago is the most impressive thing you’ve done, it’s also the most impressive thing that 15,000 other applicants have done. Choose an essay topic that is unique and special only to you, whether it is fishing with your brother as a child or learning to cook with your grandmother before she passed away. If you can write about it passionately, it will sound impressive.
· Avoid negative controversy. Of course, you want your essay to stand out above all the rest. However, if you write an about how you must be a Baptist to get into heaven or how Democrats are idiots, you will stand out in a negative way and risk insulting your readers.
· Don’t underestimate your reader. If you are attempting to express a moral or a lesson learned in your essay, don’t feel that you have to spell it out. Let the reader pick up on the importance of your subject on their own.
· Focus. Do not use your essay as a resumé. It can be tempting to use this opportunity to catalogue of all the extraordinary things you have done and participated in, but this is not the time or the place. Pick one specific moment, experience, person or idea and describe that in a way that makes it real to the reader. This is what lets them connect with you and feel that they know you individually.
· Be specific in your language and use a simple, direct structure. Short sentences, concise vocabulary and action verbs make for a much more appealing, readable essay. Remember, don’t overuse that thesaurus. Flowery, obscure language will not make you sound smarter.
· Don’t brag. Yes, you are trying to make the reader realize that you are the right candidate for a scholarship or admission into a school, but any reader will dismiss an overly cocky applicant quickly.
· Avoid rhetorical questions, exclamation points, parentheses, gendered language, gimmicks, quotations from famous people, excessive attempts at humor, slang, the thesaurus and overused metaphors.
· Stick to the word limit. It might seem like you can’t convey the importance of your subject within the set word limit, but you must. If you go over the limit, the admissions representatives will stop reading your essay, and all the hard work you put into the last 3 pages of your essay will be wasted. If they only give you 500 words to work with, they are not trying to do you in. They want to see what you can do within the limit. Here is where the importance of simple, concise language comes in. If you find yourself over the word limit and still not finished, you must …
· Revise, revise, revise. Let your work sit for a few days, then come back to it. You will often find that passages can be worded more tightly or be omitted altogether. After you have revised your essay, give it to others for constructive criticism. Let your parents, your teacher, your girlfriend, your older sister and your friends all read it before the admissions representative does.