5 Tips for Writing Your College Admissions Essay

Follow these tips from Mary Pat O’Neil to help you craft an outstanding college essay that truly reflects you.

When it comes to the college admissions process, one aspect that often gets overlooked is the power of your college essay. While your transcript and test scores are undoubtedly important, they only reveal a part of who you are as an individual. Your college essay is the opportunity to showcase your unique qualities and experiences.

Here are five valuable tips from Mary Pat O’Neil, independent college counselor and creator of our Find Your Fit program, to help you craft an outstanding college essay that truly reflects you.

Make sure your essay reflects your character and personality.

One of the fundamental goals of your college essay is to let your true self shine through. View it as a chance to unveil your character and personality. Colleges recognize the importance of these qualities and consider them in the admissions process, so make sure your essay reflects your true self. Your application needs to be authentic and represent YOU.

Write an essay that’s readable.

Writing a college essay is not as simple as it might seem. The key is to write it in a conversational style, as if you were speaking to the admissions officer in person. This approach allows the college to hear your voice and ensure that you are present in your essay. Embrace the first-person perspective, steer clear of overly detailed descriptions, and maintain a positive and humble tone.

The first paragraph is crucial.

Your essay’s first paragraph lays the foundation for the rest of your narrative. While many writers might obsess over finding the perfect hook, it’s more important to set up your story effectively. Don’t assume that the reader knows anything about you. Instead, imagine you’re at an interview answering the prompt, and start your essay accordingly.

Add vulnerability to your essay.

Admitting that you aren’t perfect is a powerful way to connect with your readers. Sharing personal experiences where you faced challenges or made mistakes can make your essay more relatable and genuine. Avoid cringe-worthy details, but remember that your essay is being read by humans who respond to the humanness in people. Share moments when you failed a test, faced adversity, or dealt with a difficult situation, as this adds depth to your essay.

Be yourself and show, don’t just tell.

Your college essay is not the place for creative writing or exaggeration. Be genuine and authentic. Show your character and personality through stories and examples, rather than just telling the reader about them. Offer proof of your qualities through concrete experiences and events that only you can narrate. Rather than stating, “I’m a compassionate person,” you could demonstrate your compassion by recounting a volunteering experience where you spent time helping the elderly residents of a local nursing home, showing your willingness to listen and provide emotional support.

Remember, Your college essay is your opportunity to present yourself as a three-dimensional individual to admissions officers. By following Mary Pat’s tips, you’ll be well on your way to crafting a compelling college essay that sets you apart from the rest of the applicants. Good luck!

Learn more about Mary Pat O’Neil and our Find Your Fit program at www.lwsf.org/our-work/find-your-fit.

Bonnie is the Communications and Programs Coordinator for Lake Washington Schools Foundation.

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