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How To Write A College Application Essay Online

How to write a college application essay online

Most admission committees are more interested in your high school grades and test scores, but many colleges, especially the more selective ones, use the college application essays they receive as a way to sort through the many applicants with similar credentials. A good application essay will make you memorable and set you apart from the other candidates.

So what makes a good essay? Here are a few tips.

Pay attention to the prompt

The "prompt" is the essay question. For example, on the 2016-2017 Common Application, which is used by over 500 schools, there are five prompts:

  • Your personal background story

  • Lessons learned from a failure

  • A belief or idea that you challenged, and what happened

  • A problem you've solved, or a problem you'd like to solve

  • An accomplishment or event that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood

Other universities may have their own form, but the questions and the principles behind them will be similar.

Ask yourself what the admissions officers want to know, and what connection it has to your ability to do well in college. If you have a choice, choose the topic that will highlight you.

Get organized

It might seem like you can skip this step, but don't. Organizing yourself before you start writing will save you from a lot of the frustration and stress involved with the entire process. Brainstorm the anecdotes you're going to use. Create a rough outline. The outline should hit these points:

  • A personal story from your life

  • What you learned from the experience

  • Why it matters that you learned what you did

Estimate how long each paragraph needs to be in order to fit the word limit. Figure out a schedule for your writing – a bit each day? Blast through it in one weekend?

Don't tell, show

Don't simply state facts. When you're figuring out what anecdotes to use, pick ones that stand out but can still be told within your word limit. Don't let them take over the essay. Remember that you also need to include self-reflection and analysis in your essay. Show the admissions officers who you really are by using strong examples; don't just tell them that you have, say, a passion for something. Make them see it as if they're with you.

Vocabulary and voice

Your application essay should show that your vocabulary is at college level. At the same time, make sure that you're not using words incorrectly. Look for examples online. But don't embellish your essay for the sake of using an advanced vocabulary. Use plain language most of the time, with a sprinkling of more advanced words. Overusing an advanced vocabulary can have the effect of making you look like you think you're very smart, and can backfire and make your writing laughable.

Use your own voice. Don't use overused phrases or ideas. Avoid formal language. Make sure you write about a real experience you had, and communicate it in your own words.

And, just so you know, the admissions officers can tell if an adult wrote or edited your essay. They've seen it all.

Be concise

Admissions officers go through huge stacks of applications every day. Keep the word count at the maximum required. Writing concisely shows the admissions officers that you can organize your thoughts and that you value their time.

Get a second opinion

You need to proofread your essay. Spell check is not going to catch everything, especially misused words. Ask a parent or teacher to proofread your essay. They can help you catch mistakes. And ask the person who's proofreading your essay if the way it's written sounds like you.

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