Is Your College Essay Good Enough to Get You In?

essayThe college essay is more important than ever and often makes the difference between getting into college or not, as well as a major factor in the size of the student’s financial aid. So how can you write an essay that will stand out?

Everyone talks about voice when it comes to the essay. Yet it is one of the most difficult things to do. Do you know what your writing voice even is or what is sounds like?

Now is a good time to start thinking about the essay so it is not so overwhelming when you begin filling out college applications. Your voice is important because it is one of the biggest factors that can help you stand out inside the admissions office.

Admissions officers from every type of school say time and again that your voice is the only one they want to hear when they read your essays They often lament the numbers of essays they read year after year that are sanitized because they have been edited or “fixed” by well-meaning adults.

“If the essay is sanitized, there won’t be any value added to the application,” said Michelle Larkrith, the Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions at the University of California – Berkeley. “It won’t help you. The essay is the only opportunity we have to understand who you are. Take advantage of it.”

How can you write in your own voice?

woman-gazing-horizRelax and write freely, and your writing voice will come through. To recognize and develop that voice, here is a suggestion:

  • Open a new document or turn to a clean sheet of paper in your notebook.
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes.
  • Describe a place where you feel relaxed.
    • Capture as many sensory details as possible.
    • Write in first person, present tense: e.g., I am standing on the dock behind Melanie’s cottage, looking out on Lake Superior (or any other lake that you like to visit!)
    • Be specific, but don’t worry about making sense or sounding clever. You can write fragments, sentences, lists or run-ons.
    • Don’t read your work as you go along. Just keep moving forward.
    • Feel free to be candid. No one will read this but you.
  • When the timer stops, either stop writing or continue. You can always write for more than ten minutes, but don’t write for less.
  • Look back at your free writing, and find three segments that sound like you.
    • Each one can be anything from a short phrase to a multi-sentence description.
    • They don’t have to be exciting or clever; they just have to sound like you (e.g., something you always say, do or think; a phrase you like; or a description of something that screams my house! or my backyard! or my sister!)

These are just a few examples of your writing voice. This is what you sound like when you are not trying too hard to be clever or creative. This is also the voice you should use to write your college essays.

At College Inside Track, we work closely with students to make sure they “find their voice” so that the college essay stands out from the crowd and that the student stands the best chance of getting into college and receiving the most merit aid possible.