Types of College Application Essays

Though some schools (e.g., Wake Forest, UChicago, Brown) will have their own bizarre essay prompts, most college essays can be grouped into a type, the most common being:

The Personal Statement: The first essay prompt in the Common App is a perfect example of an essay that asks students to write about themselves. It goes: “Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”

When responding to this prompt, choose an experience or activity that played an important role in your life but that does not appear somewhere else on your application. For example, if your transcript and extracurriculars include a lot of orchestra classes and music prizes, do not write about playing the violin. Remember, the whole point of the essay is to show admissions officers a side of you that the rest of your application does not reveal. Show that you are multidimensional human being!

Your Favorite Activity: Choose an activity you are passionate about—be it a sport, random hobby (e.g. stamp collecting), or extracurricular activity (e.g. volunteering, hiking on weekends).

When responding to this prompt, think about what you do in your free time. Why is whatever you choose to write about your favorite activity? How do you feel when you are engaged in it? Show that you have a deep passion for something and that you have an intellectual understanding of it.

Why School?: This essay prompt specifically asks you why you want to spend your prime youth years at the college in mind. The prompt may ask: “Why is this college a good fit for you?” or “Tell us about your career goals and plans you may have for your studies.” This essay allows you to show your interest in the school and why you are a good fit.

When responding to this prompt, it is crucial to do a lot of research into the school and into the specific program you are applying to. Is the major or academic program unique from how it is typically offered at other colleges? Is there a specific course or curricula requirement which you’re itching to take? Does the department boast prominent researchers, some of whose work interests you enough to consider joining their team? Check out the website for your major’s department to get clues. Browse the college’s clubs listing and see if anything interests you. Is there an intramural sport you would like to join? Or an international club? By mentioning specific aspects of the university that appeal to you, you show that you put a good amount of thought into your application decision. So, be specific.

Here, you also want to show that if admitted, you would make positive contributions to the school community. Play upon your strengths. Are you a talented pianist who wants to join the school orchestra? Do you want to serve as a peer tutor in any subject(s)? Do you bring a fresh cultural perspective to the table? What would the school gain in accepting you?

Intellectual Curiosity: You may be asked to describe an idea, experience, or work of art that has been important to your intellectual development. When responding to this prompt, think about what some of your favorite subjects are. What do you enjoy reading up on in your free time? Is there a particular novel or academic text that  has inspired you to think differently? If so, how has it affected the way you see the world?

By: Andrea Schiralli

Key Tips for Writing Your Personal Statement Essay

Start as early in the process as possible. The more time you have to write, the more revising you can do and thus, the better your essay will be. Also, procrastinating leads to unnecessary stress.

Brainstorm and make an outline before you begin. It’s amazing how many ideas you can come up with through effective brainstorming. Jot down aspects of your personality and strengths that you really want the admissions officers to know about. Crafting an outline will allow you to view the entire skeleton of your essay. Flaws in idea flow and organization will become visible.

Make your essay your own. Think about what you care about, sparks your interests, or motivates you, and then write about it. Don’t write about what you think admissions officers want to hear.

Don’t be common. Take a risk! Don’t write what everyone else is writing about. Read essays online, ask your friends what they are writing about, and then choose something completely different.

Allow your personality to shine. This is the only part of the application that allows admissions officers to see you from your own perspective. If you are generally a funny person, feel free to to sprinkle a few witticisms or silly metaphors in your essay, but don’t attempt to write an entire satire. Remember: the essay’s purpose is to convey your intelligence, passions, and strengths—not your sense of humor.

Stay focused. This is your chance to tell the admissions officers why they should accept you. They already have your activity sheet, so avoid making your essay read like a stale grocery list of your awards and accomplishments. Rather, choose one topic that really interests you, and write about it. Stick to the main theme throughout the whole essay. Even if the question is rather broad, your answer should be narrow. Through details and real examples, your writing will reveal your passions and personality.

Have fun! College admissions essays tend to lean more toward narratives and free-form writing rather than structured academic essays. They are meant to be written from the heart, so once you figure out what to write about (arguably the most difficult part), let the words flow.

Be specific, clear, and to-the-point.

Do not exceed the word limit.

Don’t plagiarize. This should go without saying, but don’t ever copy or tweak someone else’s essay. Even if you found it buried hundreds of clicks away from an initial Google search, admissions officers have literally read thousands (if not tens of thousands) of college admissions essays in their lives and more than likely will be able to spot plagiarism. Plagiarizing is simply unacceptable in America, and a plagiarized essay will be tossed in the trash.

Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite! Don’t expect a flawless (or even good!) essay on your first try. The pressure will stress you out and probably contribute to a frustrating case of writer’s block. Don’t worry about trivial things you can clean up later, such as grammar or spelling. First, simply get your ideas off your head and onto paper. Then, a few hours or even a few days later, look at your work with “fresh eyes.”

Edit. Go through your entire essay a few times and Spell Check (manually after running it on the computer, for mistakes such as “they’re” vs. “their.”). Remove frivolous words such as “very,” “many,” and “interesting.” These words weaken your writing. Check for grammatical and punctuation errors. You may want to ask someone who hasn’t yet read your essay to proofread it for you, as they are more likely to catch mistakes. Even minor mistakes show a lack of care for quality in your work.

Ask a friend or teacher for an opinion. When you think you are finally done with this grueling process, find someone whose opinion you trust (a scholarly friend, an English teacher, a parent, etc.). Ask them what you can do to improve your writing, and accept their feedback gracefully. Listen carefully and consider their suggestions. In the end, it is your essay, so make sure it stays in your own voice.

Read your essay aloud. Yes, aloud. Not in your head. By reading an essay aloud, you will be able to pick up any phrases that sound awkward or wordy while noticing which areas don’t flow smoothly.

By: Andrea Schiralli

College Admission: Essays

Read through posts that provide great tips, strategies, and advice to calm “essay anxiety” when affronting the admission essay process! For any inquires, please contact us and feel free to comment!