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4 Free Tips for Being a Better College Application Essay Writer

Need help improving your college application essay? Then check out these tips from EssayEdge. The best part? They won’t cost you a thing!

A perfectly proofread application essay won’t help your application package if it doesn’t have great content. While admissions officers are looking for essays that are free from proofreading errors, a technically correct but meaningless essay won’t impress them.

Content is the foundation of your essay; here are four tips to creating content that shines.


1. Fully understand the prompt

While this can seem obvious, not really understanding the prompt is an all-too-common mistake. Some graduate program prompts can actually qualify as small paragraphs, and it can be difficult to remember to address every aspect of the prompt – especially if the school has a low word count requirement for the essay.

Instead of reading the prompt over and over again trying to divine some hidden meaning, break it down and make a list. What is the first thing you need to talk about or answer? What is the second thing? You don’t necessarily need to address every aspect in the same order as the prompt, but ‘unpacking’ the prompt can help you clearly see the type of essay that the admissions officers are seeking.


2. Make time to brainstorm

This does not mean starting at 6PM instead of 7PM the night before your deadline. Start as soon as possible. In fact, if you haven’t started already, start now! Jot down a brief outline and maybe an anecdote that you are considering using. Taking three minutes right now can get your mind moving in the direction of the essay.


Surprisingly, your best ideas will probably come to you precisely when you’re not thinking of the essay. You might remember an incident that is perfect for the essay or see connections within the essay that you didn’t initially imagine. Let your brain do the work while you go about the business of your day. The best ideas often come while driving or in the shower.


3. Accept the limits set forward by the school

This might seem as apparent as the first item, however, many applicants struggle with this. You might really want to use an analogy or anecdote that can only be developed fully in 1,000 words, but the word-count limit for that essay is 500. In that case, even if you love the first idea, provided there’s no way to execute it within the 500-word limit, you simply have to move on and pick something else. Ignoring the guidelines provided is absolutely not an option.

Another mistake that many applicants make is using a good portion of the essay to tell a story but not saving enough space to explain the meaning of the story or how it relates to readiness for college. While it is normal to expect to trim some of the essay after an initial writing, don’t expect to be able to trim away a significant amount of a story and still have something that will impress the admissions officers. Depth generally performs better than breadth, so if this is your situation, you might want to write more about fewer anecdotes so that your essay doesn’t read like your resume in narrative form.


4. Don’t demand immediate perfection

Are you waiting to begin your essay until you’ve got everything ‘just right’? Does it seem like wasting time to go ahead and start now because you’ll have to make so many changes later? Sorry, but revisions are part of the writing process, and you can actually take a lot of the pressure off by simply getting some ideas out of your head and onto the page.

Put another way: stop worrying, and start now!

Like your academic and career goals, let your essay evolve. In doing so, you’ll create a much more profound piece of admissions writing that accurately reflects your true potential to excel in your target school’s program.



Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson’s EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.


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