In theory, writing a college admissions essay should be simple. If you’ve spent any time talking with your guidance counselor or English teacher, then you know the basic steps of choosing a prompt, brainstorming ideas, outlining, writing, and revising. However, if you’re like many college hopefuls, you have found yourself hopelessly stuck on at least one college essay. Writing on command can be a challenge for almost anyone, especially when there is so much riding on your essay. It’s no wonder you find your fingers frozen over the keys and your brain turning to mush when you try to collect your thoughts.
If you’ve found yourself unable to get started on your admissions essay, try one of these tips to get your ideas flowing and boost your creativity.
Read the Instructions Carefully
This may seem obvious, but many a candidate has been undone by missing an important step in their essay prompt. Make sure you know exactly what the admissions committee expects from your essay, including the length and topics they expect you to cover. Furthermore, rather than overwhelm you with too much information, the prompt may actually contain something that will spark your creativity. If the prompt gives you an option of several different questions to answer, think hard about each one to see how it might relate to you and your application.
Make It a Group Effort
If some of your friends are in the same boat, get everyone together for an essay writing party. While working on college essays is few people’s idea of a fun evening with friends, having company will make the time pass more quickly and pleasantly than if you were all working alone. Order pizza and have cold drinks and snacks on hand, then set aside a few hours for everyone at your party to write. If you feel yourself slowing down, propose a word war to introduce some friendly competition. Set a timer for a few minutes – no more than five or ten – and have everyone write for the entire time. Once you the timer goes off, have everyone count up the words they wrote. The person who produced the most words is the winner. Remember to take some time to edit afterwards.
Think of Stories to Tell
Stories from your life are the best way to illustrate the points you make in your essay. Don’t just say that you set goals and work hard until you have achieved them; tell a story about a specific time you did just that. You’ll make a much stronger case if you can show why you’re a good candidate rather than just tell. Better yet, open your essay with a story. It grabs the reader’s interest and helps ease you through the intimidating first few sentences of the essay. Recruit some close friends or family members for a reminiscing session if you’re having trouble thinking of good stories to tell. They may be able to help you remember the perfect anecdote.
Consider the College
All colleges want to admit students they think will be successful. No matter how many accomplishments you might have from your high school years, if you can’t demonstrate that you are a committed student who is willing to learn and work hard the admissions board may decide you aren’t a good fit for their institution. Think about what you would want to see in a student if you were a professor and then make sure that your essay demonstrates some of these traits. Colleges are generally looking for someone who is curious and able to think critically rather than just someone who can score high on tests. They also want to know that you are ready to learn and eager to be at college, so let some of your enthusiasm shine through.
This is good advice in a lot of different situations, but you must apply it to the writing of your college essay as well. Though your essay should be as well-written as you can make it, no one at the admissions office expects you to sound like Shakespeare. Rather than concerning yourself with the perfect flowery language, use your essay as a chance to show off your sense of humor, can-do attitude, ability to communicate directly, or whatever makes you special. Especially when you are beginning your essay, focus more on ideas and stories rather than writing. You can – and should! – edit your essay later, but chances are the writing will not need as much work as you may think.
Use Creative Structure
As long as your essay answers the prompt and is written clearly and maturely, there is nothing stopping you from coming up with a creative hook. In fact, bored admissions committee members who have read dozens of essays before yours may even appreciate the change of pace. Think of an object that is important to you – a pair of dance shoes, a guitar, a baseball bat, whatever – and write your essay from the object’s perspective. How does this object see you? What does it think of your accomplishments? Or try flashing back or forward in time. Begin the essay in your childhood, or assume the role of yourself as a college graduate, talking about why the university you attended was perfect for you.
Do Your Research
All the tips and advice in the world can’t actually show you want a great college admissions essay actually looks like. Fortunately, there are plenty of examples of successful essays right at your fingertips. Look up the essays of people who have gotten into college and see what they did that was successful. Of course, you should never copy another scholar’s essay. This is not limited to plagiarizing the essay word for word but also includes imitating the flow of ideas. You can browse other essays for inspiration but have confidence in your own words and ideas when you begin writing.