College Essay Application Tips

By SAGE Scholars
January 2, 2022

College Essay Application Tips

With early application and regular decision deadlines fast approaching, students may feel overwhelmed with the task of writing their essays. At SAGE Scholars, we're here to help prepare the next generation of prospective students for success. During this critical time in students' lives, college essays will be among the essential facets of their applications. Though high stakes, this aspect of the application is also open to the most creativity and personalization. Essays are a chance for students to explain their passions and dreams—while also exploring what makes them who they are. Below, you'll discover some helpful essay writing tips that can separate your application from the rest of the pack!

1.) Just (Free)Write.

For many, the most challenging part of starting an essay is getting something down on paper. Lacking inspiration? Try freewriting! A simple Google search will return hundreds of free writing prompts that can help you think outside the box and construct a unique story. Anything worth reading takes practice, but simply free writing for ten minutes a day or using voice memos on your phone to record thoughts can create great essay material.

2.) Revise, revise, revise!

Instead of seeking perfection, it's important to remember that your essay will and should go through many revisions before you reach the final draft. Remember, rewriting something doesn't mean you're a bad writer, but it does indicate a commitment to refining your work to produce a more polished piece. All the best authors go through many, many revision processes before excavating the final product. Don't hesitate to have a variety of people, who know you well, read your drafts. It's important to put many eyes on your work. Not only will this create opportunities to refine your language, but multiple reviewers can help to ensure clarity while helping to make the best qualities about you more transparent.

3.) What Am I Writing About?

But what exactly is the college essay, and how am I supposed to write an essay with little parameters or guidelines? Questions such as these paralyze students and often delay the writing process significantly. While most college essays have little structure, colleges want to hear how you've grown. Sometimes, this means being more vulnerable than we're used to to create a connection. Don't overlook teachable moments that are awkward, embarrassing, or uncomfortable as starting points for a great essay. This doesn't require that you divulge every detail of your life, but displaying humility, receptibility, and accessibility will make you an excellent fit for any college. Most importantly, it will make you a better person in the long run.

What experiences or people in your life have shaped you or profoundly impacted how you see the world and others around you? When answering these questions, however, avoid the mistake of using extensive descriptions of the thing. Instead, the bulk of your essay should elaborate on the "in what way?" aspect of the situation or person. Still stuck? Think about describing growth from the standpoint of, "How did it affect or change you?" Substance prevails over rich, descriptive details for these essays.

4.) Don't feel pressured.

Don't feel pressured to create a happy ending, however. If you're working through a situation or there's something unresolved, talk about that! What questions do you still have? How is ambiguity helping you grow? The objective is not to tell a story that you think people want to hear but tell them what you want.

5.) Less Description, More Authenticity.

However, relying on less decryption doesn't mean that the quality of your writing should take a backseat. Many essays will include a word count, so each word—how it fits into your story—will matter. Verbs, specifically, can have an immense effect on someone's perception of good vs. outstanding writing. Don't be afraid to take some risks and play around with language and sentence construction. Engage the reader's imagination and five senses through metaphors instead of flowery adjectives.

While this essay does require a degree of formality, make sure the writing sounds like you in your authentic voice. This is the opportunity for admissions committees to get to know you as if you're having a substantiative conversation together. The passion you have for what you're writing about emerges most strongly with feelings of comfort.

6.) Let's Begin.

So, let's dive in! It starts with a story, and after students establish what that will be, it's easier to avoid sloppy organization. Admissions committees do not want to read a student's entire life story, so narrow it down to a point in time and keep the core of the essay there. Not only will zeroing in on one aspect of your story create more meaning, but it will help generate reflection on what the moment truly means in the grand scheme of life. Writing in this way will also focus the audience's attention, who will read hundreds of essays per day during admissions season.

7.) The Opening Paragraph.

The opening paragraph can either hook or sink your audience. However, if done correctly, two things will hook the reader. First, don't bury the lead! Opening sentences of your essay will capture the reader's attention and give a sense of direction. Think about the first two sentences like a Tweet. You get 150 words, give or take, to make an impression or snag the "like."

It's also important to avoid "throat-clearing" in your opening lines. For example, if you're talking about how working at a pet store changed your outlook on animal rights, do not begin by saying just that. Instead, immerse the reader in your daily experience. Write from the perspective of a bunny to explain what it feels like in a cage or a fish in a fish tank. Use the opening paragraph as a springboard to paint the larger picture of impact.

8.) "Into, through, and beyond."

Ultimately, this essay will help colleges understand how your skillset and you might be a good fit for their University. While most students do a great job with the into and through, many forget the beyond. Think of this aspect of your essay as a bridge that you're building to walk onto campus. To build an effective bridge, consider sharing, reflecting, and connecting your values and goals with colleges toward the end of your essay. Talk about their mission and how this experience contributes to what kind of student you'll be. Remember, youth have an immense amount of power to create change! Can the admissions officers picture you and help advocate your application after reading your essay?

A college essay represents a culmination of who you are. It's the best of you and your understanding of the world. Everyone has a story; it's how you convey this story that will create its impact. Most importantly, have fun! This process requires hard work, receptivity, reflection, and diligence, but the reward—that acceptance letter—makes it all worthwhile!

SAGE Scholars

At SAGE Scholars, we deeply believe in the value and quality of private higher education. Our mission is to provide access to affordable college opportunities while bringing together families, colleges & universities, and benefit providers to create college funding solutions. Since 1995, SAGE Scholars has bridged the gap between students who want a quality private college education and colleges that will work closely with member families to ensure affordability — all at no cost to the student, family, or college. As the nation’s oldest, largest, and most trusted private college preparation and funding organization, we’re providing families with the guidance and resources they need for every step of the college process.
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