Do’s and Don’ts of the College Application Essay

The application essay is your chance to let admissions officers know that there’s more to you than just grades and SAT scores — and it’s an opportunity that you should maximize.

As an admissions officer myself, I can tell you that we certainly do read your essays — each and every one. Your essay sets the tempo for your candidacy, and along with the interview, gives the admissions staff a sense of who you really are.

So what advice can I give to a stressed essayist?

Remember the cardinal rule of writing an application essay: Your reader should know you better after reading your work. It’s important to keep in mind that you are the star of your essay, so be sure to involve yourself in your topic.

Make sure your topic is one you are passionate about; “What I Did on my Summer Vacation” isn’t going to cut it. Be creative. And most of all, be yourself.

Here are some other application essay do’s and don’ts.

• Begin writing early in the process to give yourself time to revise.
• Write, rewrite and polish your admission essay.
• Show your essay to people whose opinion you value, but don’t have parents or teachers craft your essay for you.
• Check your grammar—clear out any fragments, run-on sentences, comma splices, split infinitives, etc.
• Type your admission essay if at all possible.
• Be specific and descriptive.
• Vary your sentence structure. Avoid repetition of compound sentences filled with prepositional phrases. Use simple, short sentences to give power to important points.
• Show us your weaknesses as well as your strengths—they make you uniquely you.
• Incorporate humor (with good taste). Make us laugh, and your essay will stand out.

• Avoid being wordy, overblown or flowery.
• Stay away from colloquial, folksy or overly informal words such as “very,” “a lot,” “cool,” “awesome” and “nice.”
• Avoid clichés, such as “…as American as apple pie.”
• Don’t leave us hanging. Make sure there are no ideas introduced without being fully discussed.
• Avoid using the same words over (and over and over) again.