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How to Write Better College Essays
by Brian Konradt
As college admissions become more and more difficult and applicants become more and more qualified, the college essay gains clout as a vital part of the application process. An outstanding personal essay, no matter how long, is sometimes the deciding factor for a prospective student. But its not enough to show proficiency with the written word -- at least not anymore. Todays personal essays revolve around the sense of personality and style gleaned from each sentence, and its your responsibility to harness those elements. The following tips will get you on your way to the acceptance pile.
The most important part of a college essay is the actual topic, so you need plenty of time to mull over the choices. Youll want something interesting, but not cliché, significant but not trite. Consider the following questions during your brainstorming process:
1. What distinguishes you from others in your age group? Any special skills, talents, interests or attributes?
2. Have you engaged yourself in a fierce struggle for something? Did you succeed or fail? What have you learned?
3. What are your most concrete goals for the future? Where do want to be in 20 years and how will you get there?
4. What or who has been influential in your life? How or why?
NARROW THE TOPIC
Though its tempting to ramble through your whole life story in a college essay, be careful to keep your topic narrowed. Write one sentence (a thesis, in a sentence) that sums up the point of your entire essay, and make each paragraph support that one sentence. Try not to get too lofty with your concept; find the point and stick to it.
FINE-TUNE THE OPENING
The opening paragraph is your first (and sometimes only) chance to grab firmly the attention of admission officials, so dont create a lazy intro that simply sums up what youll discuss. Be vivid, clear and original; try piquing their interest with an anecdote or poignant question. Give your intro an element of mystery and intrigue -- really make the reader want to read more. This could be the most important paragraph in the essay, so devote plenty of time to crafting this well.
REVEAL YOUR PERSONALITY
Sure, admissions officials arent your best friends and you shouldnt write as if they are. But if you get mired in formality, paralyzed by grammar, you might exclude the most crucial element of your essay -- you. Colleges want to know who you are and what traits make you shine, so dont be afraid to let the real you shine through. But never paint yourself into an image that isnt really you; if you have to alter your personality drastically to gain acceptance to a school, chances are good that its not the right school for you.
FORGET THE BIG WORDS...SOMETIMES
Showing off your massive vocabulary may seem like an instant ticket to acceptance. But if youre using a thesaurus for every word or phrase, youre probably draining the essay of both personality and readability. Use only words youd actually use in conversation (or, at least, words of which you know the meaning) and be sparing; big words are fine, of course, but they need to make sense in context. Wordiness for the sake of wordiness doesnt make you seem smarter; it just seems moderately uncreative.
END WITH A BANG
Since the college essay is usually short to begin with, concluding with a summary paragraph is fairly redundant. Instead, use this paragraph to create a stunning last impression. How does your topic fit into a larger issue? What have you learned from the experience about which youve written? Are there any poignant quotes that illuminate your ideas? You dont need to create a tidy, television-style wrap-up, but you do need to end strongly; this is your last chance to make a vivid impression.