Top 5 College Essay Hacks

Alice falls down the rabbit hole. Milo drives through the tollbooth. Dorothy is swept up in the tornado. Neo takes the red pill. Don’t tell us about another world you’ve imagined, heard about, or created. Rather, tell us about its portal.

No, this isn’t a creative writing project — it’s an essay prompt for a college application (specifically the University of Chicago)! The college essay is a very important part of the admissions process. A well-written essay will not only make you stand out as an applicant, it also has the power to impress admissions officers enough to potentially offer a coveted spot in that year’s matriculating class. While not every college essay prompt will be as creative as the one above, they do require a different approach than you may be used to employing for academic assignments. In this week’s edition, we’ve put together a list of our top 5 College Essay Hacks for writing an Admissions-Worthy College Essay!

1. Showcase your growth.

The most relatable essays are also the most realistic. Colleges aren’t looking for a monologue on the ways that you excelled academically — those details should be evident in other components of their application such as transcripts, test scores, and resume. Admission officers want to know more about you as a person, and that includes your struggles and how you have worked to overcome them (or are still navigating them). We’ve found that applicants who present a thoughtful, honest reflection on the trajectory of their growth beyond the simple Point A to Point B model tend to be more successful in the admissions process compared to students who do not include a “growth story” or who do so in a simplistic way that does not account for the nuances of surmounting challenges.

2. Make it personal.

Every year, the top question we receive from our students is: “Is this too cliche?” They’re right to be concerned, because a cliche college essay won’t set them apart from thousands of other applicants writing about the same topic. We encourage our students to provide personalized details about the small things, rather than sweeping generalizations about themselves and their experiences, as it is far less likely that these details will overlap with those provided by other applicants. When writing about a relationship with a beloved grandmother, for instance, it is more impactful to demonstrate the closeness of the relationship by writing about how she took the time to pick out all of the colored marshmallows in the student’s cereal each morning, leaving only the green ones because she knew those were the student’s favorite (a true story!). In general, the most memorable moments are found in the small, everyday details, so don’t be afraid to include them!

College Essay Hacks_Make it personal

3. Tell a story.

One of our mottos at the Admission Masters is “Show, don’t tell.” You probably learned in school to start essays with a “hook” — an interesting sentence that draws the reader in and makes them want to continue reading. The same concept applies to college essays. Starting off with a story, whether it’s about a science camp you attended in the sixth grade that sparked an enduring interest in environmental activism, or a memorable moment from a family trip that taught you something interesting about your heritage, is far more interesting than a simple list of what happened and where. The best essays we’ve read include plenty of visual imagery to help readers envision themselves in the situation, and even some dialogue used sparingly and appropriately. Save the listing for the resume section of the application (we’ll get into this more in a future blog)!

4. Do your research.

While admission officers certainly want to identify students who will be the best fit for their college’s environment, they also want to select students who have taken the time to consider why that college is the best fit for them. Consequently, many colleges will ask you to explain why you are interested in attending their school. In this case, you will need to research the school-specific opportunities and resources available for your intended major/program, and provide a thoughtful discussion of how you intend to utilize those opportunities for personal and professional growth. It is a good idea to start this research early — the summer before senior year, if possible — by creating a working list of academic classes, professors, research projects or labs, study abroad programs, and internship opportunities that sound appealing at each school. We’d also highly recommend that you start visiting colleges to explore the campus in-person as it would help tremendously in writing the “Why College” essays.
(Please refer to our previous blog about ‘Campus tours’)

5. Grammar counts.

For the last part of ‘Top 5 College Essay Hacks’, As with any essay, grammar and spelling are important. Proofread, proofread again, and then proofread one more time! If you speak English as a second language and are not confident in your writing abilities, you should seek out a trusted mentor such as the writing specialists at the Admission Masters for guidance.

At the Admission Masters,
we have a team of professionals dedicated to helping you and your student through the entire college essay writing and proofreading process to ensure polished responses that will brighten up any application.
To find out more about how we can help,
visit our website and give us a call today!

College Admission Consulting Group, ‘Admission Masters’
[LA, Irvine, Brea, San Marino, Seoul in Korea]

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