Applying to college is stressful. While there are many factors you can’t predict, crafting a successful college admissions essay is entirely within your control.
READ: Check out an updated essay-tips article here.
With deadlines fast approaching – scholarship (Dec. 1) and regular notification (Feb. 1) – College of Charleston admissions counselors have a few tips for your admissions essays:
Don’t: Let the essay overwhelm you
The admissions essay is an important part of your application, but it’s not going to make or break you. Don’t spend so much time and energy on your essay that you miss college application deadlines. Deadlines are pervasive in college and well beyond graduation. Admissions counselors want to see that you can meet them.
Do: Use spellcheck and grammar check
When essays are submitted with obvious errors it shows carelessness – not what you want to portray through your admissions portfolio.
Don’t: Submit an incorrectly formatted essay
Thoughtful experimentation is one thing, but your essay should reflect what you know; you should know how to properly format a formal essay.
EXPLORE: Learn about the admissions process at the College of Charleston
Do: Have a teacher proofread it
Teacher or guidance counselor—it doesn’t really matter as long as they’re not related to you. Family members might infer subtleties outsiders won’t and you need to be sure any reader will understand your message.
Do: Make it personal
You’ll hear about subjects you should “never” write about, but we want to learn about you as a person and as a student. If one of those taboo subjects has impacted your development, write about it. If you feel like you can own the topic and justify its relevance then it’s appropriate to write about.
Don’t: Use gimmicks
Unless you’re getting at something that will jump off the page immediately, don’t use text messaging shorthand or send a blank piece of paper to represent the greatest risk you’ve ever taken. Let your story and your writing – not a clever ploy – speak for you.
READ: Explore the College in Spanish
Do: Take advantage of the personal statement option (if offered)
Use the primary essay to talk about yourself, but write a secondary personal statement if there’s something you feel warrants further explanation – a poor grade or no higher-level language after junior year, for example.
Don’t: Make excuses
If you earned a bad grade or stopped taking language courses because you were lazy, don’t go out of your way to blame external factors. Conversely, if you discovered you have a learning disability or your school didn’t offer higher-level language courses, explain it in your personal statement.
In honor of South Carolina’s College Application Month, College of Charleston experts offer 10 tips to rock your admissions essay. The College’s admissions essay questions (available now at this link) are:
- What event in the last ten years will have the greatest impact on the millennial generation?
- Your YouTube channel just hit one million views. Describe your most watched video.
Time to buckle down!
The admissions essay is an important part of the application, and one of the few parts you have control over as you enter your senior year of high school – the grades you’ve already received and the extracurricular activities you’ve already participated in won’t change, but your essay is what you make it.
Associate Director of Admissions Christina DeCario looks for clues about an applicant’s personality, college preparedness and writing skills in the admissions essay. Here, DeCario and English professor Whitney Adams offer tips for you to impress admissions counselors with your essay, show that you’re capable of college-level writing and (bonus) come extra prepared for your required first-year English course.
1. Look at it as an opportunity.
“The essay is a very important part of the holistic review process,” DeCario says. “If your profile is a little uneven, like you’re successful outside the classroom but your grades aren’t quite there, or you’re the valedictorian but you’re not a good test taker, the essay can push you from a maybe to a yes. Just show us you’ll bring something unique to campus.”
RELATED: 8 Do’s and Don’ts of College Admissions Essays
2. Be confident in your writing.
Adams has noticed that many students she works with aren’t confident in their writing abilities. “If you write without confidence, you’re not convincing yourself or your reader, so find your own writing voice and trust yourself,” she advises.
3. Show, don’t tell.
“Include something I won’t get from your transcript,” DeCario suggests. “I know what you’re interested in studying and where you live from your application. Use the essay to give me insight into your personality by providing anecdotes that give me something new.”
4. Don’t go over the word limit.
It may seem obvious, but much of high school writing is based on a minimum number of pages or words, while the admissions essay has a maximum (500 words). “It forces you to be succinct, so write efficiently,” Adams says.
5. Proofread three ways.
DeCario recommends that you “proofread. Have someone else proofread. Then read it out loud to yourself. When you proofread, you should check for grammar and sentence structure. When someone else proofreads they will be looking for clarity in the essay. When you read it out loud, you’ll catch errors or even entire missing words like ‘a’ or ‘and’ that you didn’t catch when you read it in your head.”
6. If you make a claim, back it up.
Eyes on the prize
This is an easy way to show what you’ve learned from writing in high school. “The biggest problem I come across in my classes is students making statements without backing them up with evidence,” Adams says.
This may or may not apply to your essay, but if you do make claims that you can’t prove without an outside source, make sure you include evidence.
7. Explain why.
“I focus a lot on the question, ‘so what?’ in my classes,” Adams explains. “Why does it matter, why is it important? You have to look at a subject, even if you are the subject, critically to be able to answer that question, but it’s the question that readers care about most.”
8. Have a conclusion.
Make sure to wrap up your points in a way that’s true to the rest of the essay. “So many essays start off well, the second and third paragraphs are solid, and then they just end,” DeCario says. “You need to explain why you told me all the things you wrote about earlier in the essay. Relate it to yourself and the essay question.”
9. Answer the question…
“Let’s say you’re asked to describe yourself in one word: then describe yourself in one word. Don’t describe yourself in two words and don’t say you can’t describe yourself in one word because there’s a word for that – undefined – and because that’s what we asked you to do. It also relates to college preparedness. If a professor asks you to describe yourself in one word and you describe yourself in two, then you’ve failed.”
10. … The whole question
If an essay question is two parts, “keep the entire question in mind,” DeCario recommends. Make sure that you’re providing a thorough answer to the prompt.