“Telling Your Story: Writing Powerful College Essays"
Rebecca Joseph, PhD
Ten Tips for Writing Powerful College Essays
Tip 1. College essays are fourth in importance behind grades, test scores, and the rigor of completed coursework in many admissions office decisions (NACAC, 2009). Don’t waste this powerful opportunity to share your voice and express who you really are to colleges. Great life stories make you jump off the page and into your match colleges.
Tip 2. Develop an overall strategic essay writing plan. College essays should work together to help you communicate key qualities and stories not available anywhere else in your application.
Tip 3. Keep a chart of all essays required by each college, including short responses and optional essays. View each essay or short response as a chance to tell a new story and to share your core qualities.
Tip 4. Look for patterns between colleges essay requirements so that you can find ways to use essays more than once. This holds true for scholarship essays.
Tip 5. Plan to share positive messages and powerful outcomes. You can start with life or family challenges. You can describe obstacles you have overcome. You can reflect on your growth and development, including accomplishments and service. Develop a resume to see which activities stand out on their own or some that can lead to great stories. College admissions officers do not read minds, so tell them your powerful life stories.
Tip 6. Always write in the first person. Remember, these are autobiographical essays, even when you talk about other people. Remember the colleges are looking to accept you, not your relatives. So use the one third and two thirds rule. If you choose to write about someone or something else, you must show how it affected you for the majority of the essay. Your essays show colleges why you belong on college campuses and share how you will enrich diverse communities.
Tip 7. Follow Dr. Joseph’s Into, Through, and Beyond approach. Lead the reader INTO your story with a powerful beginning—a story, an experience. Take them THROUGH your story with the context and keys parts of your story. Make sure the reader understands your initiative, leadership, development, and continuity. End with the BEYOND message about how this story has affected who you are now and who you want to be in college and potentially after college. The beyond can be implied in many pieces that are so strong that moralizing at the end is not necessary.
Tip 8. Use active writing: avoid passive sentences and incorporate power verbs. Show when possible; tell when summarizing.
Tip 9. Have trusted inside and impartial outside readers read your essays. Make sure you have no spelling or grammatical errors.
Tip 10. Most importantly, make yourself come alive throughout this process. Write about yourself as passionately and powerfully as possible. Be proud of your life and accomplishments. Sell yourself!!!
Read more about Dr. Joseph’s essay tips in the New York Times. “Crafting an Application Essay that Pops.”