Famous American Novelist Herman Melville never had to worry about the rigors of applying to college. Life today is a lot easier than it was back in the mid-1800’s when Melville was at his best but at least he didn’t have to worry about the SAT’s, his GPA and having a strong balance of extracurricular activities.
However, one of the New York City native’s most famous quotes can be perfectly attributed to what students need when writing their college admission essay(s). Melville said, “It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.”
The internet and this column has a plethora of tips about how to master the essay portion of the college admission application but this one quote offers up a tremendous message for students. Taking a risk by writing something unique and different than one’s peers is a stellar way to stand out from the pack.
Here are 4 other tips to help write a successful college admission essay.
Tip 1: Don’t Neglect Brainstorming
Strong writers can be just as guilty if not even more guilty of skipping the brainstorming process when writing but this step cannot be ignored. Brainstorming actually saves time in the long run, students can get their ideas together on a scrap sheet of paper and then begin to figure out what applies and what does not to the essay. A great way to start the brainstorming process is to write down exactly what comes to mind when considering the topic, even if it is just words or phrases.
Developing the idea comes latter but brainstorming is all about clearing one’s head and there is not a bad idea during brainstorming. After brainstorming, students can hone in on what is most important and then write a rough draft to see how the ideas apply. When writing a rough draft, try not to be a perfectionist and just write what comes to mind. This extra effort on the front end will pay dividends on the backend every time.
Tip 2: Review the Rough Draft with a Teacher
Even though the rough draft is meant to be free-flowing, it is very helpful to review the rough draft with a teacher or a trusted advisor. Waiting until the final paper is completed for first feedback is dangerous, especially if the key points are not hitting as well with an audience as they are in the student’s brain.
Feedback at this early stage of the process can help provide an emphasis for what is working and what isn’t and allows for the student to understand where development should occur. A small tweak to the essay’s angle or structure can mean the difference between a good essay and a great essay.
Tip 3: Authenticity and Feeling Matter
For admissions officers that read sometimes thousands of essays on the same prompt, it is easy to see which essays contain feeling and effort and which lack any amount of authenticity. The prompt should be addressed in a way that relates to the student and illustrates a fresh angle and approach to the question being posed. Relatability to one’s own life, challenges or triumphs help the admissions officer take a trip into the mind of the writer.
Honesty is also essential to any strong essay. It is incredibly easy for an admissions offer to see if a student is answering the prompt truthfully or simply writing what the student thinks the admissions officer wants to hear. This is the one true opportunity to paint a picture of who the student really is and what kind of person they might be on campus if accepted to the university. The phrase, “honesty is the best policy,” is as trite an expression as there is in the English language but it does apply throughout the college application process and certainly in the essay.
Tip 4: Proofread and Proofread Again Before Submitting
Speaking of trite phrases, “everyone makes mistakes,” may in fact give “honesty is the best policy,” a run for its money. It is true that as humans we all make mistakes but submitting an essay with a spelling mistake or a grammatical error is unacceptable. Help from a teacher at the end is necessary but ultimately it is the student that must take responsibility for ensuring that the essay submitted does not contain a mistake.
Colleges understand that students are busy and apply to multiple colleges but some schools will have a zero tolerance policy and deny admittance due to a mistake. It is simply not worth all the time and effort to submit an essay without being completely confident that it is free of error. Much like applying to a job and handing over a resume with a typo on it, spelling and grammatical errors send the message that the student either lacks attention to detail or rushed the essay.
All of the aforementioned steps are important but it is vital to remember that they are all moot without proper editing.