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Five Top Tips for Writing Your College Application Essay

Five Top Tips for Writing Your College Application Essay

Posted on December 24, 2019 by Oxbridge Academic Programs

Colleges and universities consider four things in your application: coursework you’ve already written; how well you did on the SAT/ACT, and on other standardized tests; your extracurricular activities; and the essay (or essays) they’ve asked you to write as part of their application process. The college application essay – sometimes known as “the personal essay” – is a great opportunity to showcase your personality, your strengths, and all the reasons you’re a perfect fit for an institution.

Here are Oxbridge’s five top tips for writing your college application essay:

  1. Understand what the Admissions Board is looking for

    All Admissions Boards want roughly the same thing: students who will make a big, positive impact – on their institution, and on the other students in their community. Your essay needs to convince them that you represent a wise investment. So, what will you have achieved by the time you throw your mortarboard in the air at graduation? What distinctions will you have brought upon their university? What contributions will you have made to their community?

  2. Show them you know how to write well

    Remember, these days, most colleges receive (literally) thousands of applications. For Admissions Boards, reading through them can be an exhausting slog. The first step toward making yourself stand out is to show them just how well you can write. And what better way to demonstrate your linguistic ability, your personality, and your intellect, than with a smooth, crystal-clear writing style?

    Don’t be afraid to use technical terms, metaphors, or figurative turns of phrase. Equally though, you should beware of becoming too descriptive, or of using slang or clichés (like “at the end of the day” or “the rest is history”). If you believe you’ve accomplished something noteworthy, then don’t just say it – prove it to the Board by regaling them with tales of the accomplishment. Love mountain climbing? Great! Tell them about the highest mountain you climbed, and the toughest test you faced along the way. Enjoy volunteering? Brilliant! Tell them about the service trip you went on, and the one completely unexpected lesson you learned from it.

    Remember, the only way to polish your writing to a high shine is to edit it as thoroughly as possible. Have a friend proofread it for you, and ask them to give you detailed feedback as well. Have you completely avoided typographical, spelling, and grammar mistakes? Are you always saying precisely what you mean? Does every sentence flow seamlessly into the next? Dare to be your own fiercest critic!

  3. Keep to the prompt

    It’s so easy to veer off course in the personal essay without even realizing it. Before you know it, you’ve drifted away from the prompt altogether. You can avoid this common pitfall by thinking about your chosen prompt as the blueprint from which your essay will be built. Make sure your every sentence contributes to an overall structural design. And, if you get a choice of prompts, then you can make your life easier by picking the one that speaks most directly to you – not the one you think the Admissions Board (or your school, or your parents!) would want you to answer.

  4. Set yourself apart from the crowd

    To be truly engaging, your personal essay needs to be distinctive. Other candidates may have similar grades and qualifications to you, but your lived experiences are completely unique. Did you overcome hardship in high school? Have you travelled extensively? Maybe you started a club for neighborhood kids that’s become a popular extracurricular activity? These sorts of personal anecdotes will quickly set you apart from the crowd.

  5. Don’t forget the deadline…

    No matter how well you write, and no matter how compelling your story is, it won’t count for anything if your application comes in late. Crafting a great personal essay takes time, which means you need to be ruthlessly organized. Make sure you stay on top of every aspect of the application process. Different schools require essays of different lengths and in different formats. Some prefer PDF, while others prefer MS Word. Some want two essays in response to prompts they’ve written, others want one essay on a subject of your choice. Have you got everything exactly as everyone requires ready to go with plenty of time to spare?

    We suggest creating a detailed digital calendar, to enable you to keep track of the many deadlines that punctuate the college application process.

Oxbridge’s final thought

Writing a college admission essay can be a daunting experience, but it can also be an enjoyable opportunity to showcase your best self – just be sure to stick to the pointers we’ve outlined here. We’re currently developing additional resources to help you along with your writing. So, bookmark our page, tell your friends, and make sure you subscribe so you can be among the first to read our latest blog articles!

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