How to Write a Great College Essay

“If you can’t do it with feeling, don’t.”

Patsy Cline

Before you write a word, close your eyes, take a deep breath and think about what you are passionate about. Be honest. What would you do if you had all the money in the world and didn’t have to worry about making a living when you graduate? What makes you happy? Then, think about what can you contribute to society with what you are passionate about. Write things down and start your outline. The essay does not have to be perfect at first. Just write it down.

The colleges want to know how you can contribute to make the world a better place. They want to see signs of future leadership. However, don’t just make a list of your accomplishments and use that as your essay.

The college essay is your chance to shine, to stand out amongst all the other stellar grades and perfect SAT scores. Here is where you need to reveal something about yourself. You want to evoke emotion: include details that will make them laugh or cry. The admissions officers want to feel emotions, to know who you really are, so don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. It’s better to show that you are human with faults than to be another perfect applicant, which the colleges get in droves. Many students with perfect scores and grades get rejected. Tell them your parents are divorcing, or your mom is sick, you need to work to help the family or other circumstances that might have affected your grades, but yet you did so well anyway. Admit something embarrassing if it will make you be memorable. The admissions officers want to know who you are, so that they can make a right match for the school. Think of it as matchmaking for your significant other: you will be spending the next four years of your life in this college, so the admissions officers need to know that it will be a good fit.

You can write about anything you want when trying to follow the writing prompt!  Don’t feel the need to sound professional or perfect.  One student, Carolina Williams from Tennessee, even wrote about her love for Papa John’s pizza and how ordering it made her feel safe and grownup and got into Yale.  Unfortunately, she did not choose to attend Yale, but instead chose Auburn University instead.  Which begs the question: why?  If an Ivy were to admit you, and there is only an admission rate of 5 percent or less, why would you choose to attend another university?  Most of the time, the reason is probably financial.  For ways to afford an Ivy League education, go to the chapter: How to Afford an Ivy League Education (coming soon).

Of course, there are some exceptions, like if your dad wrote a large check to support the school, but for the rest of us, the essay is very important.  The dirty secret, according to high school students I interviewed, everyone has some help with their essays.  Even those who cannot afford to hire a college coach will probably get some help, even if it is from a friend or teacher.  You need to be personal, pour your heart into drafting your essay, and send it to everyone you know to proofread. When you pour your heart out on paper, when you really put all your energy into your writing, the reader can feel the electricity.  And that, is the key to writing a great college essay.