I’ve read a lot of essays in my life. I’ve probably read tens of thousands of essays. In what feels like a former life, I taught AP English Literature. Any AP English Lit student can tell you it’s a writing intensive class. After my teaching career, I spent 17 years reading college application essays while an admissions counselor. Those two experiences have given me a special perspective when it comes to providing you with the best essay tips possible.
Share Your Personality
I can assure you that you AP English Literature essays are NOT the types of essays readers want to see on your college application. Whether using the Common Application essay prompts, the Coalition Application essay prompts, or an institution-specific application and writing prompts, what colleges want from you are not actually essays, they want personal statements. Your essays are your only chance to have to share your personality with the committee so you better be sure to make them personal.
Use Your Voice
My biggest and best tip: Use your voice. Use your own, genuine, unique voice. Address the writing prompts as if you were sitting down and chatting with the readers over a cup of tea, or coffee, or whatever. The readers are real people. Your readers go grocery shopping, are probably addicted to Netflix, have a family, and take the trash out on Tuesdays. So please “talk” to the readers like they’re real people.
Almost as big as the aforementioned tip is this next one: Tell a story. Readers don’t remember essays, they remember stories. Someone is going to be sitting across the committee table and say, “Hey Jim/Jane, what else can you tell me about this applicant?” Readers can be good storytellers if you give them some content. Tell them a story.
In all seriousness, readers do look forward to your essays. It was often the highlight of my day when I would come across an essay that made me laugh out loud, shed a tear, or run down the office hall sharing that, “I just read the best essay. Listen to this!” Personal essays are what make application review bearable, even enjoyable I daresay. So please, help readers help you. Give some thoughtful reflection to your personal essays and make them just that – reflections of who you are as a person.
In addition to using your own voice while telling a story, here are 6 more tips for nailing your college application essays:
Six Crucial Tips
Don’t introduce yourself in your essay. Your application already includes your name, high school, list of extra-curricular activities, etc. No need to review what has already been noted.
Refrain from spending space defining the topic in the question. If you’re asked to write about your thoughts/experiences/etc. with diversity, don’t define diversity.
Note the word limit. There’s a reason colleges include a limit. While readers don’t generally count your words, it’s important to realize the scope of their job. Many readers are reading literally hundreds of essays per day. They appreciate brevity, clarity, individuality, poignancy, and entertainment. But that brings me to my next point…
This is not the time or place to try to be funny if you’re not naturally a funny person. Those attempts can be painful to read if not expertly executed.
Similarly, this is not the place in which to demonstrate your extraordinarily colossal lexicon undeniably facilitated by the overemployment of the thesaurus option on your computer. Translation: Don’t use a thesaurus. We want your authentic voice.
Please… Please Proofread
Lastly, proofread. Every year I was reminded how apparently trivial this step was for many applicants. If you remember none of these other essay tips, remember this one. Do not copy and paste from another application. And it doesn’t stop there. Please remember: THIS IS YOUR APPLICATION TO COLLEGE! Capital letters, spellcheck, the avoidance of acronyms, and punctuation are all, in fact, still greatly appreciated. And please, please, remember the differences between your and you’re, there, their and they’re, and its and it’s. I wasn’t the only reader who had also been a teacher!
The Red Sharpie
Finally, just remember, while you’re hanging out with friends (or completing your college applications) on a Friday night, your AP English Lit teacher is probably at home with a red Sharpie in hand trying to provide you with constructive criticism. And this is important. Regardless of your future profession, I guarantee that you will need to possess a decent command of the English language and the ability to communicate effectively to advance in your career. Don’t ever underestimate the importance of doing well in English! Use your voice, tell a story, and proofread!