We get asked by our students all the time as to what makes a good college admissions essay. By this, they are referring to that personal statement that goes to all colleges. The essay is probably the most daunting task in the entire application process because it starts with a blank sheet of paper. Even when you look at the seven prompts that the Common App offers, one of them is you can write about anything you want!
There is no hard and fast rule as to what makes a good essay. We tell our students and families that the essay is really about you presenting who you are. It can be funny, serious, or heart wrenching. The important thing is that it’s about you. You should not focus on what the college wants to hear. College admissions officers say all the time that they want you to tell them more about you! We stress to our students and families that the essay brings your application to life because everything else is basic information about you.
What Makes a SUCCESSFUL College Essay
The essay provides an opportunity for the student to show a side of themselves that isn’t found anywhere else on the application. There is no set “right” topic to write about. We’ve had students who have written about how they wore short pants their whole life or how their whole family is tall and lives in a small house. Others have written about their nose and their hair. There have been a myriad of topics over the years, and every single one of those essays has been phenomenal. Some funny, some not so funny, some funny and then get serious – it’s all about the student demonstrating their personality and style.
Writing the essay is a time of self-reflection, and it’s really important that it’s written in the student’s voice. The student should write to the best of their ability. That doesn’t mean somebody shouldn’t review the essay for grammar, punctuation, and flow, but it should not be a compilation of words that that student would never use. The college admissions officer, over the course of their tenure, has read tens of thousands essays and they can immediately pick out if an essay is written by a parent or if it has been edited by a parent in a significant manner. Certainly a parent can offer encouragement and support for their child, but it’s not necessarily a good idea for the parent to say that the topic is not a good one, as it can be devastating for the student.
What the Essay Should NOT Be
The essay is NOT:
• Meant to be a literary masterpiece
• A report or research paper or graded paper
• To be written in a style that exceeds the capabilities of the student
• An illustration of how well an essay coach can write
• An over-edited piece that sound like the insights and voice of an adult
• A group effort or a family project
• A time for a parent to be critical of their child
College admissions representatives read thousands of essays every year and they can tell when a well-meaning adult has taken a heavy hand and/or the writing reflects someone other than the student. They know when they’re not getting a true reflection of the student and doing any of the above can really hurt the student’s admissions chances. The admissions rep may wonder what else on the student’s application has been driven by somebody else.
So bottom line: A good college admissions essay is one where you are genuine and where you are expressing your true self.