Application Essays

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By the time you begin the college applications process, it is too late to do anything to raise your GPA, you have only a few more chances to take an ACT or SAT, and it is a bit late to cram for those exams.

You have one way left to shine: the applications essay(s)

For private school you can add to your application packet by submitting outstanding academic recommendations, letters of reference. However, even though you chose those who write your letters, you have only a little control over what a teacher may write about you, and how they say it.Choose carefully.

HOWEVER, the best way to add impact to your application is completely under your control: your college admissions essays. Your essays give you your best chance to stand out from the sea of applicants with similar grades and SAT scores.

Application essays give the colleges an effective look at you beyond grades and test scores. They are the third most important part of your application package.


Remember the "Brag Book" I recommended you keep? Now's the time to get it out and muse about it. Write down ideas as they occur to you and make notes about them. That way you will have a ready-made list of topics, commentary, and reflections.



Depending on the schools you are applying to, there is a good chance you will be required to write one or more essays, and sometimes to craft some short answer responses.

Colleges will put their 20111 applications online at various times between now and fall, 2010. Watch for the applications for schools on your list. In the meantime, you can look at last year's applications to get an idea of the types of essay questions.

See a list of

Common essay topics


Apply Here: Admissions Web Sites for all Public Colleges and Universities in the U.S.


Go Directly to Public US Colleges Admissionas Web Sites, ESSAY TOPICS


The Common Application

The Common Application:ESSAY TOPICS and Links to Most Private Colleges and Universities

In the meantime, keep track of the steps to applying with the list of what's in your admissions portfolio.



  • Choose your topic carefully and be sure your writing shows the person you want the reader to see.

    A Common application essay questions ask you to write about any of four topics.

    This is where you show the college who you are by discussing your personal growth, your growth as a citizen of your community, and what you will bring to the college. Remember to "show, not tell."

    In addition, the Common Application offers a slot fora short, second essay about anything else you might want to mention. This includes writing about additional challenges you have faced, or opportunities you have had to enhance your application. USE THIS SPACE.

  • Write several drafts and take the time to do them right.

  • Sometimes you can recycle all or parts of your your essays for different schools, but be sure you make each essay relate to the particular school for which it is intended.

  • It is unethical to hire someone to write your essays, and if, for example, your SAT I essay receives a low score, or you have average grades in high School English, the colleges may notice the discrepancy between your academic performance and perfectly written application essays.

    However, there is help available to make sure your essays are the best they can be. If you choose to work with a college consultant on this or other parts of the admissions process, be sure he or she has writing and editing skills, or even a professional editing service to help guide you.


    Things to Remember

    • The application essays are the personal part of the application and lets the schools see who you are beyond grades and test scores

    • The topic must be adequately discussed in the word limit of the essay

    • Answer your question uniquely

    • Stay on topic

    • Be yourself, show your soul

    • Don’t over promote yourself

    • Create some mystery at the beginning

    • Share something about yourself

    • Capture your audience

    • Raise intriguing questions or dilemmas

    • Use original language, not clichés, slang, or trite sayings

    • Highlight your growth as a result of the event or circumstance you are writing about

    • Use examples and illustrations

    • Don’t just say it or tell it, show it (Show, not tell)

    • The essay(s)must be perfect

    • End with a bang


  • Writing Application Essays

    • Write for perfection, edit, re-edit, re-write and edit again, with help from editors. Ask someone to proofread it to check for errors, grammatical mistakes, and illogical sentences

    • Focus on you, and reveal something about you. Offer insight about who you are, how you think, and give the reader the chance to know you as a person.

    • Be creative and interesting.

    • Be clear and concise and provide a smoothly flowing essay with nice transitions. Watch and correct any gaps between what you meant to say, and what the reader might understand?

    • Make the reader like you and want to meet you. Remember, you are not writing to please the readers, you are writing so that the readers can get to know you. Would you be a valuable addition to their school? Have you portrayed yourself as likable?

    • Make your application essays flawless. Content is not the only thing that counts. Check spelling, grammar, and word usage. DO NOT rely on spell-checker for more than a cursory check, put your document at 200% (tool bar) and study it line by line.

    • Do word counts. A couple of words over or under the limit will not hurt you, but don’t push it.

    • Write about ordinary experiences, but do it in an extraordinary way.

    • Display passion for your subject.


    Essay Writing Don'ts

    • Don’t try to be someone else.

    • Don’t flex: Don’t write application essays designed to impress by discussing the mysteries of the world, or trying to show off your intelligence or sophistication.

    • Don’t feel you have to write about saving a village, ending poverty, or similar accomplishments.

    • Don’t use clichés, slang, or profanity.

    • Don’t over quote-use sparingly; maintain your originality and your own voice.

    • Don’t go wild with the thesaurus. Use interesting words, but keep it real.

    • Don’t resort to gimmicks.

    • Don’t try to be funny on application essays unless you really are funny

    • Don’t write about being a criminal, and idiot, or a psychopath

    • Stay away from topics that make you uncomfortable, it will show in your writing

    • Be careful with topics such as drug addiction, suicide attempts, mental illness, and other iffy topics. The college may wonder if you can survive the rigors of college life.


    Return to the top of the Application Essays page

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    Common Essay Topics

    Writing the University of California Application Essays

    SAT I and ACT Essays

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