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ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

The Secret to Writing a College Admissions Essay That Stands Out from the Crowd

If you're in the process of writing a college admission essay, you've already had a taste of the anxiety these types of assignments can cause. While choosing each word carefully, your mind probably spins with a series of questions: Will this essay keep me from getting in? Will they find it boring? Does it stand out from the crowd?

Added to that anxiety are the often complex, or just plain strange, questions that many colleges will ask, like "Do you believe we are alone?" or "How do you feel about Mondays?" Whether the question is strange or difficult, overly simplistic or not even applicable to your life—here are some quick tips on the secret to writing a college admissions essay that stands out from the crowd of other essays the admissions committee will read along with yours.

Less is more

Many colleges will give you a word count maximum but for the ones where a word count minimum is given, don't take that as an invitation to write over 800 words. The admissions committee who will be reading your essay(s) will also be reading a stack of other essays, and will not want to spend more time reading yours than necessary. Keep it concise to maintain their interest without taking up a lot of their time.

Uniqueness counts

The key to writing an essay that stands out from the others is to be as unique as possible. While this might be a difficult task for many soon-to-be college freshmen, it's worth your time and effort to think of something—anything—that makes you unique compared to the others. Maybe it's a travel experience, a family history, a goal, a way that you think or something you've done?

Don't cover everything

If you've led an especially busy life as a high school student, don't try to cover everything you've done. Pick the highlights—the activities that were the most rewarding or the most impressive—and stick to those few things. If you write about 20 different activities within the span of a 500-700 word essay, your writing will inevitably appeared scattered and unorganized. It's simply impossible to write about that many topics with that limited of a word count and keep it organized.

Be controversial

Many people falsely assume that you should avoid topics such as religion, politics and the like in college entrance essays, but this couldn't be farther from the truth. Although you should avoid soapboxes and topics that might be against school philosophy (if applying to a religious-oriented school), voicing your stance and providing reasonable arguments for it and against it shows that you know how to think logically and coherently about important topics—a trait that you will need to succeed as a college student.

Avoid mistakes in grammar, punctuation and spelling

While this should be obvious, you would be amazed at how many students submit essays with glaring grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes. The main reason for this is they depend on their word processor's spelling/grammar check, which will not catch many of the mistakes that a flesh and blood editor would catch. Submitting an essay with these types of mistakes is a guaranteed way to get your application rejection. The admissions committee will believe (and rightly so) that if you have errors on what should be an example of your best work, your daily work in college will have even more errors. When they compare an essay with errors to an essay without them, and have to choose between the two, it's obvious which one they will choose. And it won't be yours.

Be accurate

I am consistently amazed at the number of college admissions essays I receive that refer to particular works or authors, and then get those titles and author names wrong. While a good editor will hopefully catch such errors, it's impossible for an editor to know about every topic and every author. For this reason, beyond the mistakes that can be made with spelling, punctuation and grammar, a big mistake that many applicants make is inaccuracy of information. When referring to a particular author who was an influence on your life and choices, be sure to get the name of the author and title of the work right. When discussing theories, research, or any topic for that matter, be sure that you are completely accurate in the context and use of this information. Otherwise, you'll seem as if you don't know what you're talking about and are just throwing out information that you've neither studied nor learned.

Be descriptive

When you're discussing something that you've accomplished or situations in which you've excelled, be descriptive because it lends a sense of credibility and humaneness to what you are saying. This is not to say that you should overload an essay with adjectives and adverbs, but adding details like this will make your writing more exciting and more vivid—two traits that admissions committees love in an essay.

Be likeable

This one is perhaps the most important, as long as your grammar, spelling and punctuation are correct. When an admissions committee reads an essay written by a student who has excelled much in their high school years but seems pedantic, stuffy and just plain boring, that student still has a chance of being denied admission. College is as much about social interactions as it is about academics. If you fail to show that you can be likeable and fit in well with the college community, you have missed an opportunity to make your essay stand out from the rest.

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