Info for Parents Counselors

Essay Tips

Admission Professionals' Tips for Your Application Essay

Love it or hate it, your essay matters. While your transcripts and lists of activities give the admission committee useful information, with the possible exception of an interview, the essay is your best shot to let your personality come through. In addition to what you've done, the readers of your application want to get a sense of who you are. The essay is your opportunity to give humanity to the accomplishments and numbers and letters that comprise your application.

Not all colleges are the same, so it follows that not all colleges will evaluate your essay in the same way. Some colleges prefer a well-executed traditional approach, while others laud the avant-garde or the risk-taker. Regardless, your best bet is to write the essay that you think exemplifies your best work and represents who you are as a person.

1. Revise, revise, revise
One draft is not enough, and constructive criticism is your friend. Show it to at least one person who will give you honest feedback. 

If the first person you ask doesn't have a single suggestion or critique, then ask another person for their thoughts. Reading your essay out loud will also help your editing process. Lastly, before you submit your essay, make sure that it’s a piece that you enjoy and feel proud of.

2. Be Yourself – Write an Essay You Like

The college essay is your chance to introduce yourself as an individual with unique thoughts and opinions. Focus your essay on a topic that is of personal interest or concern—be specific and authentic!

The admission committee is trying to discover who you are. What you choose to write about will help them to know what you will bring to their community. Finding a good match with a college goes both ways.

3. Essay Clichés & How to Avoid Them

You may have heard or read that students should avoid common essay topics when drafting college essays.

It is true that admission counselors do come across many essays that deal with similar topics. Let’s be clear though: you can write an outstanding essay on almost any topic, and there’s plenty of room for lots of good essays about similar ideas.

However, if you choose to venture down a well-worn essay path, tread thoughtfully. As we said in our second point, the reader is looking for an essay that says something about you. Get beyond the experience, and focus on HOW the experience reveals your unique characteristics. Rather than listing many details or describing an experience generally, focus on a few details, describe exactly what they meant to you, how they made you feel (again, be specific!), and how your thoughts and opinions were challenged or reinforced. Sharing specifics about your thoughts, feelings, and actions can make for a powerful essay.

Keep in mind that writing a truly great essay isn’t easy; admission counselors don’t expect you to write with the precision of James Baldwin or the wit of Mark Twain. Cliché lies in the expression of a thought or feeling, not in the thought or feeling itself. At Puget Sound, we never tire of hearing that students want to effect change, help others, live life to the fullest, or make the world a better place. What we want is for you to communicate these ideas in a way that helps us to better understand you.

Good luck!