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Writing it Right: Six Tips for Finally Completing That Annoying College Application Essay

Shira Vickar-Fox

Monday, December 9, 2013 • 8:42pm

Hey seniors: you missed the early action deadlines and now it’s crunch time. The deadline pressure is on. While emphasis is placed on grades and test scores, don’t overlook the importance of the essay in your college application. The essay is an important tool for admission officers to get to know you and find out if their school is an appropriate match.

“First understand that whatever you are sharing with the admissions office is a reflection of yourself,” advised Jonathan Wexler, vice president for enrollment management at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “You make sure that you are comfortable with the topic and tone you are using in your essay.”

You want to make sure your application stands out from the pack and your essay is an important billboard that advertises you.  The following are some helpful tips to writing a good college essay.

Follow Directions. Make sure you read the instructions. Some colleges want you to rewrite the question at the top of your page. You also might need to write your name and an ID number. Making sure your essay page is set up correctly will put you ahead of most applicants.

Go Surfing. Show that you know details about the college. If you haven’t visited the campus then surf through the college’s Web site. In your essay be specific about what department suits you. For example, if you’re interested in studying accounting find out if that’s the name of the department or if it’s called business administration or economics and finance.

Model the school’s terminology. For instance, if they use the word “concentration” instead of a “major” of study then make sure you do the same in your essay.

Strut Your Stuff. Don’t be shy or modest. Your college essay is your time to shine but make sure you never lie or exaggerate. Quantify your extra-curricular work. Instead of saying you’re a member of the high school band, make sure to write that you’ve been a member of high school band since your freshman year. If you volunteer make sure you say for how long—even if it’s not for a number of years, the number of hours is an important marker. 

Own It. Remember your essay is about you. For example, you might choose a question that asks you to write about a mentor in your life but that mentor is not applying to college. Use that person’s life lessons to reveal something about yourself. If your grandfather’s fruit stand inspired you to join Junior Achievement then focus on your entrepreneurial activities rather than your grandfather’s accomplishments.  

Keep It Simple. You have a limited word count so choose your words wisely. Express your thoughts thoroughly but efficiently. Also keep your language simple. You’re done with the SATs, a college essay is not the time to show off new vocabulary.

Check it (more than) twice. Spell check is not a substitute for proofreading. Their are many words that when spelled correctly are not grammatical. A sloppy essay is a poor reflection of your abilities as a student and that’s the last message you want to convey to the admissions department. Its very important that many people read your essay—show it to your siblings, a teacher, guidance counselor and friends because a fresh set of eyes will catch mistakes. (Such as the ones in this paragraph – did you catch them?)

Finally, don’t be intimidated by the process. The right school is waiting to hear from you. All you need to do is sit down and complete your applications. The sooner they’re done, the sooner your senioritis can begin.

Shira Vickar-Fox is a college essay coach. She can be reached at svickar@yahoo.com

 The Guest Column is our readers' opportunity to write about a given issue or topic in an in-depth and educational manner.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TheAlternativePress.com or anyone who works for TheAlternativePress.com. TheAlternativePress.com is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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