How to: Tackle the College Essay

Writing a college essay is not easy. Some schools will give you 3 or 4 essays and others will restrict you to anything from 100 words to 50 characters. Yeah, like letters and punctuation. You have to be clear, concise and detailed to make your essay stand out. Just recently I was stuck finishing an application to a school and one of my essay reviewers – she is fantastic – gave me some pointers. Here’s what I learned:

1  – Be specific. Very specific.

Colleges like to know that you didn’t just copy and past an essay for a different school into the Common App and change the name of the university. By being super specific, you can avoid any chance of them doubting you. That means referencing the exact program you are interested in, what clubs, places, aspects of campus life, culture and professors you like. My reviewer mentioned something called cataloging. It’s like listing details/examples to convey and idea you could have said more abstractly. For example, here is a normal idea statement: I am excited by the diverse and active community at this school. And here is the cataloged version: Walking along Common Ave, I enjoyed the view of the students rowing heavyweight on the Charles River, professors talking animatedly with their pupils on their way to class, and the civic engagement group rallying the passers-by…


2  – Answer the question

A lot of times, you’ll get so caught up in an angle for your essay that you forget what the prompt of the essay actually is. Don’t do that. Everything you write should connect back to the thesis of your piece – the answer to the question that they are posing. Make it clear what you are arguing.


3  – Circle back

This is a common but well-tested and useful trick. The roundabout method is to begin by referencing a quote, idea or example, making your argument in the body of the essay, and then closing with a statement about how your essay proved/related to the aforementioned example. It’s a clean way to tie an essay up.


4  – Submit on time.

In other words, get your essay done way before deadline. That saves you a lot of stress. Trust me. I almost missed a deadline because I like to procrastinate that way…