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The Do’s and Dont’s of Writing a College Essay

One essay – your last chance to prove yourself on paper and to get into the schools on your list. No pressure, right? While you can’t change your grades or your standardized test scores, your essay is still totally under your control. Writing your college essay can be be scary, but it should also be empowering. Take the time to write an effective, competitive essay

How do you write a great college essay that will sets you apart from all the other applicants? Start early. Give yourself plenty of time to brainstorm, outline and plan, to write, take breaks and write some more, and time to edit, and edit again. Think about the question asked and how best to answer it. Your essay should be a reflection of you. It should be personal and it should speak to a specific moment in your life. All that time you spent in school writing outlines, first drafts, peer editing — don’t just throw it out the window. Now is the time to let what you’ve learned shine. Focus on the important parts. Your first sentence should be exciting and must make the reader want to continue. If the readers are bored from the start, they will skim your essay and might miss some great things about you. Transition from paragraph to paragraph smoothly, jumping from one topic to the next will leave a reader confused. Be sure not to force it. Take a break from your essay and come back to it. Give yourself the time to recharge. Always proofread. It’s often helpful to read your essay aloud — actually saying the words. Ask someone to listen to you read it and help you proofread.

Don’t try to show off your SAT vocabulary. Sentences with too many words that you wouldn’t use in a conversation are a chore to read and won’t impress anyone. Use only words that fit, work in smoothly and sound like something you would say. Avoid cliches and the superfluous use of synonyms. Don’t make up facts and stories about yourself. Your essay is about you, not about someone you’ve invented, someone you think the reader wants to hear about or someone you think you want to be.

Avoid using your essay to explain any blemishes on your record. That should be saved for the “additional information” section, where you can write a matter-of-fact paragraph explaining any missteps and what you learned from them. Your essay should highlight the best of you.

There’s no magic formula, but you’ve been preparing for this for longer than you know. Don’t doubt yourself. Be original, and remember to edit, proofread, edit and proofread again. If you feel like you need a little bit of extra help, download our free tip sheet for some more do’s and don’ts and keep it next to you while you write.

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