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Articles / Applying to College / College Application Essays Vs. High School Essays

Oct. 3, 2019

College Application Essays Vs. High School Essays

College Application Essays Vs. High School Essays


High school typically does a great job preparing you for college. But when it comes to applying to college, there's one thing that will greatly differ from what you've been taught thus far: the college application essay. You've spent years perfecting how to build an argument or efficiently convey a thought in your high school essays. That's not necessarily what admissions officers want to see when they read through your application. Here are three differences between essays for your college applications and essays for your high school classes.

Different Purposes

When you write an essay for your high school teachers, your goal is to show that you've mastered a concept in that class. You will use various forms of evidence to concretely convey that subject back to the teacher. But with a college application essay, you are the subject.

Admission officers want to see what you can bring to the table as a member of their campus. To do that, you'll describe your passions and strengths, or even past experiences and challenges. This isn't a means for them to gauge your academic performance, so don't try to impress them in that way. They already have access to your high school resume — test scores, grades, classes, etc. — so use this opportunity to show them your personality.

Different Audiences

The people grading your essays in high school are your teachers: They know what you're capable of and can, in some places, guess what you may have meant. That's not the case for those reading your application essay! (That's why we recommend taking the time to try and meet these folks during school visits.) This may be their first impression of you, so you'll want to focus more on revealing yourself than on regurgitating outside information. Don't squander this one opportunity to stand out from all the other grades and essays that each other student is submitting. Speak directly to the admissions committee through your paper, and make sure they know who you are as a person.

Different Tactics

The rules of a high school paper don't apply here! You still need to make sure your essay is clear and readable (I suggest avoiding slang or language admissions counselors may be unfamiliar with), but don't feel boxed in by the academic style of a five-paragraph essay. Be your authentic self here without worrying about fitting a formula.

To help with authenticity, you should get used to writing in the first-person point of view here — not only is "I" okay, but it's actually preferred in these essays, and you should avoid using the third person to refer to yourself throughout. That can come off as detached, and you don't want your essay to read like someone else wrote it about you. (If you aren't an expert on yourself, after all, who is?)

Keep these differences in mind while you brush up on some tips for writing a top-notch essay. From there, you'll be well on your way to impressing admissions officers and scoring a spot at your dream school.

Written by

Rob Franek

Rob Franek

College Admissions and Test Prep Expert

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