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Articles / Admissions / How to Spend Less Time on a Much Better College Essay

Nov. 30, 2020

How to Spend Less Time on a Much Better College Essay

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What's the point of a college essay? If you know what admissions officers are looking for, it's surprisingly easy to give it to them in just four or five hours. If you don't, it's common to spend tens of hours honing and refining an essay that flops.

Insight #1: The Point of College Essays Is to Set You Apart

The point of college essays is to distinguish you from all the other applicants with similar GPA/test scores/honors course load. The way you distinguish yourself is with a story that illustrates that you've got the qualities that will help you succeed in college and beyond.

→ Those qualities aren't the ability to weave a striking metaphor into your essay, or write an alliterative sentence. It's about the content of what you write, not whether you've got perfect grammar — or even perfect English (good news for English language learners).

Insight #2: Most Personal Essays Wrongly Focus on a Story/Anecdote

Most personal essays wrongly focus on a meaningful story or anecdote — but what counts isn't the story itself. It's how it changed you. What actions have you taken as a result of the personal growth you experienced?

→ Brad says the story tends to occupy 90 percent or more of most personal essays. To impress admissions officers, it should take up only one third, with the last third focusing on the "New You;" the actions that New You takes; and a look into your future.

Insight #3: It's Okay to Focus on Ordinary Moments

An ordinary moment can produce a powerful essay. You don't need a tragic backstory, or to have been short-listed for the Nobel Prize. Rather, let the admissions team in on the introspection that an important moment caused in your life. Show how it changed you into someone more capable of succeeding in college and beyond.

→ Asked for examples of great essays that have stuck with them, both Brad and Emily mentioned ones that hinged on small moments. (Actually, both Brad and Emily had to be cajoled into answering the question at all, as they both strongly advise not reading "good" essay examples.)

Written by

Brad Schiller

Essay Expert

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