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Long ago, college hopefuls didn’t necessarily have to worry about writing stellar college application essays. But showcasing your writing skills and mastery of the English language in Common App essay prompts is critical to your success.

Yes, private and public school seniors, it’s the Common Application Essay and/or Supplemental Essay section of your college application. So can a well-written essay really unlock the doors to colleges for which you’re applying? When evaluating applicants with similar high school grades, SAT/ACT scores, extracurricular/civic activities, and resumes, college admission officers rely on essays to determine their best applicants.

If you hired a professional to write your essay, copied one from the Internet, or wrote a shoddy paper, you’re going to be disappointed when the thin envelope arrives in your mailbox. It’s not necessary to write a research paper to succeed, it’s the type of essay and the topic of your choice that will move the needle. So, what do you do to increase the odds of getting that thick envelope? Armed with your knowledge of an essay’s suggested structure, you’re ready to begin the process.


10 Suggestions for an Outstanding Essay

1️⃣ Give yourself plenty of time before your deadlines. It’s not too early to plan and write your essay in 11th grade or the summer before 12th grade.

2️⃣ Read the instructions carefully and understand them before you begin to write. If the essay has a word limit of 650 words, your essay can’t be 675 words. (Words and characters are different numbers!) Remain focused on the essay’s prompt and keep track of time.

3️⃣ Pick one meaningful subject matter that will give the reader a true impression of your uniqueness. Recount a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. Consider lessons we take from obstacles, a challenge, setback or failure.

4️⃣ Keep your topic on a specific, narrowed-down idea. Reflect on a time or specific event. Now is not the time to write about all 12 years of your education. A student who can’t write a genuine, reflective answer to a specific question responds to a different prompt. It’s that simple; make sure the prompt speaks to you.

5️⃣ Outline the main ideas of your essay and stick to those ideas. Students who focus on events that are personal and meaningful, they believe their application essay, and this shines through. If you can write in a voice that sounds like you then please share your story.

6️⃣ Use specific, vivid, simple language. Avoid general statements: “My mother is a determined woman.” Instead, “At 28 years old, my single mother raised my brother and me without day care or help while she earned her high school diploma.”

7️⃣ A reader knows what a high school student sounds like, and it isn’t a thesaurus. “Lie” is better than “prevaricate”; “predict” is better than “prognosticate.” Avoid “thing” or any word that has “thing” in it. “Thing words” dull your specifics making it difficult for your reader to “see” what you’re describing.

student holding pencil at desk thinking about work

8️⃣ Be likeable and make sure the essay is your own. Avoid sarcasm, criticism, swear words, and meanness. Don’t have someone else write your essay for you; the reader will know, and you will be disqualified.

9️⃣ If you select “The Most Influential Person in Your Life” (the number one choice of most essay writers), make sure the emphasis is on you rather than the person. Otherwise, the reader will know more about your influential person than about you.

🔟 Your paper must be error-free: no spelling, punctuation, sentence, or usage mistakes. Do not rely on your computer to correct errors. Give your essay to a person you trust to be a reliable, knowledgeable proofreader such as an English teacher, school counselor, or parent.

Your essay should be as impressive as you are. So follow these tips for success and get ready to stand by your mailbox for the thick envelopes!

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