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How I Wrote my College Essay

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Blurred image of spiral notebook with header saying How to: Write a college essay

I come from a long family line of people who are educated. My grandmother, an NYU graduate, was among the first in her family to go to college. My mother graduated from Boston College, and my sister just recently earned her master's at Brandeis University. I had high expectations to be met, and — to be 100 percent transparent — going to college was part of my life plan as something I always looked forward to, rather than an aspiration. As schools were beginning to use a more holistically based grading system, I knew that my essay would impact the decision of my acceptance. So, whatever topic I chose to write about, I knew it had to be a good one.

Choosing an Essay Topic

When deciding on how I’d write my essay, I used a lot of tips given by the admissions counselors from the colleges I visited. Their advice ranged from simple messages like not to include hashtags in the essay, to more in-depth ideas regarding the topic I’d write about. One school in particular encouraged that I write about a life-changing event, showing the institution my growth in becoming a mature young adult. At the time, however, I hadn’t really lived through anything I considered “life changing.” I had no traumatic upbringing that shaped my character, I’d never (and still haven’t) traveled to a third-world country to do volunteer work, and I was not the recipient of any huge award — all of which were the ideas the admissions counselors had for me. It was in this time where I thought that my life, in comparison to the thousands of other students competing with me for a spot at a university, was seemingly “bland.” This terrified me, because no college would ever want someone “bland.”

The reality is essays don’t have to be jaw-dropping, tear-jerking, or "so inspiring they almost sound made-up" for them to be considered impressive. After weeks of brainstorming topics, I decided to write about how I spent my high school life trying out for all different things — I was in a variety of clubs throughout the four years. While this may look like I just couldn’t commit to anything, I wrote about how involving myself in such different activities reflected who I was as a person, and made my knowledge regarding all sorts of topics more versatile.

The Writing Process

The entire writing process itself took around two months, including the brainstorming and reviewing process — I started it early July and finished right before the start of my senior year. Although it took a long time, in the end, my college essay was what I was most proud of in my application. It was personable, and I think the schools that I applied to saw my character through my written words. If you’re unable to have an in-person interview with the college you want, a well-written, personalized essay will get you very far.

My best advice for writing a college essay would be to have your drafts proofread by several people. Even if it’s just to double check for grammatical errors — which are so quickly overlooked you’re reading your own work — having someone else revise it can save you from an embarrassing typo. I also wouldn’t jump to hire a college admissions consultant, as my experience working with one wasn’t the most rewarding. In essence, she told me my application wasn’t good enough and that no college anywhere would accept me. As a third-year honors student attending one of the top 25 nationally ranked public schools, she was clearly wrong. So, personally speaking, hiring someone to help apply to college was not the most beneficial. That being said, your college process does not need to be done alone, and it is best to seek help when you need it (but first maybe from a family member or a teacher).

I’d also start writing the essay as early as possible. I began mine in July, which helped a lot come September and October, when deadlines are nearing fast and there are paperwork and supplements that need to be completed. Not having to worry about the essay during this time takes a lot of stress off, so I suggest starting it as early as possible. That way, too, you have maximum time to spend on perfecting your piece, so that you like it just as much as you’d hope an admissions counselor would.  

Final Words

It is undeniable that applying to college is one of the most stressful times in your life, but it is also one of the most exciting, especially when you’re confident in yourself and the application. The best way to indualize yourself from such large applicant pools is through your college essay, so regardless of the significance of the topic you chose to write about, make sure your own voice can be heard from it.


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