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College Application Tips: Tackling the Personal Essay

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What Excellent College Essays Have in Common

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Telling Your Story to Colleges
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Do the ideas flow logically? Does it reveal something about the applicant? What you write in your application essay or personal statement should not contradict any other part of your application—nor should it repeat it. This isn't the place to list your awards or discuss your grades or test scores. A teacher or college counselor is your best resource. And before you send it off, check, check again, and then triple check to make sure your essay is free of spelling or grammar errors.

Connect with our featured colleges to find schools that both match your interests and are looking for students like you. We know that great scores take work. That's why we design our courses to be efficient, targeted and strategic so you make the most of every minute you spend prepping.

Our experts know how to design lessons based on how you're learning. We love our teachers, and so will you. Teach or Tutor for Us. The Princeton Review is not affiliated with Princeton University. Privacy Terms of Use Site Map. We know what kinds of students colleges want to admit. We want to get you admitted to your dream schools.

Learn more about PrepScholar Admissions to maximize your chance of getting in. Even this little kid is a better Santa than Will was. As I mentioned above, colleges want to know that you are a strong enough writer to survive in college classes.

Can you express your ideas clearly and concisely? These kinds of skills will serve you well in college and in life! Nonetheless, admissions officers recognize that different students have different strengths. Honestly, they aren't expecting a masterwork from anyone , but the basic point stands. Focus on making sure that your thoughts and personality come through, and don't worry about using fancy vocabulary or complex rhetorical devices.

Above all, make sure that you have zero grammar or spelling errors. Typos indicate carelessness, which will hurt your cause with admissions officers. Now that you have a sense of what colleges are looking for, let's talk about how you can put this new knowledge into practice as you approach your own essay. Below, I've collected my five best tips from years as a college essay counselor. One of the most important parts of the essay writing process is editing, and editing takes a lot of time.

You want to be able to put your draft in a drawer for a week and come back to it with fresh eyes. You don't want to be stuck with an essay you don't really like because you have to submit your application tomorrow.

You need plenty of time to experiment and rewrite, so I would recommend starting your essays at least two months before the application deadline. For most students, that means starting around Halloween, but if you're applying early you'll need to get going closer to Labor Day. Of course, it's even better to get a head start and begin your planning earlier.

Many students like to work on their essays over the summer when they have more free time, but you should keep in mind that each year's application isn't usually released until August or September. Essay questions often stay the same from year to year, however. If you are looking to get a jump on writing, you can try to confirm with the school or the Common App if the essay questions will be the same as the previous year's.

One of the biggest mistakes students make is trying to write what they think the committee wants to hear. The truth is that there's no "right answer" when it comes to college essays — the best topics aren't limited to specific categories like volunteer experiences or winning a tournament. Instead, they're topics that actually matter to the writer. Because to be perfectly honest, right now what really matters to me is that fall TV starts up this week, and I have a feeling I shouldn't write about that.

You're not wrong although some great essays have been written about television. Instead, try to be as specific and honest as you can about how the experience affected you, what it taught you, or what you got out of it. For example, maybe it was a ritual you shared with your brother, which showed you how even seemingly silly pieces of pop culture can bring people together.

Dig beneath the surface to show who you are and how you see the world. When you write about something you don't really care about, your writing will come out cliched and uninteresting, and you'll likely struggle to motivate.

When you write about something that is genuinely important to you, on the other hand, you can make even the most ordinary experiences — learning to swim, eating a meal, or watching TV — engaging.

As strange as it sounds, SpongeBob could make a great essay topic. Don't try to tell your entire life story, or even the story of an entire weekend; words may seem like a lot, but you'll reach that limit quickly if you try to pack every single thing that has happened to you into your essay.

Instead, narrow in on one specific event or idea and talk about it in more depth. The narrower your topic, the better. Whatever your topic, use details to help draw the reader in and express your unique perspective, but keep in mind that you don't have to include every detail of what you did or thought — stick to the important and illustrative ones.

Instead, try to be yourself. The best writing sounds like a more eloquent version of the way you talk. To do so, avoid the urge to use fancy-sounding synonyms when you don't really know what they mean. Contractions are fine; slang, generally, is not. Don't hesitate to write in the first person.

To be clear, editing doesn't mean just making a few minor wording tweaks and cleaning up typos; it means reading your essay carefully and objectively and thinking about how you could improve it.

Ask yourself questions as you read: Do you make a lot of vague, sweeping statements that could be replaced with more interesting specifics? Do your sentences flow together nicely? You will have to delete and rewrite potentially large parts of your essay, and no matter how attached you feel to something you wrote, you might have to let it go. At some point, you might even need to rewrite the whole essay. Even though it's annoying, starting over is sometimes the best way to get an essay that you're really proud of.

If you're in need of guidance on other parts of the application process , take a look at our guides to choosing the right college for you , writing about extracurriculars , and requesting teacher recommendations. Last but not least, if you're planning on taking the SAT one last time , check out our ultimate guide to studying for the SAT and make sure you're as prepared as possible. We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score.

Download it for free now:. Alex is an experienced tutor and writer. Over the past five years, she has worked with almost a hundred students and written about pop culture for a wide range of publications. We had a small house by a lake where I used to go swimming with my grandfather while he was still healthy. After 2 years and 8 months of my life, my little sister was born, changing my life forever. At the age of 4 I moved to Colombia. Colombia was definitely my least-enjoyed change. I did not like the weather and the dangers present in that area.

Being there taught me that you are never too safe no matter where you are. Everything was dangerous in some way and it was impossible to just go out on the street with your friends and run around. Another horrible thing about Colombia was the amount of earthquakes. Although none of them endangered my life, many others were hurt during those hours I used to spend hidden under a table until it was safe to come out. Fortunately, at the age of 6, I moved to Spain.

Living in Madrid was probably one of the best experiences of my life. I still remember almost all of my 3 years there quite clearly. Our house was in a suburb called La Moraleja.

Although I denied it at the time, I used to enjoy all the trips I had to go on with my parents every weekend. I would get to visit many ancient towns where the history is present everywhere. I visited old castles, cemeteries, and even jails! My friends were from all over the world so I got to learn about cultures I had never heard of before. I was very upset when my parents told me we had to move and couldn't believe it.

I dreaded Miami at first but now it has grown upon me. I cherish my past experiences in other countries because I feel as if they have shown me a little bit more about cultures and people that I would never have learned about in school. There is a lot of "I lived here, then I moved there," but little depth to any of these experiences which are legitimately interesting! Even the chronology isn't clear, and is a bit confusing. The essay lacks overall focus and tends to introduce tangential details within paragraphs that detract from the overall "message" of the essay.

Transitions and a clear flow are a must when moving from thought to thought; this essay moves abruptly from one paragraph to the next and it lacks a compelling "voice. The student refers to some important things his heritage, his friends, his travels, what he thought about the world as a result of what he saw , but he never gets into the details of the individual experiences that really informed his way of looking at the world. There's not much depth about him as a person. Before I was 10 years old, I had already lived in four different countries, allowing me to learn about many different cultures and make many observations about people and places, more generally.

In Brazil, I was born into a multi-cultural family. My mother was born in Brazil, but from Italian descent, while my father was from a "rival" country, Argentina. No one seemed to care that my father was not like the rest of my mother's family and they just accepted him into the family. This is my foundation and where I come from, both literally and figuratively. I started out in Brazil, but at the age of four I moved to Colombia.

Colombia was definitely my least-enjoyed "stop. Colombia was also my first real experience with prejudice. In Colombia, I had a good friend named Sameer, who was Arab; people outside of my family looked down on me, as if he were a bad person just because of his ethnicity and as if I were a bad person for being his friend. I did not understand why it mattered where someone was from, considering that you are not defined by where you were born or what your heritage is, but rather the person you are and the way you choose to live your life.

Given this experience and others like it, I was not sad to leave Colombia after two years.

Sample Personal Essay Draft 1

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How To: Write Your Personal Essay. As fall begins, so does application season. To help guide your way, Carolyn offers advice on all aspects of the application process, beginning with your personal essay. Hi Carolyn, students get stressed regarding writing college admission essays. Your tips are going to help them a lot. Pedro Bale. November.

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More Essays that Worked Hamilton College provides access to some of their favorite application essays. Other Resources for College Essay Writing. Writing the Personal Statement The Purdue Online Writing lab offers a guide to writing all kinds of personal statements. UC Berkeley Has a Say.

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Your essay can give admission officers a sense of who you are, as well as showcasing your writing skills. Try these tips to craft your college application essay. The main college essay should be personal and tell some story about the applicant, Norman says. It's the student's space to introduce themselves to the school, and tell the admissions officers.

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Learn how to write a successful college application essay using the three-step process for writing your personal college admissions essay.   Gaining entrance to just about any college or university continues to get harder as more and more applicants are applying for a limited number of spaces. Crafting an Unforgettable College Essay. The best way to tell your story is to write a personal, thoughtful essay about something that has meaning for you. Be honest and genuine, and your unique qualities will shine through.