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Admission Essay Guidelines

Admission Essay Guidelines

Sep 25, 2012 - Posted to  Essay Writing
By the time you've reached the point of the admissions process where you're preparing to write your admission essay, it's likely that it's too late to significantly improve upon the other application criteria, such as your G.P.A. or extracurricular activities. Your admission essay will probably be the last tool at your disposal when it comes to swaying the admissions officers in your favor.
Keep in mind that the admissions officers may read hundreds (even thousands) of essays in the process of trying to find the best ones to pass along to the director of admissions. The essay is therefore your only real opportunity to become more than a statistic; it's your chance to make the people in charge of admissions care about you. Take advantage of that opportunity!
If you're not the most confident writer in the world, the prospect of writing even a short essay may seem daunting. However, since the subject of the essay is mainly YOU, gathering enough information shouldn't be an issue. In fact, getting your message across in the limited amount of space you're allotted may be the most difficult aspect.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when writing your admission essay:

Pick the Right Prompt

When given a choice of essay topics, look for one that will allow you to showcase your positive attributes. While it may be tempting to select the prompt that seems the easiest to write about, one of the more mundane-seeming choices may in fact be better suited towards showing off your achievements and abilities.

Know the Rules

If the directions say to limit your essay to 500 words, as is the case with the Common Application essays, then do not write more than 500 words! There's no extra credit for going over the word count. Careful selection of words and content shows you're able to say more in fewer words. Make sure you're truly addressing ALL of the prompt, too. If the question is "What have you done outside of the classroom that demonstrates qualities sought after by universities? Of these, which means the most to you?" be sure you describe the activities AND tell which one means the most to you (and why). Sometimes, there are supplemental questions that must be completed in addition to the application and admission essay. These need to be given careful consideration and complete accordingly.

Have a Hook

Again, admissions officers are just people, and after reading a bunch of similar-sounding essays, it's easy to get bored. A captivating introduction goes a long way towards ensuring the reader will be engaged throughout the rest of the essay, especially if you can create a bit of mystery that can only be solved by reading the rest of your essay. The first fifty words may be the most important ones you'll write, so make them sharp.

Be Real

Obviously, you want to make an outstanding impression. However, seeming impressive at the expense of the truth is no way to begin an academic career. While you don't want to draw attention to your weaknesses, a sense of humility can go far. You should present yourself in a professional manner, but trying to impress someone with an extensive vocabulary (especially if you have to use a dictionary in the process) may just alienate your reader. And try to avoid cliches: While it may be true, saying "I always learn from my mistakes" falls short of showing the real you.

Show - Don't Tell

The best way to tell a story - and your admission essay is essentially the story of you - is to illustrate, rather than to tell. "My father is my greatest influence because he is always honest, hard-working, and dependable" is a pretty generic statement. Instead, give specific examples: "The time my father sold his motorcycle so we could afford new clothes for school" drives the point home and engages the reader. Remember, you want to go beyond the superficial with your essay, to share the story of what makes you different from everyone else.

Don't Repeat Yourself

If something's already elsewhere on your application, you need not dwell upon it in your essay. And your essay should not be the same as your resume. Here's your chance to highlight the things about you that the application can't portray - your personality, your curiosity, your character - the things make you unique and set you apart from all the other applicants.

Organize, Edit, Revise

It goes without saying that your finished draft should be polished - grammatically correct, free of spelling and punctuation errors, good mechanics, etc. But equally important is to brainstorm for ideas before you even begin writing. If you need to, conduct a little research about the school to which you're applying. Write a rough draft, and then have someone you trust read through it and offer you feedback. Consider that person's input, but be sure your essay retains your own voice. In other words, your essay should be YOUR words. Keep in mind that an experienced admissions officer can usually differentiate the voice of a high school senior from that student's parents.

Don't Delay

When it comes to your admission essay, procrastination can be a killer. Chances are, it's going to take longer than you think it will. Factor in time for brainstorming ideas, doing research, getting feedback, writing multiple drafts, editing and revising - and maybe even boing back and picking a different prompt. Give yourself enough time to relay show off what you're capable of when given ample opportunity.
The reality is that if you don't meet the minimum qualifications, even the "perfect" admission essay isn't going to earn your acceptance. That said, the essay is a real opportunity to stand out among similarly qualified applicants (and chances are that there are plenty of them). Here's your opportunity to tip the scales in your favor. And if the other aspects of your application are somewhat mediocre, a well-written admission essay may be the factor that moves your application from the "perhaps" to the "probably" pile.
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