It would be great if there were a formula for writing a successful college admissions essay: 20 percent startling personal realization, 30 percent introspection and 50 percent creativity. Unfortunately, there is no such formula. But there are qualities common to all winning essays, some of which may surprise you.
In this guide we cover the basic steps you need to follow to create a powerful essay. Keep in mind that there is no single way to write an essay. However, there are certain things that successful essays have in common. Based on our own essay writing experiences and from speaking with hundreds of admission officers and working with thousands of successful applicants, we have put together a list of the ten characteristics that we have found are present in all winning essays.
It is important to show the admission officers the real you—not who you think they want to see. Explain why you think or act the way you do, what drives you or what has moved you. Speak in your own voice and use your own words. Don't be afraid to write how you really feel. If you have always been jealous of your supermodel pretty sister, say so. It is your true and pure feelings that will make your admissions essay stand out.
Remember that admissions officers have a stack of applications and essays on their desks. How can you make your essay stand out from the crowd? By taking a fresh approach. If you are writing about how your mother is your role model, you could write about how she shows that she loves you by driving you to all your important activities; but that would be the common, uninspired approach. Why not find a unique way to tell something about your relationship with your mother? Maybe the best conversations you have with her are while you watch the Tonight Show together. Or maybe you have learned patience from the way that she maneuvers through rush-hour traffic. Write in a way that no other student can—by going beyond surface observations and really presenting some analysis.
The question on the college application may ask about your favorite book, music or class, but the real question is this: What do these things mean to you? How have they affected the way that you think or act? Whatever you write about, it should always circle back to you. After reading your essay, the admissions officers should have greater insight into who you are, what inspires you and what you aspire to be.
Gen and Kelly Tanabe
Founders of SuperCollege and authors of 13 books on college planning.
By: Gen & Kelly Tanabe
Learn how to write the essay that will get you into your dream college with this step-by-step guide that includes writing strategies from top students and admission officers. Read over 50 successful essays, and learn the 25 essay mistakes you must avoid.
By: Gen & Kelly Tanabe
The only how-to book which shows all students how to get into the school of their dreams. Based on the experiences of dozens of successful students and authored by two graduates of Harvard, this book shows you how to ace the application, essay, interview, and standardized tests.