Beyond the Numbers: 3 Tips for Writing Your College Essay

Melanie Falconer
Melanie Falconer

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Excellent students will often soar through their final exams, SATs, ACTs, and get stunning references from their teachers. But then, the task of writing your college essay hits them like an anvil. This is because they’ve mastered everything thrown at them, but never looked at their own story. The personal statement is easy to dismiss and scoff at, but really, this is the only chance to know a person aside from numbers on a page and secondhand stories from teachers.

Now is the time to whip out a pen and paper. There are three main principles to consider while drafting a college essay.

1. Avoid Clichés

Clichés are all around. We’re surrounded by media, movies, and television shows that use hackneyed stereotypes and rehash the same story ad nauseam. It leaks into our writing, whether we’re fully aware of it or not. It may be tempting for a student to loosely mimic a popular story they’ve read, using the same framework or creating a “character” for themselves.

The best way to avoid these cliches while writing your college essay is by being honest while examining one’s life story. Cast away judgments and labels; meanwhile, don’t compare your story to anyone else’s. Once you do this, you can do some valuable self-evaluation before setting to work.

2. Reveal your Identity

This can be loosely interpreted, but when it comes to the college essay, it’s important to get specific. One’s ‘identity’ is made up of their values, beliefs, personality, and life experiences. And now, the student must pick a part of their identity that’s most important to them for their college essay.

A student could highly value good will towards others, think about how it’s impacted their life, and explain how they plan to carry this with them into the future. Maybe the student had a very powerful experience outside of school, like the loss of a loved one to a certain disease, and now wants to save people by becoming a doctor.

It doesn’t matter. It just needs to reflect the core of who that student is. Of course, schools are on the hunt for excellent citizens, so the student should also try to highlight their best qualities.

3. Show your Potential – Not your Plans

Plans change. No school wants to hear about the building blocks of a career path in a college essay. High schoolers, while very intelligent and capable, are still very young—so a college wants to see their potential, not their supposed plans. They don’t want students who are close-minded and stubborn either because college is about exploration.

So, it’s not important to discuss plans. It’s important to reveal potential by focusing on accomplishments, talents, good character, innovations, work completed, etc.

There are many ways to write a college essay. Regardless of the many prompts available, these three principles should guide you. This isn’t meant to provide structure for an outline—for more nitty gritty writing tips, ask a college adviser and leaf through the Empowerly website.

Questions? Let us know!