From looking at Seton’s rigorous writing curriculum, one would think that writing a college entrance essay would be a piece of cake.
However, writing a good application essay is different from any other kind of writing. It requires a distinct style and different content than most academic essays.
When I set out to apply to colleges, I read numerous example essays online. Then, I practiced writing essays, and I am glad I did. I ended up having to write about three for actual admissions, two for an Honors Program admission, and three for scholarship competitions.
After hours of research, writing, and revising, I was finally able to write essays that met my standards.
Here’s what I wish I had known from day one:
1. Have a good story.
Most college entrance essays ask a personal question about an experience you have had.
Be aware that you don’t need to have grown up in a third world country and come to America as a refugee to have an interesting story.
You can write about lessons you learned from being in a big family or volunteering with your local pro-life group.
Many of the examples that I read as part of my research were not super complicated; they were just written in a way that made the reader really care about the author’s story.
2. Don’t over-summarize.
For Seton English, a good five paragraph essay starts with an attention-grabbing introduction paragraph and ends with a great conclusion.
This is perfect for English class when you are trying to make a point about a novel.
However, when you do this on admissions essays, which are usually shorter, it looks like you are running out of things to say and trying to fill up the word count without really saying anything.
Keep your introduction and conclusion limited to a sentence or two each.
If the essay topic is asking why you would be a good fit for the school, make sure that you research the school. Look at the school’s website and familiarize yourself with the activities that are a good fit for you.
Read the mission statement and write about how those values are important to you (if that’s true.)
A mistake I found myself making often on this question was focusing on what I was going to do in college – not what I had actually done during high school.
For example, if one of a school’s most important values is service, don’t blather on about how you will volunteer for campus service projects every day. Instead, write about the volunteer work you did in high school and why it was meaningful to you.
3. No essay required?
Send one anyway. Some schools don’t actually require essays. If you really like a school, it pays to send them some of your work.
Send in an essay from school that you are proud of and that received a good grade.
Taking that initiative will reflect really well on you and impress the school. That being said, if you decide to do this, make sure you can talk about the topic.
I submitted an essay on a book I read for Seton to a school and then was asked about the book in a scholarship interview.
I hadn’t read it in awhile, so I struggled to come up with a good answer to the question. Oops.
4. Have someone read over your essay with you.
Older siblings/friends are especially helpful when it comes to college essays because they will have most likely gone through the same process recently and can offer insights.
Parents are also great and are usually very willing to help. Having another person read your essay can help you make sure that your thoughts are clear and coherent.
Finally, know when to pull the trigger. No matter how good an essay I write, I still often fear that it’s terrible and that everyone will hate it and I might as well just not go to college.
Sometimes I needed to submit essays before I drove myself crazy reading and analyzing. Seton’s writing curriculum is great and it should prepare you pretty well.
So relax, learn from my mistakes, and you’ll do well.