10 Ways to Own Your College Admissions Essay

10 Ways to Own Your College Admissions Essay

In honor of South Carolina’s College Application Month, College of Charleston experts offer 10 tips to rock your admissions essay. The College’s admissions essay questions (available now at this link) are:

  • What event in the last ten years will have the greatest impact on the millennial generation?
  • Your YouTube channel just hit one million views. Describe your most watched video.

    College of Charleston images by amelia + dan photography

    Time to buckle down!

The admissions essay is an important part of the application, and one of the few parts you have control over as you enter your senior year of high school – the grades you’ve already received and the extracurricular activities you’ve already participated in won’t change, but your essay is what you make it.

Associate Director of Admissions Christina DeCario looks for clues about an applicant’s personality, college preparedness and writing skills in the admissions essay. Here, DeCario and English professor Whitney Adams offer tips for you to impress admissions counselors with your essay, show that you’re capable of college-level writing and (bonus) come extra prepared for your required first-year English course.

1. Look at it as an opportunity.

“The essay is a very important part of the holistic review process,” DeCario says. “If your profile is a little uneven, like you’re successful outside the classroom but your grades aren’t quite there, or you’re the valedictorian but you’re not a good test taker, the essay can push you from a maybe to a yes. Just show us you’ll bring something unique to campus.”

RELATED: 8 Do’s and Don’ts of College Admissions Essays

2. Be confident in your writing.

Adams has noticed that many students she works with aren’t confident in their writing abilities. “If you write without confidence, you’re not convincing yourself or your reader, so find your own writing voice and trust yourself,” she advises.

3. Show, don’t tell.

“Include something I won’t get from your transcript,” DeCario suggests. “I know what you’re interested in studying and where you live from your application. Use the essay to give me insight into your personality by providing anecdotes that give me something new.”

4. Don’t go over the word limit.

It may seem obvious, but much of high school writing is based on a minimum number of pages or words, while the admissions essay has a maximum (500 words). “It forces you to be succinct, so write efficiently,” Adams says.

5. Proofread three ways.

DeCario recommends that you “proofread. Have someone else proofread. Then read it out loud to yourself. When you proofread, you should check for grammar and sentence structure. When someone else proofreads they will be looking for clarity in the essay. When you read it out loud, you’ll catch errors or even entire missing words like ‘a’ or ‘and’ that you didn’t catch when you read it in your head.”

6. If you make a claim, back it up.

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Eyes on the prize

This is an easy way to show what you’ve learned from writing in high school. “The biggest problem I come across in my classes is students making statements without backing them up with evidence,” Adams says.

This may or may not apply to your essay, but if you do make claims that you can’t prove without an outside source, make sure you include evidence.

7. Explain why.

“I focus a lot on the question, ‘so what?’ in my classes,” Adams explains. “Why does it matter, why is it important? You have to look at a subject, even if you are the subject, critically to be able to answer that question, but it’s the question that readers care about most.”

8. Have a conclusion.

Make sure to wrap up your points in a way that’s true to the rest of the essay. “So many essays start off well, the second and third paragraphs are solid, and then they just end,” DeCario says. “You need to explain why you told me all the things you wrote about earlier in the essay. Relate it to yourself and the essay question.”

9. Answer the question…

“Let’s say you’re asked to describe yourself in one word: then describe yourself in one word. Don’t describe yourself in two words and don’t say you can’t describe yourself in one word because there’s a word for that – undefined – and because that’s what we asked you to do. It also relates to college preparedness. If a professor asks you to describe yourself in one word and you describe yourself in two, then you’ve failed.”

10. … The whole question

If an essay question is two parts, “keep the entire question in mind,” DeCario recommends. Make sure that you’re providing a thorough answer to the prompt.