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College Talk Blog

7 College Essay Challenges

College admission essays pose the following challenges for high school students:
  1. deciding what to write about
  2. conflicting advice during college visits about what not to write about such as "don't write about sports" and "don't write about mission trips"
  3. having to write in a style that differs from essays written in most high school classes
  4. conflicting editorial suggestions from teachers, relatives and friends
  5. the intimidating task of having to do something you have been told not to do all your life: brag about yourself
  6. the challenge of writing something meaningful in only 300 words or having to go much deeper into a topic in 600 words or more
  7. unfortunate advice from peers that they can just write anything the night before the application is due because college essays are not important

Essays are a much easier task when students realize that admission officers really want to hear about them, their experiences and thoughts. The college essay is how an admissions staff member gauges whether student gifts, personality and interests are a good fit for the college and vice versa. Essays reveal how well a student writes, their future plans and aspirations as well as their uniqueness.

Things to avoid in a college essay include:
  1. writing about something or someone else and not revealing enough about the student who is applying for admission
  2. pandering to the reader
  3. having relatives write the essay so that it sounds as if it was crafted by a parent
  4. failing to edit, edit and edit again to avoid needless grammatical errors

Students should feel free to let their sense of humor and creativity show in an essay. Admission readers appreciate candor and a slice of the real life of the student; their fears, hopes, challenges and accomplishments.

When looking at the final draft of the essay the student should consider whether the voice of the essay genuinely reflects who they are. Reading for content of the essay, the student should consider whether the essay has any missing connections in the story they are telling. Wondering what questions might be in the mind of their reader is a great exercise. Finally, the student should consider if what they have written accurately describes them in the best possible light.

My experience with high school students has been that every student has a story worth telling in their college essay. Thinking how they are unique and about their experiences helps identify the story they should tell. Once they know what to write about, they should tell the story in their own unique way. Readers often read hundreds and sometimes thousands of essays. Honing in on student uniqueness and unique voice makes a student essay memorable.

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