When you are nearing the conclusion of high school, applying to college is an exciting challenge. Beginning in the ninth grade, everything you do at school can be a part of your application, whether it's the marks you get in your classes, the organizations you join, or the volunteer work that you accomplish.
The college essay is an important part of your application as well, because it communicates your personality to the admissions staff in ways that test scores or grades really cannot. Knowing the proper structure of a college essay is a crucial part of successfully navigating the application process.
These are just a few of the tips I would give to high school students thinking about filling out their applications.
1. Tell Us About You
The purpose of the college essay is to tell us about you. College admissions essay questions are almost always open-ended and personal. They ask you to tell about a significant moment in your life or your feelings about a particular idea, by and large. The admissions staff at a university wants to see how you think. The way you organize your thoughts tells colleges more about your personality than the actual narrative you put into your essay.
2. Tell Us What You Believe
If there is a quote in the prompt, don't start your essay with it. Colleges change up their admissions essay questions just about every year. Some years, they include a quotation and ask for a response to it. You would be shocked at how many students begin their essay with that quotation, followed by a sentence that begins "This means that...". That might seem like a logical approach, but the real purpose of your essay is to tell us what you think and what you believe. Start that introduction with a compelling sentence of your own about the topic. Work an idea from the quotation into your introduction and connect it to your thoughts at your thesis, but don't just let the quote be your opening.
3. Don't Forget Your Outline
Outline your thoughts before starting to write. If you are telling a story about yourself, it is very easy to wander off topic or to leave out key details. When you're filling out a college admissions essay, you're not facing the same sort of time constraints that limit you when you are writing an essay for class. Unless you procrastinate, you have months to write your essay, so make a list of the important events you want to communicate. Then sit down with your high school English teacher, or a parent, and go through the outline. See if the story makes sense and conveys the message you want to that person. If not, take their constructive criticism to heart and add what is missing.
4. Remember Transitions
Establish clear transitions between paragraphs. When you write an essay, you hopefully understand how one idea leads to the next. However, you have to communicate that to your reader. When you are telling a story in a college essay, make sure that when you move from one event to the next, the reader can follow you. A simple transition word like "However" or "On the other hand" suggests that you are shifting direction, as in an expectation in the prior paragraph that does not find fulfillment in the next one. If you need to signal that time has passed between events, a transition phrase like "A few weeks later" works wonders.
Applying to university is stressful for students and counselors alike. You want to get into the college of your dreams, and the schools want to choose the right students for each new class. Understanding the proper structure of a college essay helps your chances significantly.