Tips for a Winning Essay

The new Common Application prompts give students the chance to let their unique voices be heard. Students are able to tell a story only they can—one that is both authentic and personal. This allows admissions counselors to see into the person behind all the demographic data, grades and test scores.

Don’t dread the essay portion, but understand that it is your opportunity to be heard. How exactly do you write a compelling essay? Here are some tips we’ve adapted from the Dickinson College website:

  • Tell your story. One that is unique to you. Cookie-cutter essays such as ones about mission trips or making/missing the winning touchdown are very common and are likely to be written by many people. Make sure to tell a story only YOU can tell.
  • Write with focus. Decide what point you want to make, the most pertinent information you want the reader to know, then write with that theme in mind.
  • Don’t use a thesaurus. It can be tempting to want to use sophisticated words but a simple and concise essay is more likely to hold you reader’s attention. Don’t let vocabulary that doesn’t reflect who you are take away from your message.
  • Read your essay out loud to someone. Hearing your essay spoken out loud will help you determine how well the story flows, disclose grammatical errors and assure that your message is coming through. But be cautious! Don’t let friends and relatives “tweak” your essay—it needs to sound like you.
  • Enlist the help of a proofreader. Ask someone your trust to look over your essay for grammatical and spelling errors. Don’t trust the work of spellcheck alone. You can also consider trying an online writing assistant like Grammarly as well.

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