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The Do's and Don'ts of Writing a College Essay

October 09, 2014

You've been doing community service since you were in middle school. You've studied hard and kept your grades high. And you've got some great recommendations from your most influential teachers. There's only one question left: what are you going to write for your college essay? Read on for some great tips to write an essay that will make you stand out from the pack.

  • Two teenage girls work on a computer

While writing a college essay is a very personal experience, there are some rules to follow to help ensure your essay is a great one. Read on for the "do's and don'ts" of the essay-writing process:

1. DO keep your focus narrow and personal.

Your essay must prove a single point. Your main idea should be clear and easily followed from beginning to end. Ask someone to read just your introduction, and then tell you what your essay is about. (Remember: this essay is about showing college admissions representatives who you are.)

2. DO back up what you say.

Develop your main idea with specific facts, events, quotations, examples and reasons.

Okay: "I like to be surrounded by people with a variety of backgrounds and interests."

Better: "In my elementary school, I worked on a book report with a student from Saudi Arabia, became best friends with a girl from Australia, and worked together in the classroom with students and teachers from dozens of nationalities."

3. DO give specifics.

Avoid cliched, generic and predictable writing by using vivid, specific details that SHOW (not tell) the reader the point you are trying to make.

Okay: "My family has supported me throughout my years in school, and I would not be the same person without them."

 Better: "Whether I was competing in a math competition, preparing to graduate from high school or simply playing on one of my many sports teams, my parents were never far. They attended every match, every meet, every competition and performance, leaving work early or missing it all together if it meant supporting my goals."

4. DON'T tell them what you think they want to hear.

Admissions officers read plenty of essays about the charms of their unversity. Remember: this essay is about YOU, not about THEM.

5. DON'T write a resume.

That's what the application is for. While it's perfectly acceptable (and encouraged) to talk about experiences or achievements that have shaped you, the college essay is not a place to share your GPA, your perfect SAT score or other information that is included elsewhere in the college application. Take the opportunity to share WHO YOU ARE, not just what you do.

6. DON'T use 50 words when five will do.

Eliminate uncessary words. Don't use language that is overly flowery, and don't feel like you have to just take up space.

Okay: "Over the years, it has been pointed out to me by my parents, teachers, and friends that I often think outside of the box and am willing to go my own way."

Better: "I am a creative thinker."

7. DON'T forget to proofread.

Typos, spelling and gramatical errors can make an otherwise flawless essay look unprofessional and messy, and can be interpreted as carelessness or simply bad writing. Don't rely on your computer's spell check, either- you, a teacher, a parent and even a friend should read your work before sending it off.