10 Tips For Writing A Successful College Application Essay

Sharon Epstein gives us her ten top tips for writing that all important college application essay.

Many students I talk to worry about writing their college application essays. They know the essay is important but they don't know what to write about or what colleges want to see. As more students apply for a limited number of spaces, colleges are placing increased emphasis on the essay as a way to set students apart.

Here's the good news: it's worth the effort.

A good college essay will help you stand out from the competition and might even be the deciding factor that gets you in.

These are my top ten tips for writing a successful college application essay:

1. It's About YouSchools want to know what makes you interesting and what your most meaningful experiences have been. The more personal your essay, the more successful it will be.

2. Make Yourself ShineYour essay should say good things about you. Are you compassionate? Do you have a business mind? Are you a good leader? Write down your best qualities and then think of an example that illustrates each one. You'll probably find one or two ideas stand out from the rest.

3. What Have You Learned?Whatever the topic, you always need to include what you learned from your experience. For instance, if you're writing about your family's traditions don't just explain the traditions, write about how those traditions have shaped you. If you're writing about your Uncle John don't write his biography, explain how he influenced you and how you use those lessons in your life today.

4. Bigger is Not BetterMost schools, as well as The Common Application, only ask for about 500 words. Don't try to tackle a big topic like world peace or everything you did on your summer vacation. Instead, focus on one aspect of yourself or on an event that took place in a shorter period of time.

5. Be UniqueCan 100 other students write your essay? If the answer is yes then it's not personal enough; you need to dig deeper and find the reason your topic has meaning for you. If you can't, change topics.

6. Write in Your Own VoiceYour college essay should sound like you, not like a professor or a text to your BFF. If you're using words like “however” and “therefore” your essay is probably too formal; if you're using abbreviations and poor sentence structure, it's too casual. Don't let your parents write any part of your essay – schools can tell.

7. Write a Great IntroductionHere are three ways to grab your reader's attention: 1. Start in the middle of your story, where your action or conflict begins. 2. Ask a question. 3. Create suspense by not revealing everything right away; let the story unfold as you go.

8. Use DetailWell-placed details add interest and show that you know how to write. One way to create detail is to use your senses -- think about how things looked, sounded, tasted or felt. Then choose (but don't overuse) a few interesting adjectives or adverbs. Give your characters names and write some dialogue if it fits. Your essay will come to life and be more memorable to read.

9. ProofreadProofreading is essential. Make sure commas and periods are in the right place and everything is spelled correctly. Be aware that spell check can miss mistakes (“their” vs. “there” for example). If a college's name is in the essay make sure it's the correct school. This is a great time to ask a teacher or other adult who's good with grammar to help you proofread.

Be careful: Too many mistakes will give the impression that you're sloppy or can't write. For some colleges that's a deal-breaker.

10. Sleep on ItDon't finish at 11:59 pm when your essay is due by midnight. Give yourself time to review your essay and fix any mistakes. You'll be glad you did.

Sharon Epstein is a college consultant in Redding, Connecticut, specializing in college essay writing and interview skills. Her business is First Impressions College Consulting and she blogs about college admissions at ApplyingToCollege.org.