Allen Grove is an Alfred University English professor and a college admissions expert with 20 years of experience helping students transition to college. Many help writing essays for college applicants make the mistake of trying to include all of their accomplishments and activities in their application essays. Such essays read like what they are: tedious lists.
Other parts of the application provide plenty of space for you to list extracurricular activities, so save your lists for the places where they belong. The most engaging and compelling essays tell a story and have a clear focus. Through carefully chosen detail, your writing should reveal your passions and expose your personality. A thoughtful and detailed narration of a difficult time in your life tells far more about you than a list of competitions won and honors achieved.
Your grades and scores show that you’re smart. While it’s important to be thoughtful and mature, you don’t want your college application essay to be too heavy. Try to lighten up the essay with a clever metaphor, a well-placed witticism, or a little self-deprecating humor. The essay that is filled with bad puns or off-color jokes will often end up in the rejection pile.
Also, humor isn’t a substitute for substance. Not just humor, but the overall tone of your application essay is remarkably important. It’s also difficult to get right. When you are asked to write about your accomplishments, those 750 words on how great you are can make you sound like a braggart. Be careful to balance your pride in your achievements with humility and generosity towards others.
Along with the essay, most colleges rate “character and personal qualities” as extremely important in their admissions decisions. Grammatical problems, punctuation errors, and spelling mistakes can hurt your chance of being accepted. When excessive, these errors are distracting and make your application essay difficult to understand. Even a few errors, however, can be a strike against you. They show a lack of care and quality control in your written work, and your success in college partly depends upon strong writing skills. If English isn’t your greatest strength, seek help.