If you’re an academically minded teen, I am guessing that you’re feeling intense pressure surrounding the entire college application process. I feel for you. It is rough out there, and anyone who says that “things are no different from the way they used to be” is wrong. Things are incredibly more competitive, stressful, and challenging.
You have this big task in front of you. You want to get into college. It’s about your future. However, for a minute, imagine that you’re a college admissions officer with a bunch of essays to read–and you need to get through them quickly. What will make a positive impression?
The colleges want to accept students that will add something to life on campus. You need to think of yourself as a contributor, not a user. That’s the first best tip I can give you. So,
#1: Learn about yourself.
You need to figure out who you are. I know, years ago it seemed that college was for helping you do just that. Now, you need to know a lot about yourself and your career goals even before you step foot onto the college campus. What are your interests, hobbies, skills? How are you in social situations? What kinds of activities do you do? Are they indoor or outdoor? You get the idea. Be your own interviewer. Or, ask someone else to interview you and take notes!
#2: Learn how to write a resume (if you have one already, click here for tips on that).
The experience will help focus you and help you limit your words. You don’t have to write about every single thing you’ve ever done. If need be, edit out those things that don’t add meaning to your presentation. Are your interests reflected accurately? Could someone figure out what’s important to you by seeing the totality of your activities? If not, you may either have too many activities listed or too few. Being a marginal member of a group for a few years won’t add to the portrait you’re trying to paint. Also, show a commitment over a long-term to some activity, cause, youth group, camp, or educational experience, that perhaps led you to take on a leadership position. If you can articulate that, even better. For example: “participant in youth group for three years, taking on successive leadership positions and am now Vice President of Membership.”
#3: Be specific about everything.
Make sure in your descriptions, you use action words and show results where possible. For example: “created unique fundraiser that engaged over 70% of students, raising $5,000 as the most successful event that year.” is way better than “planned or chaired school fundraiser.” Try not to list things that are general, but instead show off your specific contributions. For example, “contributed to a monthly blog for the school paper that received regular reader comments….” instead of “wrote for the school paper” or “was a reporter for the school paper”.Similarly, if you list commonplace activities that all of your peers are also listing, well, it’s just ho-hum. Think hard about what you do that others are not doing. For example, taking additional academic courses shows that you’ll be able to handle a challenging course load in college.
#4: Think of a defining moment in your life.
What experience can you share that will set you apart from the crowd? What has had a strong impact on you? What changed the way you thought about something? What unique challenges have you had that you were able to overcome? What supports did you have in this process? Think about the experiences that make you unique and how you can write about it in a readable and compelling document. Make sure your language is colorful, descriptive, and not boring. Hopefully your personality will shine through.
#5: Tell them what you will be able to contribute to the college experience.
This is highly important. Do some thinking about what you will be able to add to the college environment. College admissions process is not a one-way street. Sure, you want to ‘get in’ but why should you be accepted? What will you offer? How will the college community gain from your participation?
By accomplishing all of the above, you will be able to write a memorable essay. Much luck in this wonderful journey you’re taking!