How should you present yourself in an essay?
Jeff Brenzel, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, Yale University
An admission officer shares tips on writing an essay that reflects who you really are.
When you apply to college, you’ll need to complete an essay as part of your application. This is your opportunity to show admission officers who you are and to provide information about yourself that didn’t fit in other areas of your application. The essay also reveals what you can do when you have time to think and work on a writing project.
The number one piece of advice from admission officers about your essay is “Be yourself.” The number two suggestion is “Start early.” Check out these other tips before you begin.
Choose a Topic That Will Highlight You
Don’t focus on the great aspects of a particular college, the amount of dedication it takes to be a doctor or the number of extracurricular activities you took part in during high school.
Do share your personal story and thoughts, take a creative approach and highlight areas that aren’t covered in other parts of the application, like your high school records.
Top two tips: Be yourself and start early
Keep Your Focus Narrow and Personal
Don’t try to cover too many topics. This will make the essay sound like a résumé that doesn’t provide any details about you.
Do focus on one aspect of yourself so the readers can learn more about who you are. Remember that the readers must be able to find your main idea and follow it from beginning to end. Ask a parent or teacher to read just your introduction and tell you what he or she thinks your essay is about.
Show, Don’t Tell
Don’t simply state a fact to get an idea across, such as “I like to surround myself with people with a variety of backgrounds and interests.”
Do include specific details, examples, reasons and so on to develop your ideas. For the example above, describe a situation when you were surrounded by various types of people. What were you doing? Whom did you talk with? What did you take away from the experience?
Use Your Own Voice
Don’t rely on phrases or ideas that people have used many times before. These could include statements like, “There is so much suffering in the world that I feel I have to help people.” Avoid overly formal or business-like language, and don’t use unnecessary words.
Do write in your own voice. For the above example, you could write about a real experience that you had and how it made you feel you had to take action. And note that admission officers will be able to tell if your essay was edited by an adult.
Ask a Teacher or Parent to Proofread
Don’t turn your essay in without proofreading it, and don’t rely only on your computer’s spell check to catch mistakes. A spell-check program will miss typos like these:
“After I graduate form high school, I plan to get a summer job.”
“From that day on, Daniel was my best fried.”
Do ask a teacher or parent to proofread your essay to catch mistakes. You should also ask the person who proofreads your essay if the writing sounds like you.
Adapted from The College Application Essay by Sarah Myers McGinty.