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How do you knock your college application essays out of the park?

Admission Essay | SOP | Personal Statement | University Admission

Every time you ask people for advice related to the college essay writing process, it’s no surprise to hear the words “just be yourself” but what exactly does that mean or encompass? Apart from being authentic, it also means being true to who you really are. This makes the college application process quite daunting because writing these essays requires extensive introspection. This article aims to guide high school students aspiring to pursue higher education abroad in terms of the timeline associated with the essay writing process and the quality of the essays being produced.

  1. Introspection

There is a lot to do before you actually start writing your essays which is something not many people talk about- the first thing being introspection. Identifying your core personality traits, noting down events in your life that have exemplified those traits, and making a chart of extracurricular activities you have engaged in that are also associated with those traits would indisputably simplify the drafting aspect of the essay writing process. Apart from these things, it is important to think about who you really are in terms of group membership- perhaps a community you belong to and love and the way they have shaped your perspective. That’s another thing admission officer look for- they want to know what you bring to the table. Having fresh, new perspectives because of your intellectual curiosity and mentioning them in your supplemental college essays if not your main essay would go a long way. However, it is important to keep political perspectives out of the picture as this might jeopardize your chance of getting admitted to a university. Believe it or not, introspection takes up most of your essay writing process while applying to a university because we seldom spend time analyzing the framework and facets of our own identity. The admission officer wants to see the real you. Whether it’s having a community of followers on your meme page or your love for a rock band university admission officers want to know what is quirky and different about you as long you state how it has shaped your perspective and your values. In one of my essays, I referred to myself as the ‘Hannah Montana of Arts and Sciences’ because of my diverse interests, and an admission officer from Wharton personally called me and told me how delighted he was after reading my essay. You can showcase any aspect of yourself favorably, provided you link it back to your core personality traits.

  1. Planning

One might wonder when exactly one should start working on college application essays. This might depend on the way you schedule things but from firsthand experience and several testimonials, it is best to start the introspection aspect of the essay writing process during spring break in your junior year. Making a framework about yourself should be finished by the end of this period. Once this is done, it is crucial for students to immediately make a list of universities they intend to apply to and which essay prompt they wish to answer. Following this, students should start their first draft in early/mid-May and finish the second essay draft by the commencement of summer break. If required, embellishments can be added closer to the deadlines, but your final draft should be completed no later than August. Much to my surprise, I realized that working on supplemental essays for each university is just as important as your work on your main essay. Given the extreme workload that seniors are bombarded with, it is best to finish all your supplemental essays by the end of summer so that you can concentrate on school grades which play a pivotal role in the university admissions. By doing this, you can apply to universities early and can even secure an opportunity to get interviewed by alumni from those universities as it demonstrates promptness and showcases demonstrated interest. Following this timeline to the tee will help you knock your essays out of the park.

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  1. Execution

This is when the real magic happens. Drafting. Though seemingly tedious, the process goes rather smoothly if you have planned and reflected extensively. For starters, it is important to absolutely love whatever you have written about yourself. At the end of the day, you are introducing yourself to a stranger and the description is limited to only a few hundred words. Therefore, being picky about your traits, activities, and facts about your background is paramount. Naturally, one cannot afford to waste words. Getting to the point is highly recommended because admission officers read a large volume of applications daily. Your first draft should be an assimilation of the framework you made after introspecting. However, the second one needs to be extremely well structured and coherent. Having an exceptionally captivating and unexpected beginning will instantly grab your admission officer’s attention. Perhaps narrating or describing the scene of a particular activity you engaged in or writing a short and succinct phrase that captures who you are in 4-5 words are good ideas for a beginning.

To get a better idea of essays that worked, referring to Johns Hopkins University’s published essays would be a good place to start. However, it is important to note that you are just getting an idea from these essays in terms of quality but incorporating unauthentic in your essay that might seem amiss will result in your portfolio being placed in the rejection pile immediately. Admission officers are extremely seasoned and can easily detect any change in tone, vocabulary, and ideas in your essay. This process is different for different people, but I’d highly recommend writing these essays independently if you want to secure a spot at a top-tier university or your dream school.

Following these guidelines meticulously will ensure that you write a stellar essay that you are extremely proud of. I can guarantee it.


About the Author: 

Tanishka Khanduja is a senior at Oberoi International School (OIS) and has successfully applied to several universities for her undergraduate education. She intends to major in Neuroscience with a minor in Creative Writing while pursuing a pre-medical track. At OIS, she is a writer for an organization called Psych(ed) which aims to destigmatize mental illnesses and is the founder of an organization called Exsurgo that helps impoverished children attend school.

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