Posts Tagged “college essay tips”

As an admissions officer at Columbia University, I read through thousands of college essays every year, and after awhile it became apparent that there were definitely some overused topics out there, ones that didn’t help a student stand out or subjects that just couldn’t be adequately addressed in 500 words or less.  So as you’re trying to put together that perfect college essay, here are some of my top picks to cross off your brainstorming list pulled from my new book Seventeen’s Guide to Getting Into College.

1. The time you built houses in Mexico with your youth group or visited Israel to explore your cultural heritage–While these are both wonderful ways to spend your vacation, volunteering or traveling abroad with a school or youth group has become a really common high school experience and the subject of many a college essay.  It’s better to mention these elsewhere in the application than risk an entire essay sounding the same as everybody else.

2. Your parent’s divorce–There are three reasons to avoid the divorce topic: it’s (unfortunately) common, it’s not necessarily about you, and it’s hard to do justice in the space provided.

3. A narrative version of your resume–It’s fine to go into greater detail or tell a story about something that you’ve already mentioned, but don’t use the valuable essay space just to repeat info you have already included elsewhere in the application.

4. The death of a relative–There’s no denying the dramatic impact that the loss of a loved one can have on you; it’s something that affects us all.  But because of that, it is a common essay topic and therefore harder to stand out, not to mention difficult to capture in 500 words or less.

5. Why a particular college is so great–Colleges know what makes them great, but they don’t know what it is that makes you so fabulous.  Some students make the mistake of writing a mini-research paper on the school instead of talking about themselves.  If the application specifically asks why you want to go to the school either as an essay or short answer, make sure you talk about who you are and why the school is a good fit for you.

For more college essay topics to avoid and tips for writing a stand-out essay, check out Chapter 5 in Seventeen’s Guide to Getting Into College!

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Q: Why is it necessary to write essays to get into some colleges and universities?

–Sarah, 17, Calabasas, CA

A: Believe it or not, colleges are actually interested in more than just academic grades and test scores. They want to know how you think and what you have to say, and one of the best means of getting your voice heard is through the college essay.

The reason many schools ask for an essay is to give you a chance to showcase your personality, creativity, and unique sensibility that might not be captured elsewhere in the application. This is your chance to shine and speak your mind, and the cool thing about the essay is that there are no wrong answers! It’s really an opportunity to take control of one aspect of the college application and leave a great impression on the admission office.

An awesome essay can be the tipping point that pushes a good application into the acceptance bin, so take some time to think about what you’re going to say and how you say it. And don’t forget to proofread! A stellar essay can be totally ruined if it’s riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. Have someone else that you trust look it over to make sure it’s absolutely perfect.

For my top ten essay topics to avoid, check out the chapter “Writing Your Story” in my new book Seventeen’s Guide to Getting Into College.

So, what do you think you’re going to write about for your college essay?

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