How Your High School Student Can Conquer Their College Essay

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The normal process of applying to college has been upended by the pandemic, but one thing that remains constant is the need to write college essays. Beyond lists of achievements and activities on a college application, the essays allow admissions officers to get to know a student and view further into the type of person they are and want to become by pursing a higher education degree. Most students tend to focus their college essays on the volunteer work they’re doing, the sports or clubs they’re participating in, or a recent experience that has impacted them in some way. With the Covid pandemic limiting people’s activities for almost two years now, students can be left wondering what route to take with their essay and how to stand out in a sea of applicants. For those who have struggled to find their way forward, here are some tips to help them wrap it up and hit those late deadlines. 

1Does Covid Belong in College Essays?

The answer is both yes and no, because like everything when it comes to applying to college the answer must be based on personal experience. COVID-19 affected everyone in the world, and, at the same time, no one experienced it in precisely the same way. Students can write about COVID in their personal statement, but they need to be sure to follow the rules of a good college essay: make sure that the essay is detailed enough that the student’s unique experience is really clear, and that it’s written in the student’s own voice.  

2Don’t Try To Impress the Admissions Officer—Just Tell the Truth

Being impressive is a good thing. But when you try too hard, you write the same stories as thousands of other students. If you really want to stand out, tell the truth. Do you love your 1992 Dodge Dart more than life itself? Did you become an expert bread baker during quarantine? Those things are interesting. Share them. The colleges want to know.  

3Make Ordinary Stories Unordinary

You don’t need to have scaled Everest or invented plutonium to tell a story nobody else could tell. Your experience staying at home taking care of your siblings, taking a new online class or picking up a new hobby are not the same as other students’ experiences. So, tell the parts of the story that are uniquely yours. Inject as much detail as you possibly can. And keep asking yourself, “Could someone else applying to college tell the same story?” If so, do one of two things—add more detail, or pick a different story.  

4Sound Like You

You’re not writing an essay for your English class. The college essay is an informal piece of writing. It should sound like you. If you would never say, “Hence, my winning of elections has become quite an inveterate occurrence,” please don’t write it in your essay. No quotes from famous people. No words you can’t define, spell or pronounce. I’m not suggesting you should compose something that reads like a text message. But colleges want to get to know you better. Let them hear your voice through your writing.  

Tags: Education, Navigating the Pandemic, college

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Written By

Kevin McMullin

Kevin McMullin is the founder and Head of Talent at Collegewise. See Full Bio

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