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Writing Tips 

These are some tips that I have found helpful when writing: 

Show, Don’t Tell

"Show, Don’t Tell” is a popular phrase among English instructors and is a staple of effective writing. In admissions essays, it’s always best to be as specific as possible in order to paint a memorable picture in the readers’ minds. Try to use vivid, precise detail to illustrate your ideas. For example, use specific names—your sister, a teacher, or coach—to create the setting for your reader. In addition, eliminate vague or imprecise language and opt for clear, direct language. Below are some examples of showing, rather than telling.

Before: I had a new appreciation for the elderly after volunteering.

After: After volunteering every Saturday at St. John’s Nursing Home, I have a new appreciation for Alzheimer’s patients like Mrs. Webb, which has fueled my desire to become a nurse.

Before: I like a lot of stuff about theater. It has helped me improve my personality, which will help me in the future.

After: Theater fascinates me--the exhilaration of a live crowd cheering, the lights and costumes bringing a set I helped build to life, the months of practice coming to fruition on stage. Performing in my high school plays has developed my confidence and attention to detail, which will help me to succeed in future endeavors.  

Make it Personal

Your essay may be a means to gain admission into a prestigious academic program or institution, but it is fundamentally personal. It is about you and by you. Your application also consists of test scores and transcripts, but the essay is designed to give admissions committees a glimpse of your personality, your uniqueness, that they can’t get from numbers on a page. Your essay should not just re-list the accomplishments that are probably already evident on your transcript or résumé, but should illustrate something personal about you--your passion for a sport or charity, a lesson you learned from a specific event, how your family or heritage has shaped you. Don’t write about something that doesn’t interest you just because you think it will impress the committee. If you do not have a personal connection to the topic, your essay will bore you and the reader. The more you can highlight your personality and experience, the more memorable will be. Below is an example of how to make a general topic more personal.

Before: Pilots are very inspiring to me, because I also have a very adventurous side.

After: My interest in planes as a young boy inspired me to earn my pilot’s license by the time I turned seventeen. This passion for adventure, coupled with my persistence and dedication to achieving my goals, will undoubtedly help me thrive in the college environment.  

Use a Conversational Tone

Admissions committees are well aware of their audience. Therefore, in order to make your essay personal, it’s best to use a conversational tone. If you are a seventeen-year-old high school senior, don’t try to sound like a philosophy doctoral student. While you do want to use a conversational tone, however, try to avoid slang and overly casual language such as contractions and clichés. Everyone, including admissions committees, have heard or read this type of language millions of times, so it’s not going to interest anyone. Below are some examples of language to avoid.

Before: Although the fundraiser totally flopped, my buddies and I learned an important lesson.

After: Although our first charity fundraiser did not meet our expectations, my team learned the importance of perseverance and dedication.

Before: My coach is one in a million, a real class act. To make a long story short, he’s always there for me.

After: My coach’s unique dedication to each player’s success makes him a true role model.


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 Concise is Nice

The phrase “concise is nice” is one of the most important tools I have tried to instill in my students and editing customers regarding their writing. Many writers tend to think that more sentences must add up to better content, that longer must equal better, when in actuality better equals better. I encourage writers to burn off linguistic fat in their essays. Essays, especially admissions essays, should be direct, concise, and to the point. I have edited hundreds of admissions essays and I have been on admissions committees, and I can tell you first hand that these committees have a limited amount of time and lots of essays to get through, and they don’t want to wade through fluff.

Don’t get me wrong, vivid language is great and brings an essay to life—a well placed adjective, adding an anecdote, etc. But if you can say something in one sentence instead of three, do it. One of my own college professors, Dr. Sharon Schuman, once told me, “Eliminate any sentence that does not flow logically from the previous one, lead logically to the next one, or sound right.” In other words, trust your ear. If a sentence doesn’t sound right when you read your essay aloud (which everyone should do!), no matter how painful it is, get rid of it. If one sentence does not logically flow into the next, no “however” or “therefore” will trick the reader into thinking it does. Clear, concise writing will showcase your content, and in admissions essays, that means it will showcase you.  

Answer the Question/Prompt

Failure to fully answer the essay prompt is one of the biggest mistakes writers of college admissions essays make. The essay prompts often involve two or more separate questions or parts, but writers tend to primarily focus on the first sentence only. Each part of the prompt may not be equally as important or deserve the same amount of space in you essay, but you do need to address each question. When you first choose your essay prompt, have a few other people read it and make sure that they understand it to mean the same thing you do. Misreading the essence of the question will only set you up for difficulty in fully addressing the prompt. 

After each paragraph (or even sentence), stop to ask yourself if you are indeed answering the question. I tell my students and clients to write or type the prompt and tape it above their computer screen so they can refer to it often while writing. It is easy to get off track as you write, and having the prompt handy will steer you back on the right track. If you feel like you keep getting off point or trying to force your essay to fit the question, you many need to just choose a different prompt. If your prompt is comprised of a few different parts or questions, you can even number the paragraphs of your essay to the corresponding sentence of the prompt to make sure you have covered every aspect.