College Application Essay Insight

November 23, 2020

By Kerry Lynch

Want to know the funny thing about the college essay? Many students can’t stop writing once they start and often have to cut a lot of words! Why do I mention this about the personal essay? Because the purpose of the essay is to reveal personal characteristics that you want the colleges to know about you and nobody knows you better than you so, of course, you will have a lot to say. Yet the essay worries students and their grownups. The goal here is to demystify and give you some pointers for preliminary work.

The essay is designed to give the student a voice and an opportunity to reveal positive personal characteristics to the admissions committee. It makes the application “human” and lets the reader know who you are outside of academics. To be effective, students have to think about themselves and their values. They have to be willing to show with rich details who is behind the grades, test scores, activities. That is all it is. 

While the personal statement does take a bit of maturity to write, it does not have to be left until the very last minute in order to capture a proper level of perspective. In fact, there are some great ways to prepare (but not write) in advance. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you roll through your junior year in high school.

  • Pay attention to things that interest you in your classes. Maybe it is a new idea, an amazing book, a critical science question. Make a note somewhere – your phone is fine.
  • Observe how you react to challenges. Did you get cut from a team and turn around and use your free time to start a business? Did you really step up when your grandparent got ill? Make a note of it.
  • Observe what other people say about you. Do many people compliment you for a certain characteristic? Pop it onto your list.
  • Is there a family story about you that keeps getting repeated? Maybe it embarrasses you now but you have to admit, it is you in a nutshell. Pull out that phone and jot down a few words to remind you of the story.
  • Finally, take advantage of your reading assignments to understand the structure of a good story – study how authors craft a narrative rich with details and a clear beginning, middle and end. 

At College Edge, we have an instructional plan for essay writing. We believe the ideal time to start is summer between junior and senior year and we prepare our students to understand the essay will undergo several revisions before it is “submission ready.” If you are working independently, we suggest you select one or two people to assist you and line up an English teacher or another excellent writer to take a final look to catch grammatical errors. Beware of sharing your work with too many people as you may lose your own voice. If you want to understand the type of prompts that appear each year, check out the Common Application 2020-21 essay prompts here. 

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