The key to an effective essay is to focus on the MESSAGE you wish to tell the reader
Don’t get so involved telling a detailed story that the important message gets buried
KEEP IT PERSONAL
The college wants to learn more about you, not one of your friends or one of your relatives
It should be your story that can come from only you
It should not be a story the student sitting next to you can tell, and the person next to them, and the person in the high school in the next town, or the next state…
Develop your main idea with vivid and specific facts, events, and examples
There's a big difference between simply stating a point of view and letting an idea unfoldin the details:
Boring and Generic:"I like to be surrounded by people with a variety of backgrounds and interests."
Much Better:"During that night, I sang the theme song from Casablanca with a baseball coach who thinks he's Bogie, discussed Marxism with a little old lady, and heard more than I ever wanted to know about some woman's gall bladder operation."
Avoid clichéd, generic, and predictable writing by using vivid and specific details
Boring and Generic:"I want to help people. I have gotten so much out of life through the love and guidance of my family. I feel that many individuals have not been as fortunate; therefore, I would like to expand the lives of others."
Much Better:"My Mom and Dad stood on plenty of sidelines 'til their shoes filled with water or their fingers turned white, or somebody's golden retriever signed his name on their coats in mud. That kind of commitment is what I'd like to bring to working with fourth-graders."
SHOW, DON’T TELL
A GOOD example:
“When night fell upon the summit, I stared at the slowly appearing stars until they completely filled the night sky. Despite the windy conditions and below freezing temperatures, I could not tear myself away.”
This passage shows us how the author feels and thinks, more so than if the author had spelled it out for us
KNOW YOUR SUBJECT
Any factual errors in the essay will reveal that you really haven't thought deeply about your choice
For example, writing that you want to attend Syracuse University to major in international business would be a blunder (NOTE: Syracuse doesn't have an international business major)
I entered onto the scene of this terrestrial sphere on a vernal evening in 1994.
This is not a vocabulary test.
As a high school sophomore, I was our church's representative to the Youth Fellowship. I helped organize youth group events, the largest being "The Bishop's Ball," a state-wide event for 300 young people. I also played high school junior varsity soccer for two years. As a senior I will be playing varsity soccer, but in the off-season. As a junior I coached a girls' soccer team for the town.
Do not write a resume. Do not repeat things that are best reserved for another part of your application.
The writer would have been better off focusing on ONE of these things: for example, one particular moment of one soccer game that she coached.
My favorite book is The Great Gatsby by Charles Dickens.
Get your facts straight.
(F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote it!)
College Board gives great tips about writing a college essay. It also offers critiques of sample essays.