The reader must be able to find your main idea and follow it from the beginning to end
Essays that try to be too comprehensive end up sounding watered-down
FOCUS ON THE MESSAGE
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)
ANSWER THE QUESTION
Many students try to turn a 500-word essay into a complete autobiography; not surprisingly, they fail to answer the question
Make sure that every sentence in your essay exists solely to answer the question
After you are done writing, ask yourself:
Is every single sentence crucial to the essay?
The body of your essay
Write about nothing—really.
Take something small and tie it into your main purpose.
Buying a bottle of shampoo (Essay 72)
Ways to get unstuck
Have fun writing about yourself
Let your ideas flow– the topic isn’t as important as the tone of the essay (formal, informal, serious, humorous, etc.)
Possible topic ideas:
Write about a favorite article of clothing
Write about groups in your school and where you fit in
Write about a family gathering or tradition
Write about your walk or ride to school
Write about your favorite things, idiosyncrasies, or quirks
VARY YOUR SENTENCES AND USE TRANSITIONS
The best essays contain a variety of sentence lengths mixed within any given paragraph
Also, remember that transitions are not limited to words like nevertheless, furthermore, or consequently
Don’t use the same answer for entirely two different questions (lazy!!)
Admissions officers from UW-Eau Claire can tell if they are handed an essay that answers UW-Whitewater’s question
DON’T MENTION COLLEGE X IN COLLEGE Y’S ESSAY
Don’t write: “I can’t wait to wear a Harvard sweatshirt…” in an essay to Duke. Oops!
MOST IMPORTANTLY: DON’T FORGET TO PROOFREAD!
Typos and spelling or grammatical errors can be interpreted as carelessness or just bad writing
It’s distractng… isn’t it?!
AND -- DON'T RELY ON YOUR COMPUTER'S SPELL CHECK
It can miss spelling errors like the ones below:
"After I graduate form high school, I plan too work for a nonprofit organization during the summer." Oops!
"From that day on, Daniel was my best fried." Oops! I hope Daniel wasn’t fried!
QUICK “QUIZ”: WHAT’S WRONG?
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.