4 Simple Tricks For Writing An Exceptional College Admissions Essay (even if you’re an average student)

Does any of this sound like you:

  • You are a high school senior working on your college applications, but you’ve been having some trouble getting through the essay portion.
  • You have respectable grades and have done a few extracurricular activities over the years, but don’t really have any stand-out moments in either your academic career or personal life.
  • You don’t think you’re unique or special enough, and you’re stuck trying to think of something worthwhile to write about on the essay portion of the applications.
  • You don’t think you’re a strong writer, and have never been good at writing essays.

If so, let me be the first one to tell you that you're not alone! Every year, thousands of high school seniors like yourself struggle with writing their admissions essays. Lucky for you, I'm here to help!

Over the years, I've worked with 100's of students on their college admissions essays, and while doing so, I've identified a number of some very common issues that end up getting in the way of college hopefuls writing quality pieces. The good news is, I can help you overcome some of the most common pitfalls that plagues even the most accomplished student.

Read on to see how you can write an exceptional college admissions essay - even if you're an average student!

Cheat Sheet Download: 4 Tricks For Writing An Exceptional College Admissions Essay

Strategy #1: Think Small. This is a 650 word essay, not your personal manifesto. 

  • You don't have to write about wanting to cure cancer, your experience climbing Mt. Everest, or how you've already created a successful non-profit business. Believe it or not, you could write an essay about an experience babysitting, or a problem you had with a customer at an after-school job, and it can be just as effective as something "big."
  • Colleges want to see that you're thoughtful, introspective, and have non-academic interests, use this portion of your application to show them who you really are.
  • Tips on how to Think Small: Think about your quirks, your insecurities, the pictures you've chosen to hang on your bedroom wall, what motivates you, the music you listen to, or what scares you.

Strategy #2: Have a strong "hook" sentence.

  • The Hook Sentence: The very first sentence of your essay that is so interesting/exciting/comical that your reader is “hooked” and wants to read more.
  • Your audience (the admissions officers) have been reading 1000’s of essays. A good essay will grab their attention in the first sentence or two, and will smoothly transition to the main topic of your essay.
  • Types of hook sentences: A short anecdote or personal experience; Description of a setting; A dilemma; A Fact; Humor; A bold statement; A Quote*; A Definition*. (*Personally, I think it's hard to begin essays with a good quote or definition. It's possible, but difficult.)

SUPER IMPORTANT TIP: DON’T use the question stem to start off your essay. That's what elementary school students do. You need to answer the question of course, but do so by putting your own spin on the answer.

Example of what NOT TO DO:

If this is your question: Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

DON'T begin your essay like this: “An accomplishment that marked my transition from childhood to adulthood was when I got my first job.”

Strategy #3: Find Your Unique Student Perspective (USP)

  • In the advertising and marketing industries, USP stands for "Unique Selling Proposition." In short, a company's USP is the one quality that makes their product different (and theoretically, better) than their competitor's similar products.
  • When you're applying to a college, many of the other applicants are going to look a lot like you on paper: 3.75 GPA, National Honor Society, a couple AP classes, a couple extracurricular activities, a 28 ACT, 1800 SAT, etc. (i.e., You’re all similar products, so you need to show your college that you're better than everyone else who has the same qualifications.)
  • Example USPs could be: You're a good listener; When you do something you love, you're incredibly focused; You want to take care of the people you love; You are the peacemaker in your family; You are always ready to explore a new place; You are incredibly organized….the possibilities are endless!

(If you need help identifying your USP—a crucial element in your essay—check out my free 1-hour webinar where I go into more detail about how to find your Unique Student Perspective. On the webinar, you'll get the opportunity to download a USP Identifier worksheet.)

Strategy #4: Demonstrate at least one of the 14 Key Student Characteristics.

  • Even though colleges want diversity on their campuses, they also want all of their students to demonstrate a few of the key student characteristics listed below. Try and show at least one of these personality traits through your essay.
  • Perserverence
  • Tenacity
  • Compassion
  • Honesty
  • Loyalty
  • Creativity 
  • Resourceful
  • Curiosity 
  • A desire to be a part of the academic community
  • Leadership
  • Social Awareness
  • Ingenuity
  • Thoughtfulness
  • Initiative

Cheat Sheet Download: 4 Tricks For Writing An Exceptional College Admissions Essay

Wait! Don't go!

Here's some other resources that you might be interested in that'll help you with your college admissions essays.  

Do you need A LOT of help with writing you admissions essays? If so, go here.

Are you on any sort of social media platform? If so, make sure your profiles work for you and not against you during the college application process by checking out this blog

Do you already have an admissions essay ready, but need someone to look over it and give you valuable feedback? Send me an email

Posted in Academic, better writing, college admission essay, college admissions, writing

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