College applicants and those who advise them love to debate the role of the essay or personal statement in the admissions process.
While no essay will make a patently unqualified student suddenly acceptable, a good essay can help a qualified applicant stand out from the competition.
And a great essay might just be what turns a “maybe” into an “admit.”
You’ll find all kinds of advice on the internet on what makes a great essay. But perhaps the most useful may be found on college websites and comes from those who read them.
Here are 12 excellent essay tips from admissions offices and those folks who are likely reading your essays:
Yale University, CT
When you write your essays and “short takes” for the Common Application and Yale-specific questions, write about something that matters to you. Use your own voice. Do not worry about making a special effort to include impressive vocabulary words or overly complex sentences. If you sound like yourself and discuss something you care about, your essay will be more effective.
Villanova University, PA
Answer the question posed. Please answer the question that we pose. It may be tempting to send a general or personal statement, especially if time is ticking; however, it is important for you to respond to our specific question.
University of Virginia
University of Virginia, VA
It is virtually impossible to tell your life story in less than 500 words. Consider using illustrative stories from which we can discover larger points about you. If your application essay were in a sizable stack of essays scattered on the floor, would someone who knows you well be able to identify yours? If so, you have gone beyond the generic and have communicated your voice.
University of Texas-Austin
University of Texas-Austin, TX
The quality of your essays matter—but maybe not in the way you might think. We don’t read your essays to give you a grade—for grammar, spelling, and punctuation, for example. Although those things matter, we’re looking for your ability to make a point in an easy-to-understand and clearly stated manner.
University of Michigan
University of Michigan, MI
Be authentic. We want to hear your voice in your response – the experiences, opinions and values that have shaped you. Feel free to write on something you are passionate about so we can get to know you better.
University of California
University of California System
The Personal Statement is an integral part of the UC application. The content of the Personal Statement should add clarity, richness, and meaning to the information you present in other parts of your UC application, enabling the Office of Admissions to form the best possible impression of you…The Personal Statement is your interview with the University of California.
Lawrence University, WI
Read your essays over and over again for errors. Read them out loud to yourself and to your friends… The more proofing your essays receive the better they will be. Good writing takes time and revision. Do yourself a favor and start early.
Susquehanna University, PA
The essay’s content should go beyond the academic credentials and extracurricular activities documented in other parts of your application…Remember the cardinal rule of college application essays: your reader should know you better after reading your work.
Stanford University, CA
We want to hear your individual voice in your writing. Write essays that reflect who you are; use specific concrete details and write in a natural style. Begin work on these essays early, and feel free to ask your parents, teachers and friends to provide constructive feedback. Ask if the essay’s tone sounds like your voice. If those closest to you do not believe your essay captures who you are, we will not be able to recognize what is distinctive about you. While asking for feedback is suggested, do not enlist hired assistance in the writing of your essays.
Smith College, MA
The purpose of the essay is to convince admission officers whom you’ve never met, in less than ten minutes, that you would be a good match for their colleges. At the most basic level, it allows admission officers to evaluate your communication and writing skills. In addition, the essay allows admission officers to discover more about you as a person – a side of you not shown by statistics like grades and SATs. The essay gives information about your history, attitudes, interests and creativity; it gives a sense of your values and goals. What admission officers are doing is creating a community…looking to see how you would fit in that community, what would you bring to that community and what sets you apart.
Hamilton College, NY
Avoid writing about other people. We all have grandparents we love, but they’re not applying to college — you are.
Bates College, ME
Grab Our Attention. Start with a great opener that catches the reader’s attention immediately. Make the admission officer want to continue reading more about you.