College Essay - Writing A Memorable One

The 2019-2020 Common App essay prompts remain the same as last year’s, offering students a myriad of ways to tell their story. But the college essay continues to cause much stress and anxiety among college applicants, and it shouldn’t. The only question is will these applicants pick a topic that will allow them to tell their story properly.

All too often students either select or are given poor advice by those around them about which topic would make a strong essay. The result is an essay that is mediocre, that doesn’t show off the student in a positive light, and makes no impression on the admission officers. These individuals can spot an essay written by someone other than the applicant a mile away and they read thousands of essays every day so applicants should write something that they will remember.

The most common error students make is thinking they know what the admission officers want to read. Trust me, what they want to read is an essay that tells an interesting story about the student, and the last thing a student should do is write it using the steps learned in English class: introduction, a few points, conclusion. Boring! Rather, they should pretend they’re writing a journal entry or a letter to a dear friend. These tend to be more open, honest pieces that reveal the personality of the writer.

I find that selecting the topic is the hardest part and one of the best places to start is to think about what not to write about. Begin by avoiding the sports essay about scoring the winning goal in the tournament or that volunteer service trip to a third world country. Important to the applicant, for sure, but so over used. An essay that is a reformatted resume is also not a good idea because all that information should already be in the application. Click here for other topics to steer clear of.

Rather, students should look for an incident or experience that will allow them to reveal something about themselves that goes beyond the grades, extra curricular activities and all other information that has already been presented. The character of the student, how they think, react to a given situation, etc. should shine through in this essay. But, similar to an English class essay, there should be no misspelled words, grammar and sentence structure should be good, and it should be truthful. The word count is still 650 words which doesn’t sound like much, but is plenty to tell a good story if the topic is strong. Hint: Once the topic is chosen, I allow my students to write to their hearts content till the story is down on paper, editing to the required word count afterwards. Focusing on the word count at the beginning is a perfect way to create writer’s block.

A college essay, while not the sole piece of an application, can be a deal breaker or tip the scales in favor of the candidate, and cannot be written in one sitting. Applicants should give themselves time to write their essay and they shouldn’t hesitate to have others proof read it, but don’t ask too many people. Everyone has an opinion and in short order the applicant will be all confused. Select just one or two, don’t feel obliged to take all the advice given and always make sure that the voice that comes through at the end is that of the applicant.

College Application Timeline - April 2019

April is the month when the college application process for graduating high school seniors and high school juniors overlap. A few seniors must still decide which school they’d like to attend in the Fall while juniors should be laying the foundation for their application process by following these steps.

• If they haven’t yet done it, juniors need to register to take either the SAT or ACT. There are two more test dates available this school year: May 4th and June 1st. Check here for registration deadlines. August 24th is the first test date for the 2019-2020 academic year and has a July 24th registration deadline. The next ACT test dates are June 8th and July 13th. See registration details here.

The SAT costs $47.50 (with essay is $64.50) and the ACT is $50.50 (with writing $67). Note: Each registration comes with four FREE score reports, but the schools must be named at the time of registration. All subsequent reports are $12 per SAT score report and $13 per ACT score report.

Students should never hesitate to retake these tests because even just a few additional points can change a school from a target to a safety or a reach to a target. Make sure to register early to not miss out on being able to take the test at a location close to home and not pay the additional late fee. Eligible students should request fee waivers from their guidance counselors.

Don't forget to take the SAT Subject Tests & AP Exams, tests that enable eligible students to highlight a proficiency in a particular subject matter and are often required admission material for highly selective schools. Strong scores on AP exams can result in college credit.

Yes, there are test-optional colleges, but their admission requirements can be equally demanding.

• Who will write your letters of recommendation? Choose two teachers and ask them before the end of the school year. Some teachers has a personal quota, so don't wait. The normal range of recommendations required by schools is none to no more than three and should not be confused with the letter your guidance counselor writes.

• Colleges look for well rounded applicants, so don't ignore those extra curricular activities - Both school affiliated activities and independent activities count as extra curricular, but quality over quantity should always be the goal.

•  Schedule campus visits - A must in the process of creating that list of criteria, a campus visit allows students to develop that crucial 'gut' feeling that will tell them when they've found the right school for them. Visit as many as possible, knowing that even those you don't like or will never apply to, are helpful in narrowing down the schools that will eventually make that final college list.

• Become familiar with the Common App - Common App Rollover will allow members of the Class of 2020 to create an account while still juniors with that information rolling over when the Common app relaunches on August 1, 2019.  Common App Ready is a series of tutorials available to students and their parents to help them familiarize themselves with the application. Click here for more details.

• Common App essay prompts will remain unchanged from last year. This is great news, but please remember that the college essay can make or break an application, so select your topic carefully and don’t be in rush to write it. Students can wait till the summer months to begin putting pen to paper.

• Want to make that application even stronger, then take a full course load senior year. Even if the student has most of the credits needed to graduate, don’t stop there. State mandated credits required to graduate from high school do not necessarily produce a strong application.

This is the last chance to boost the GPA/class rank that will be used on the applications so all high school juniors should aim to finish this year with the best possible grades. A strong GPA/class rank, along with the rigor of the courses taken, shows continued commitment to academics and is one of the best indicators of how ready a student is for college level work. A low GPA/class rank, however, does not spell doom.

So, this is not the time to drop the ball! Create the strongest personal academic profile you can and with it you will find the college or university that is both the perfect academic and personal fit.