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How to Write a College Essay

A lot has been written about how the college essay is one of the most important parts of your application and what are the components of the ideal college essay. A lot has also been said about how the college essay is your "one-way dialogue" with the admission officer(s) and is a great chance to express yourself. We won't be going into those details here. Very few articles get around to help you actually start writing the essay. We've tried to do that here.

Essay Writing

Your approach to writing the college essay should not be particularly different from how you have gone about writing essays for class. The steps are the same, the stages are the same, and the process is the same - the only difference is that this time you'll be writing about yourself (and not about how Edison invented the light bulb) and never before has an essay about "you" been so instrumental in deciding the future course of your life.

In many ways, your education, your career and basically the rest of your life depends on this one essay about yourself (that was just to scare you into getting serious!).
Now that we've established that this essay is your last ray of hope of a successful life, let's get down to business. The college essay will be written in 3 distinct steps:

1. Planning 2. Drafting 3. Tweakig (a.k.a. editing)

During this step, you must start collecting ideas which will form the core of your essay. Remember, the college essay is usually asked for so the admission officer(s) can learn about you - so that should be the focus of most of your ideas.

Brainstorm About Your Qualities Make a list of the qualities (positive and negative) which you would use to describe yourself. This first list includes all your strengths, weaknesses, and any other exceptionally strong characteristics. Remember, the emphasis of this list should be broad and conceptual in nature - try to list your personality characteristics and traits, not specific events or happenings. For example, you may have "exceptional communication skills" (not "I can make good speeches").

After this, make a second list of specific events, achievements and happenings of which you are particularly proud of. This is a more operational level list of things you've done and activities you've participated in. Now you have 2 lists, a list of "broad" qualities and a list of "specific" events and achievements.

Research Yourself Repeat the process above, but this time ask your family members, friends and relatives for input and feedback. More often than not, they will be able to show you qualities (good and bad!) about yourself which you never thought you had.

Link Qualities to Evidence Now try to create links between the 2 lists you've developed. With the help of these 2 lists, when you start writing the essay you'll be able to provide "real-world" examples to support and backup the skills and qualities you have laid claim to. Using the previous example, when you claim that you have good "communication skills", you'll quickly be able to verify the authenticity of that claim by mentioning how you effectively used those skills to win the state debating championships.

Find Connections & Create an Outline Try to group similar ideas together and find further connections between your qualities and achievements. How did you win the state debating championship? Was it really because of your superior communication skills, or did the fact that you are quickly able to analyze and respond to arguments play a more important role? Or was it because you're a good researcher and have a great ability to absorb information?

It's about time we started composing the actual essay. The essay will consist of three parts - introduction, body and conclusion. We'll quickly move through these parts - the 3 parts of the essay are discussed in greater detail in this article.

Introduction The introduction is used to give the reader a feel of the essay, including an idea of the content. The introduction is usually several sentences long, but can also be one sentence if it fulfills the purpose. For example, a strong, concise statement sometimes eliminates the need for a longer introduction: "My 30 day vacation to Africa allowed me to learn more about myself than I have in the past 20 years."

Body The body of the essay is used to present ideas and arguments that support the main idea of the essay.

In this part, you should try to use events and incidents to backup claims about yourself rather than simply going and on about your great qualities.

Conclusion The conclusion is used to wrap up your ideas and present a result of what the events and descriptions in the body mean to you. Again, this can be a mid-sized discourse of the lesson you've learned, or can be a single, powerful sentence which conveys the same message: "The corporate rat-race is not for me... the satisfaction I get out of helping the underprivileged is indescribable, and that is what I intend to do with the rest of my life."

Essay Styles There are several types of essays format, which you can use while composing your college essay.

Standard Traditional and safe, this is the essay style used by most college applicants. Use the important points from your outline and write one paragraph on each point, making sure that you provide plenty of "real world" evidence based upon actual events. Remember, this is your one=way dialogue and you should try to promote qualities or characteristics, which would appeal to the admission officer(s), but are not particularly obvious from the rest of your application.

Focused In this approach, you focus on a single, powerful, interesting event or characteristic. This works especially well if you're supposed to write an extremely small essay. A slightly more imaginative approach than the standard essay, this will work well if the single event or topic you write about is exceptionally interesting.

Story! In this type of essay, you employ the narration technique to pen down a short story and dramatic story. Remember to conclude the story with a short explanation of how the story or tale is related to you or has affected you. This approach could be particularly useful is the admission officer(s) are looking for creativity and absorbing writing skills.

Tweaking (a.k.a. editing)
When you've composed the first draft of your essay, it's time to go over it, correct errors, fix ommissions, make improvements, and share it with a third party for independent feedback and suggestions. Even though you should bring others' opinions into consideration, remember that it's your life, your essay, your career, and you are the best judge of what to include (or not include) in the essay. Keep the following points in mind during the tweaking period:

Give it Some Time As mentioned before, development of the essay is an exercise which takes days, if not weeks. Don't try to complete tweaking in a day or two - give it some time and return to the task after a few days to see if your main idea is what you want it to be. Most probably in the "rest period" you will come up with a couple of points or arguments which you would like to add to your essay or use as a replacement to other ideas.

Similarly, when you share your essay with someone else, don't expect immediate feedback.

Give them a few days to think about what you've written (remember to give it to someone who actually give it some thought!) and come to your with suggestions.

Simplify After making tons of term papers and reports, most students are used to using big words and sentences to explain theoretical concepts. That will not do. This is a personal essay, so try to simplify and straighten words out as much as possible. Instead of, "One of the greatest issues threatening modern society is the emergence and excessive use of narcotics.", you may write "Drugs are one of biggest problems facing society".

Proofread a Million Time Come on, I don't need to explain the significance behind that one, do I? PLEASE proofread a million times and make sure there are no grammatical, typographical, or writing style mistakes.

By Shah J. Chaudhry

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