Think You Know What Makes a Meaningful College Essay?

Posted by Texas OnCourse Leader Fellow Holly Moore on Jun 18, 2019 1:01:10 PM

“It was the final seconds of the big game…”

“My mom has made me the person I am today…”

“My eyes were opened while on a mission trip…”

I’m sure many of you have read a student’s college admission essay draft and seen a similar approach.

Sports games, family members, and mission trips are common approaches used by our students in writing their college admission essays. If they seem familiar to us, they are even more so to the admission officers reading them. Are these effective essays? Do they help the reader learn something new about the applicant? In my opinion, most often, they do not. However, counselors and advisers can help guide our students to craft an essay that will stand out, tell their story, and make their case for admission.

I’d like to share some of the tips that I use when working with students during the admission essay process, from drafting to submitting.

Take Advantage of Free Time

The biggest tip is to encourage students to use the summer to write those essays. ApplyTexas and Common Application have their upcoming essay prompts readily available on their websites. Students can also check out individual college websites to find out any possible supplemental questions. Getting through the first draft over the summer can alleviate stress on the student. Once school starts, time seems to fly by.

Host a Boot Camp

Consider hosting a college admissions essay boot camp in August before classes start.  Your schedule will probably be less hectic and you can reach out to your local college admission reps or English teachers at your high school to help you make major impact in minimal time.

Focus on the… Negative?

Not every story has a happy ending, and that is okay. If written with care, the story of the subpar grade on a project or the rough fall semester sophomore year could be crafted into an essay that can show how a student responded to that poor grade or bad semester. Everyone loves a comeback story.

Make It Personal

Remember voice. Students might think if they are applying to Rice or Yale that they need to use big words. They may end up with an essay that lacks their true voice. It reminds me of that episode of Friendswhere Joey writes a letter for Monica and Chandler as they hope to adopt. He uses the thesaurus for every single word. “They are humid prepossessing Homo Sapiens with full sized aortic pumps.”  I am sure “they are warm, nice people with big hearts” is a better way to go.

Read It Aloud

Encourage students to read their essay aloud. While it sounds simple, it’s the most effective way to catch mistakes. Reading aloud ensures that the writing sounds like the student and that the words engage the listener. Students might have the same essay prompt for different colleges, so reading aloud is a great way to make sure they don’t send the essay mentioning their passion for Aggieland to the school with Longhorns.

Make It Mandatory

If the essay prompt says optional, tell your students they should write it. Why? Maybe they are not guaranteed admission or they aren’t top ten percent students applying to engineering. That optional essay could make a difference in an admission decision or getting a first-choice major.

These are just a few tips to help you help your students through the essay writing process. I would encourage you to join the Texas College & Career Planning Source group on Facebook as a way to connect to other professionals where even more tips and advice can be found on this topic and more. And be sure to check out more Texas OnCourse resources on the college planning process.

Topics: Applying to College, Educators