Take Time to Create a Winning Essay (Part Two)

Written by Nell McCormack Abom, Host Smart Talk TV | Sep 20, 2009 12:32 AM

•    Resist the temptation to look for examples of great college essays for ideas and/or inspiration. They will only confuse you more. Besides, those ideas have already been taken.
•    Don’t give up ownership. You will find lots of opportunities to let other people (i.e., friends, parents and essay writing services) “help” you. Colleges want to hear your voice—it’s like your DNA. Authenticity is big here. While others can help with reflective editing, make sure the words you use are your own.
•    Think about the messages/impressions you want to convey. What do you want the reader to know about you that won’t be apparent anywhere else in the application?
•    Choose a topic about which you are expert. The topic should give you a platform or perspective from which you are comfortable delivering the message.
•    Answer the “why” questions. Why is the topic important to you? Why do you care about it? Why has it affected the way you see yourself in the world? As you answer the “why” questions, you give the reader insight into your soul. That might seem intimidating, but if you can pull it off your essay will make a difference.
•    Be careful not to reframe information that is already presented on your application.
•    Make sure you tell your story. If little-known circumstances have affected your academic performance or your life experience in general, you need to use a personal statement to address them.

Finally, be honest about your effort. One of the most effective collaborators in my early writing projects was my dad. He would look over an essay and hand it back to me with the simple observation, “You’re not going to hand it in that way, are you?” That was it. While he was happy to go over things I had written with me, he wouldn’t do the thinking or writing for me. Moreover, he knew that I knew I could do a better job and he was willing to help me if I was truly interested in helping myself!

Help yourself—don’t settle for “good enough.” Rather, invest the extra time and effort it takes to produce great results. For more tips about writing a great college essay, check out Chapter 11, “Make A Difference with Your Essay,” in Winning the College Admission Game: Strategies for Students. The book is available in bookstores and online (;

Published in Life After 12th Grade

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