Six tips for polishing up your college application essay

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Kim Williams

Writing an essay for a college application can be a daunting task. Here are some tips for how to approach this necessary step and make your essay shine.

1. Read the directions (more than once). It's critical that teens pay careful attention to any guidelines provided for their application essays, including a suggested word count and a precise essay prompt.

Disregarding these instructions can make applicants seem lazy. At worst, it might immediately discredit their application and hurt their chances of acceptance.

2. Brainstorm and compare possible topics. The essay is an opportunity for teens to share who they really are. It's a good idea to give enough time to the brainstorming process to ensure that whatever the prompt, the topic a teen selects does the best possible job addressing it.

3. Outline first. The application essay is not the place to wing it. Teens should create a detailed outline to keep them focused and make sure the essay flows easily from beginning to end.

The outline should clearly tie back to the essay prompt and make clear how the essay will fully answer it.

4. Create a schedule. It takes time to craft a great essay. A schedule can keep things on track. Whether the colleges to which teens are applying require an essay or strongly encourage one - or if applicants have chosen to write essays to strengthen their overall application - it is best to take a methodical approach to the writing process.

The application essay gives admissions officers a glimpse of the teen as a student and person and tells them a lot about his or her goals, work ethic, character and more. A well-planned, well-thought-out essay can have a tremendous positive impact.

5. Write from the heart. When it comes to the application essay, there's nothing more frustrating to an admissions officer than reading words that don't ring true. Colleges are looking for applicants who are passionate and articulate when sharing something that has changed or impacted them in a significant way. Bottom line: Teens should be real and authentic in their essays and forget about trying to impress anyone.

6. Plan on rewriting. Yes, proofreading for grammatical errors and typos is an important step, but it should be the very last step. First, teens must allow themselves time to revisit drafts with fresh eyes and take a hard, honest look at their essays when editing.

This means making sure the essay is clear, not confusing, not too long or short, and achieves the desired tone and message. It also means making sure the essay is poignant, interesting from the very first sentence, and articulate, and that it sounds like the person writing it.

Practice makes better. Teens should write, revise, and repeat as much as needed.

In summary, putting the effort into the application essay is certain to be time well spent - and it could mean the difference between a college acceptance and rejection.

Parents and teens need to remember that admissions officers want to get to know the person behind the name on an application. Teens should give the essay the careful attention it deserves.

Kim Williams is the owner and director of Huntington Learning Center of Bluffton.

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