Top Five: College Essay Tips

College Essay Tips list
College Essay Tips list

There are basically two things every high school student needs when it comes time to apply for college; a transcript of your grades and your essay. The transcript is a straight forward record of your four years of high school classes containing black and white letter grades and numbers that demonstrate your academic record to prospective admissions offices. However, your college essay is where you can separate yourself from the crowd and showcase your individuality as well as your desire to continue your education at a specific college or university.

The college essay can be a tricky task to master so we asked 27-year high school English teacher from Waltham, Massachusetts, John Hacker, who just so happens to also teach a class aptly titled “College Essay” for some insight on how to craft the perfect essay that is sure to achieve an acceptance letter.

1. Do the research

“Research the college before applying so you know exactly what they are looking for in a student. Each year, colleges build a freshman class based on their needs and wants. They want to know how you fit into their plans. Why would you be a good fit for their school? How would you contribute to their community?

The college essay gives a personal look into a student's life for admissions officers. It's the ol' "what makes me unique" concept behind writing a college essay. Sometimes it can be the deciding factor for a student's admission.”

2. Be Yourself

“This cannot be stressed enough. Admissions officers have heard ALL the stories. They've heard the death, divorce, and other unpleasant stories from student's lives. Try to be original and honest. It's a fine line between honesty and oversharing, and oversharing is NOT what admissions officers want to see.

Admissions officers want to see a student's uniqueness, in other words, what makes you special? What challenges have you personally overcome? What are you proud of? Where do you find happiness? What goals have you set for yourself? More importantly, answer the question that is being asked in the application. Brainstorm a few ideas first, bounce those ideas off your family and friends, and see which ones they are genuinely interested in. Those are the topics admissions officers want to hear about too.”

hacker classroom
hacker classroom

3. Things to avoid

“Stay away from cliche stories and be careful to stay away from overtold stories. Stay away from tragic stories, admissions officers don't want to be bummed out by your essay.

If you’re dealing with writer’s block - take a walk. Sit in nature and listen to it. Quiet your mind and spirit by experiencing the outdoors. Or, work out. Get the body moving and the juices flowing. You'll be surprised how helpful the outdoors and activity can be to an overactive or underactive mind.”

4. When to know you’re done

“Your essay should be as long as the application states, no longer. Admissions officers are reading thousands of essays. They don't have time to read your magnum opus of an essay.

Share it with people you trust to give you honest feedback. Your parents are good resources, but sometimes they think the sun rises and sets over you, so their opinions may be slightly biased. Ask trusted teachers to read your essay. Ask your boss. Ask your coach or advisor. Ask a friend. Ask your best friend's mom or dad. Ask your siblings. These people will probably have honest opinions on your essay.

You are finished when you have sufficiently answered the question posed. And edited and re-edited. And asked at least three people to read it.”

5. Trust your teachers NOT AI

“The best thing you can do is to write your essay on your own with the guidance of a trusted education professional. I know there are AI bots out there that can quickly and easily create a college essay out of thin air, but those essays are not genuine or personal. I would steer clear of those bots for your personal essay. I can't think of anything more impersonal.

If you are not a good writer, please ask for help. Ultimately, your essay is selling you. YOU need to be the one to write it since no one else can capture your unique voice in your writing other than YOU.”

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