Essays are a big part of the college admissions process and can sometimes be an intimidating matter. High school juniors and seniors everywhere struggle with it. Sometimes they have trouble picking a topic, sometimes they find it hard to stay on topic, and sometimes they just choke. Don’t worry, there are plenty of people out there who can help. Talk to your guidance counselor or college counselor at your high school. Sit down with your favorite teacher and ask them for advice. Reach out to a current college student to learn about their experience.
We spoke to Buff Betz, the College and Scholarship Coordinator at Sarasota High School in Sarasota Florida. Here is what she has to say about the admissions process and writing a good college essay –
What is your role in helping high school students get to college and the college admissions process?
I help high school students with all aspects of the college admissions process, including college selection, applying, financial aid and scholarships. I meet with juniors, seniors and parents to make this experience as stress free as possible.
What do you think are the biggest mistakes that students make when applying to college?
I think many students wait until their senior year of high school to start thinking about college and where to apply, which puts them way behind in the admissions process. I think students often choose their colleges without stepping on that campus. I encourage students to visit their top choices before applying, this will save money and disappointment throughout their college selection.
What is your advice to students for writing their best college admissions essays?
My advice is to seek a favorite English teacher to read over your essay, and then listen to their advice.
If you could suggest topics to write a college essay about, what would they be?
Applicants should use this essay as a brag sheet, colleges want to know your accomplishments, passions, leadership roles, and community involvement.
If you could suggest topics to avoid when writing college essays, what would they be?
Remember this essay is about you, even though you may have had outstanding mentors, coaches , relatives or best friends that have helped you accomplish many things make sure not to make the essay all about them.
Don’t write about something you did in middle school.
Ophelia Fleetwood, the USF Mascot, and Buff Betz in the Career Center at Sarasota High School.
With Buff’s knowledge and advice, and the outline process below, you will be able to get started on writing your best college essay.
The most important thing to remember when writing your college essay is to be true to yourself. Be honest about your opinions and interests, and let your personality shine through. They know about your academic career already by checking out your application and transcripts. This is the time to share personal experiences and let your creativity thrive.
Identify what makes you unique. If you are a competitive athlete, tell them about it. If you volunteer for the humane society, tell them about it. If you play an instrument or sing in a band, tell them about it. Whatever “your thing” is, makes sure to share that in your essay. You can also share any life changing experiences that you have had.
Choosing a Topic
Some schools will give you a specific prompt or question to answer while others let you choose your own topic.
Admissions counselors are used to seeing the same thing over and over again each year. It is your job to try to stand out and impress them by being unique and maybe even a little bit controversial.
Meet with your high school guidance counselor or college counselor and discuss different topics. They can give you helpful input and ideas to get you started.
Brainstorm and Outline
So you’ve decided on your topic and it is time to brainstorm. Think about the message you are trying to send and the best way to do it. It is also important to address the specific school you are writing the essay for, as your essays for each school should be different.
Make sure to map out specific points of your essay by creating an outline.
Your college essay should have three parts. The introduction, the body, and a conclusion. You want to get your reader hooked and interested in what you are saying in the introduction. The body of your essay will state your opinion or opinions and then explain why you believe it. The body can be one paragraph or a few paragraphs, depending. The conclusion should be strong and reinforce what you are trying to say. You also want to make sure that your conclusion leaves an impression that the reader will remember.
Write and Rewrite
Don’t worry about grammar and punctuation so much on your first draft. Let your essay flow and keep it going while you have the inspiration and motivation. Make sure you get all of your thoughts down on paper before you stop to proof read your work.
When you are ready to proof read, make sure all of your grammar, spelling and punctuation is correct. You also want to make sure that your essay is consistent and that you are speaking from the same tense throughout.
After you have reread your essay and made any changes, the last thing you need to do before submitting it is to get feedback. Have your parents read it, have a teacher read it, have your guidance counselor read it, and have your best friend read it. Listen to their input and apply it as needed. Remember not to take their suggestions too personally, it is constructive criticism, they are only trying to help.
Check out our scholarship resources – Our List of Helpful College Scholarship and Financial Aid Websites
Check out this blog – What to do When Visiting a College Campus