Are you looking to write an incredible college essay but maybe don’t know quite how to get started? If so, look no further! Read this blog to see Brooke Hanson’s top 3 tips for college essay writing. Whether you’re trying to get into a university with a 70% admit rate or a 7% admit rate, a great college essay can help you secure that spot.
Due to new test-optional policies, writing a stellar college essay is increasingly vital to college applications. Expressing yourself in these essays is critical. Your college essay needs to convey several things. You need to prove to universities that you are more than just a statistic. It’s also an exercise in showing your capacity for analysis and thoughtfulness. You also need to prove you know how to write!
Tip #1: Use Contrast
One of the biggest problems Brooke sees with college essays is they’re boring. You don’t want someone in admissions to read your essay and feel like they’ve read the same thing 100 times before. Your goal is to stand out because that will add a little more weight to your application. In order to stand out, Brooke wants you to use contrast.
Contrast is a technique we have as writers to enable our writing to jump off the page in a way that captures people’s attention. The two types of contrast you can use in your writing are surprise and irony.
Surprise is an excellent writing tool to utilize because the unexpected is more fun to read. To explain this, let’s look at how students write about their interests. Usually, a student will write about an activity related to that interest and then conclude they are interested in it. For example, a student might say they participated in a coding boot camp and therefore like computer science.
One way to inject surprise into this narrative is to talk about activities you did that showed you what you’re not interested in at all. Let’s say you thought you wanted to be a talent agent, so you started working for a talent agent. However, along the way, you discovered that you didn’t want to continue down the talent agent path due to a toxic culture and shady clients. So you end up figuring out your interests are connecting people and team building and management, not just talent management. That’s a more compelling narrative because it is surprising.
Irony is when you point out a natural contrast that exists. For example, what if you write an essay about how you’re a great tennis player. However, you only play singles, and all you’re contributing to is your individual accomplishment. If you win matches, the world does not become a better place. Now you have to grapple with the futility of achievement. This irony starts an engaging conversation that makes your essay stand out.
Tip #2: Find your YOU!
Another one of Brooke’s tips is to find out who you are and make sure you show up on the page! One of the biggest mistakes students make is when they don’t get enough of who they are into their essays. In your writing, we need to get to know you in a way we can’t see just by looking at your grades and test scores.
To accomplish this, start by making a list of everything awesome about you that you think colleges should know. First, let’s think about the movie Inside Out. The main character in Inside Out has core memories that make her who she is. You need to figure out what your core memories are. What memories in your life have determined your personality. Next, think about your core commitments. These are actives that consume most of your time, and as a result, help define you. Be careful not to just write out your resume for this! But if you’ve spent a great deal of time on something, then it’s likely you’ve gained something special from it as well.
Next, you should think about your most important relationships. Who are the core relationships in your life that define you? Writing about family can be effective when they help define your personality. Finally, think about your core values. What are the values that have defined and shaped you? How do the stories of your life reveal those values are driving you?
Your goal is to write all of these things down and then make sure that the best of you gets onto the page. If it’s not, then you have to brainstorm scenes that show you exhibiting these traits.
Tip #3: Story & Theme are essential
You can’t have a great college essay without Story and Theme. You may have the misconception that the best way to write a college essay is to pick one thing that happened in your life and then spend your whole essay writing about that. However, it’s more compelling to write a story that’s balanced between details and reflection. Consider writing multiple stories that are woven together and represent a common theme.
For example, you may have one story about how you helped people in your community. You may have another story about experiencing or witnessing racism. If you weave these together, maybe you’ll observe a common theme of accepting people who are different than you.