650 Words or Less


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    To ease the acceptance and rejection process, colleges appoint students to the evil and intricate task of condensing their life story, passion, hardships, cherished memories, challenging endeavors, personal growth, and most important lessons down to a 650-word limit. Unfortunately, such a commission becomes a chief stressor for high school seniors: How do you choose which moment or aspect of your life represents your most defining quality? How do you limit your life experience down to one entrusting essay? How do you differentiate yourself from the hundreds of thousands of submissions attempting to do the same thing?

     The dreaded essay provokes such tension because our entire school career has been based on a rubric. Students have been trained to hit a bullseye, but the contradictory college essay takes down the whole board. There is no rubric, strict guideline, assigned topic, or grade. Colleges already have access to all of your grades, test scores, extracurriculars, and factual components. Instead, the essay intends to explore your personality and voice, an opportunity to showcase what can’t be found on a transcript. So, while there’s no all-encompassing way to go about writing a college essay, there are certain things you should do to aid in the writing process. 


     1) Prioritize personalization and specificity

“Think About Topics Some of the best essays—the memorable and unusual ones—are about very similar, just more focused, topics. Essays about your family, football team, trip to France, parents’ divorce, or twin can be effective as long as they’re focused and specific: a single Christmas Eve church service, a meal of boiled tongue in Grenoble, or dipping ice cream on a summer job. ” -College Board

     Arguably, the most burdensome part about writing a college essay is getting started. There are basic prompts you can use as a guideline, but ultimately, the structure and topic of your essay is yours to construct. The main objective behind choosing a topic should be originality, in other words, telling a story that anyone else can’t tell. To do this, make sure the essay focuses heavily on personalization. A simple way to incorporate this is by avoiding general pronouns, such as ‘our’ or ‘we,’ and instead using personal ones, such as ‘my’ or ‘I.’ In addition, it’s best to portray situations and experiences that are unique to your life. If you want to pick a broader subject that has impacted people other than yourself, try to avoid mentioning its impact on others, and focus solely on its relevance in your life. 

     It will prove beneficial to recognize that your topic doesn’t have to be full of depth and profundity. It’s more important to write about something attention-grabbing. Most people go into college essays with the expectation that they have to include a sob story or tragic background to best represent strength and growth, but most fail to realize that doing so won’t automatically set you apart. Colleges don’t want to hear basic hardships or tragedies. If written poorly, you will likely establish yourself as unoriginal due to the apparent intention behind your writing being to gain approval through pity. There is no need for trauma dumping in college essays, for there are other emotions to appeal to besides sorrow. You will prove more successful if you try and find a somewhat eccentric and abnormal topic that’s special nature will increase its noticeability. The point of the essay is to establish yourself as unique and memorable to whoever is reviewing your essay. An effective way to go about doing so is to choose a specific, personal, and relatively unconventional topic. 


     2) Tell a story

     Being mindful of the word limit, it’s best to frame your college essay around a specific period of time, or in other words, write your college essay a narrative. Think about a specific moment in your life that impacted you, and recount that moment as it unfolds. Structuring your essay as a story will not only help you adhere to the word count, but it will differentiate your writing from others. To follow a ‘this happened, and then this happened, and ultimately I learned this’ structure is overdone and disengaging. Most applicants follow this structure, causing it to lose originality and distinction. While college essays are meant to outline some personal growth, following this unoriginal plot point is redundant and will likely fail to attract attention. Instead of simply writing about a realization you had or a hardship you faced and how it impacted you, narrate the story of a specific memory or moment in your life that accurately portrays this growth. 


     3) Focus on the writing style

“The college regards your choices as a way to evaluate your preferences, values, mental processes, creativity, sense of humor, and depth of knowledge. Your writing reflects your power of persuasion, organizational abilities, style, and mastery of standard written English.” – College Board.

     The truth is, you can write about anything as long as you can write it well. The college essay is different from most essays because it is meant to be imperfect. It is not a factual article but a personal piece meant to highlight your voice and characteristics. To stand out to colleges, focus firmly on the writing style of your essay. Use creativity to set up an engaging and distinctive reading experience. Implement figurative language into your essay, focusing on using creative metaphors/comparisons, vivid imagery, relevant allusions, and repetition (if applicable). Start with an unexpected opening line and take advantage of the attention-grabbing nature behind shock value. Focus on word choice, and use intelligent and spirited phrasing instead of mediocre and boring sentences. Find the balance between maturity and liveliness, and utilize this balance to bring life into your essay while maintaining an advanced writing style. Above all else, ensure your writing style carries the weight of your words. Colleges are looking for someone who can represent both personality and intellect. The most efficient place to showcase these qualities is not in your chosen topic but in the writing itself.