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College 101

Writing Your Essay
Article Type: Quick and Dirty

You've written a lot in your lifetime. For serious. You've authored papers for your history classes and reports for English. You've penned poetry en español. You've Tweeted, Facebooked, and blogged.

The college application is an extension of something you've been doing for most of your life, so don't treat it as something terrifying. Treat it as a challenge. Treat it as one of the obstacles you have to overcome in order to get your grubby paws on an acceptance letter to Yale.

Maybe your paws wouldn’t be so grubby if you washed them once in a while.


Now, how do you actually get this sucker written? So glad you asked.

First thing's first: start writing. Take your favorite idea from your amazing brainstorming session, and run with it. You're going to do a million drafts of your essay, so don't waste your time fretting over word choice or semicolon placement. The important thing is that you get something – anything – written down, so you have raw material to work with.

Once you have a couple of pages on how your summer mission trip to Guatemala changed your life, you can take your ugly lump of coal and start polishing it into a Harvard-worthy diamond.

Parke Muth knows a thing or two about application essays (only two though). After serving in the Office of Admission at the University of Virginia for almost 30 years, he's seen his fair share. Read what Parke has to say about voice and about well-written application essays in general.

Two Things To Keep In Mind While You Write

  1. Is your essay answering the question? As you hammer out the many iterations of your essay, remember that you're responding to a particular prompt. Your reader should be able to tell what question you're addressing when they start paging through your essay, and they should have your answer to that question by thetime they get to your final sentence.
  2. Are you making the impression you want to make? You are a composition of hundred of traits, qualities, and quirks. In your essay, you will emphasize one or two of the things that make you, you. You will emphasize the one or two things that you feel make you an exceptional applicant to a particular school. Polish your essay accordingly.
It might as well be – both will deprive you of sleep.


You've written four drafts of your essay. You've spell-checked the heck out of it. It's a product that you're proud of, and that you feel will enhance your application.

Time to let other people look at it.

This part...well, this part can hurt, because your essay is your baby.

Thing is, you want honest opinions on this. While you'll find that not all input is useful or workable, you're likely to get back a suggestion or two that will make your essay stronger, better, faster. So, suck it up, and ask someone with an editor's eye to read what you've written.

Then, edit. And rewrite. Rinse and repeat until you're satisfied it's your best work.

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