The Single Most Important Thing To Remember When Writing Your College Essay

(Before I get into this, I need to state a quick disclaimer. This blog will discuss the most important thing to keep in mind while writing your essay in terms of content. Things like proper grammar and spelling are still absolutely crucial, but I am assuming you already know that. Do not let these things fall by the wayside.)

I’ve blogged a lot about writing college essays, and there is one little fact I always try to stress: the college admissions counselors who end up reading your essays are humans. They are real people with families, jobs, and hobbies. They’re just like the people sitting next to you at the movie theater or restaurant. With this in mind, here is the single most important thing to remember when writing your college essay: don’t bore them.

It’s simple. Just like you or I, admissions counselors want to be entertained. They want to read the first paragraph of your essay and think, “I want to see where this goes.” The person reading your essay(s) is also reading hundreds of others. They’re likely overworked and, quite frankly, pretty bored. The #1 easiest way to get their attention is by giving them the gift of a genuinely interesting, one of a kind essay.

So, how do you do that? From my experience, there are three things you can do that will help steer you in the right direction (AKA away from a snooze-inducing essay):

Write about yourself.

It’s your personal essay, of course you’re writing about yourself. Right? You’d be surprised how many students write about their grandpa’s amazing life story, or their mother’s illness. And while both of those things can certainly be touched on, the bulk of the essay needs to be about you. After all, your grandpa and your mom aren’t applying to that school. Each and every paragraph needs to come back to Y-O-U: why are you an amazing applicant? Why are you so much more interesting than the applicant right before you? Your family history simply isn’t fascinating enough to carry an entire essay, but your unique piece of the puzzle is. The story you’re telling should be one that you and only you can tell.

Pretend you’re talking with a family friend.

I like to say “family friend” because it’s a happy middle ground between BFF and intimidating adult you’re desperate to impress. I’ve found that some college essays read like the student has momentarily forgotten what human conversation sounds like. In an effort to sound intelligent and hit on all of the right points, the applicant comes off sounding like a robot. Loosen up a bit! Tell your story like you would tell a family friend in candid conversation; you’re still appropriate, but you’re able to have a little bit of fun and speak in your authentic voice. When in doubt, read your essay and ask yourself, “If a family friend were telling me this story, would they hold my attention?” It should be personable, engaging, and, most importantly, sound like you.

Don’t restate something on your application.

They already know what leadership positions you hold and what accolades you’ve received. Restating these things isn’t interesting. Sure, you can mention those things, but it shouldn’t be the main point of your essay, and it shouldn’t be a cliché. Your essay should always add to your application, rather than restate. Even better, your essay should be unexpected.  A class president writing about winning that position, or a football team captain writing about winning the big game… well, those are really not interesting or unexpected.

At the end of the day, your essay should strive more for authenticity than perfection. Wouldn’t you rather read about someone making a big mistake, the chaos that ensued, and the lesson they figured out the hard way, rather than someone who “learned the value of hard work after acing the test/winning the game/getting the award.” Be human, tell a human story, and remember that the people on the other end are – yep – also human. Whatever you do, don’t bore them.