Pass on Passive Voice In Your College Essay

Pass on Passive Voice

In Your College Essay


 This enlightening blog was written by me.

I wrote this enlightening blog.

Which sentence sounds better to you? If you chose the second sentence, we’re on the same page already. The first sentence is in passive voice, while the second sentence is in active voice. While there’s a time and a place for both, let’s talk about which voice to use in your college application essays.

active voice in essays

As an editor for the Enrichery, I’ve gotten to edit dozens and dozens of college essays. I’ve repeatedly noticed two things. First, high school students these days are impressive. Seriously, between tackling advanced courses, playing sports, leading organizations, and volunteering, they’ve amazed me. Second, they clearly feel uncomfortable bragging about themselves! I read awkward, passive sentence after awkward, passive sentence:

The problem was solved by me.

The tournament was won by my team.

My accomplishments were praised by my teacher.

The plans were always made by my assistant and I.

I’m not immune to this problem. When I was writing in high school and college, I often used passive voice because I thought it made my writing sound more sophisticated and – often – less arrogant. However, your sentences are actually much more powerful (and easy to read) when you switch them to active voice. Plus, by sticking to active voice when you’re discussing accomplishments and successes, you’ll give yourself the clear credit you deserve. For college applications, that’s important!

I solved the problem.

My team won the tournament.

My teacher praised my accomplishments.

My assistant and I always made the plans.

When you’ve finished your essay and are ready to begin editing, make sure to check for passive versus active voices. Sometimes reading your writing aloud can help – are any sentences vague, clunky, or wordy? Those are probably passive sentences. Challenge yourself to rewrite them, using a strong and direct active voice. It’s a minor tweak that can make a major difference.