Although Halloween usually marks the start of the holiday season for America’s retailers, if you are a Senior applying to college, the day signals the unofficial start of the college application season.
Regardless of your grades or test scores, you will likely struggle writing your personal statement, commonly known as “the college essay.” Here are six tips that will help you through this stressful, but essential part of the college application.
1. Follow directions. Make sure that you address the recommended topics and answer the questions asked. Also, heed word or page limits. Good writing does not necessarily mean lengthy writing. Rarely do four single-spaced pages impress very busy admissions officers who must make quick judgments of your candidacy. If you are using the Common Application, I recommend that your personal statement not exceed one and a half pages.
2. Use the appropriate format. When applying online, your essay will automatically be formatted to fit standard guidelines. However, if you decide not to send the application electronically, follow these guidelines:
- Use single space.
- Use Times New Roman in a 12-point font.
- Make sure that each page has your name, high school and date of birth.
- Print on only one side of the page.
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3. Start with a catchy first sentence. It is always a good idea to have a catchy first sentence. If it grabs the reader’s attention, he or she will be encouraged to read on. If you are experiencing writer’s block, skip this first sentence, and work on the rest of your essay. Explore your theme and brainstorm examples. Then, go back to the beginning and nail it.
4. Avoid clichés. Do you see commonly used phrases in your essay that you’ve heard frequently in casual conversation? If so, these are probably clichés. Clichés usually sneak in when you are trying to be descriptive. Sadly, clichés dilute your distinctive voice. For example, you may write: “it was raining cats and dogs.” Instead, you could share the same idea with the sentence: “heavy raindrops fell, blinding my view.” Rewrite overly-used statements in an original way so you can stand out.
5. Use the active voice. This is a challenge for all writers. As a matter of style, writing in an active voice energizes an essay. Avoid the passive voice. Word processing programs often provide assistance with converting passive sentences to the active tense.
6. Use your conclusion to recapture the main points of your essay. Your conclusion should leave a lasting statement that reminds the reader of your essay’s key points. Reiterate the main themes of your essay, but say it in a different way than you did before. Make sure that you do not bring up new ideas in your conclusion.
I hope these tips help you write a great college essay. As solid writing only comes with practice, I recommend that you invest time in your personal statement. To start, complete a first draft of your essay at least one month before the deadline. Then, take a break between revisions. A few days between each draft will allow you to think clearly and not be overwhelmed. Share copies with your friends, teachers and parents to get their feedback. With continual proofreading and editing, you’ll be able to see a fresh perspective.
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Confused on How to Format Your
Common Application Essay?
Here are 9 Hot Tips
The 2017-18 Common Application opened for business earlier this week (August. 1). Chances are you will soon need to know how to format your common application essay.
If you are on the ball, you might be ready to apply to specific colleges and universities and need to submit your core Common Application essay, as well as other shorter essays required by certain schools (often called Supplemental Essays).
Or you are still getting ready or working on writing them, but will need to know how to format your common application essay(s) in upcoming weeks or months.
The first step is to get an account with The Common Application.
Then figure out your list of colleges you will be applying to, and start searching the site for additional shorter essays they want you to write.
Under each college or university, you will see a tab called Writing Requirements. You can find these additional short essays either under the College Questions or the Writing Supplements.
Every school is different, so really root around all the tabs and drop-down options. For example, some schools will ask you to write about an extracurricular activity (in 150 words or so) under the College Questions section, under one of the drop down tabs, such the Activities or Essay Questions tab.
Confusing, yes. But it will make more sense once you get logged on and explore the site.
RELATED: 10 Hot Tips to Power your Supplemental Essays
I like to advise my students to collect all the supplemental essays (by prompt and word count) in one place (such as a Word or Google doc file). That way they know what they will need to write about at the start, and also be able to see which ones are the same or similar. (For example, many schools have supplemental essays about “Why are you a fit?” or writing about your intended major.)
RELATED: Check out this short Slideshare to Learn How to Write Short Essays.
Of course, the most important essay you will write is the core Common Application essay, although some schools do not require it—and you can determine which ones do as you read through the application site. (Even if you only have one of your target schools that requires the main Common App essays, you will need to write one–and learn how to format your common application essay.)
Nine Hot Tips to Format Your Common Application Essay
If you do need to submit a core Common App essay (you pick from one of 7 prompts; 250-650 words), here are some tips on how to format your common application essay:
- Compose your draft in either a Word file or Google docs. Do not craft it directly in the Common Application text box (You could lose your work)! If you use Word or Google docs, you can use their word count and, most importantly, the spell check feature. The Common App now allows you to upload Google docs directly from Google Drive. (Hint: If you want to use this feature, you might want to get a Gmail account that you use exclusively for these essays.) You can also copy and paste your Word or Google doc directly into the Common App text box.
- The Common Application essay text box does not allow tabbing. So make your paragraphs with block formatting (have a space in between each paragraph instead of an indentation.) You can format this way in your Word or Google doc, but make sure it translates after you either upload your Google doc, or copy and paste from the Word or Google doc.
- The Common Application essay text box only has formatting for Bold, Underline and Italics. I would format your essay along MLA guidelines (using italics for things like book titles, foreign words, those types of copyediting rules.), and then make sure they translate or carry over after you upload or copy and paste. If you lose the italics, use the Common App italics formatting to add them inside the text box. I see no reason to use either Bold or Underlining in your essays. Avoid gimmicky formatting, such as ALL CAPS, emojis or #hashtags.
- Avoid titles. Even though I think a snappy title can enhance an essay, I see no way to format it at the top of the Common App essay that would center it, and think it could be more of a distraction. If you really love your title, feel free to give it a try, but I think it will only stick on the far left of the first line. (If you go for it that way, maybe put it in Bold to make it clear it’s a title.)
- Do NOT include the prompt at the top of your essay. That only eats up precious words. With your Common App essay, you simply check the box that your essay lines up with the best.
- Supplemental (shorter) essays have similar formatting options. Use the same rules as above for these. Some do not provide a text box and require you to upload from Google docs or attach a Word file (converting it to a PDF.)
- Double check word counts. The Common App text box and text boxes for the supplemental essays show the minimum and maximum word counts, which is very helpful. After you copy and paste an essay, always scroll through it to make sure everything copies (and your formatting carried over) and make sure it’s within the word count requirement shown under the box.
- You can go back and make edits after you have submitted your essays. Even after you submit, go back and review to make sure it’s exactly how you wanted it.
- General rules for formatting drafts in Word or Google docs: Use a common font (Times New Roman, Arial, Cambria…), write in 12 pt font, double space.
I hope this helps you format your Common Application essay, and not sweat it.
If you are still working on finding a hot topic for your essay, read my Five Top Tips on Finding Topics.
If you have more questions on how to format your common application essay, let me know in the Comments box below. If I don’t know the answer, I will do my best to find a credible source to answer you.