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College Application Essays: Top Tips from 2021

I can’t believe 2021 is coming to a close! While this year brought new challenges, I’m grateful I’ve been able to help more students write the next chapter of their life stories as they embark on their college journeys.

As we near the college application deadline (January 1!), I’m sharing my top tips for writing impactful essays to help you cross the finish line.

1. Understand the power of your story

Your story is your opportunity to stand out. No one in the world has the same story as you. College admissions counselors consider all the elements that make you unique, and this extends far beyond academics and extracurriculars. Help them understand who you are, what makes you tick, and—most importantly—why you’re a great fit for their school by crafting a story around the person you know best (hint: that’s you!).

2. Be intentional and thoughtful

Deciding which college to attend, which essays to respond to, and when to apply are important choices that deserve a great deal of thought. Take time to ensure you’re putting forward the best possible picture of yourself and answering the questions that make you memorable to those super-busy admissions officers.

3. Consider themes, find patterns and develop your key messages

So, how do you start telling your story? You can start by taking note of everything you’ve done (you can use this worksheet) across school, family, community, and more. Once you put it down on paper, you can uncover patterns and identify themes that you can develop into the key messages that serve as the backbone of your story.

4. Identify (and fill) gaps

As you assess your themes and look holistically at your experience, you may see gaps you need to fill to show up as your best self. Maybe you don't have much to share for extracurriculars or community service, or your academics weren’t stellar when you started high school. Sometimes these perceived gaps aren’t actually gaps at all; you may just not be giving yourself enough credit. For instance, you may not have done any formal volunteerism, but you shovel or rake for your elderly neighbor or help watch kids at your church. Those absolutely count! If you discover gaps, consider if there are ways to highlight smaller contributions or achievements.

5. Get outside-in advice

It can be hard to spot all the ways in which you’re amazing. Ask a friend, teacher, or other trusted source if there’s anything you’ve done that stands out to them. MN College Essay Coach can also help with this, sitting down with you and helping to pull out all the incredible things you’ve achieved. I’ve worked with so many students who have overlooked accomplishments because they are just too close to see them.

6. Look forward

It’s not enough to tell the story of where you’ve been. Your essay should make a connection to where you’re going—both in your academic pursuits in college and after as you embark on your career. Ensure your key themes have a forward-looking element to them to show your future alma mater how you’ll continue to excel on campus.

7. Ask great questions

The most successful college applicants take every possible opportunity to show up and stand out. In addition to shaping your story and choosing the right way to tell it in your essay, consider whether there are other free-form areas on the application that allow you to demonstrate your intellectual curiosity by asking thoughtful questions.

8. Consider how you show up on social

There are a lot of things your college admissions committee will look at when considering whether you’re a good fit for their university. But did you know that may include Googling you and even checking out your social media presence? While it may just seem like fun now, remember that your social media presence can have a lasting impact, so be thoughtful about what you post.

9. Keep the momentum

Once you’ve secured your spot at your dream school, many students assume they’re in and nothing can change that. But that’s a very dangerous assumption. For many schools, your acceptance is contingent on successfully completing your high school requirements. That means a lax approach to school could lead your acceptance to be revoked and an unintended gap year. Continued academic and extracurricular engagement is even more important if you are placed on a waitlist or think you might consider transferring to a different college in the future.

10. Get help from a pro

There are just a few weeks left in the college application process, but there is still time to write remarkable essays. Use these tips to help you get started or to polish up your essay draft. If you could benefit from some extra support, shoot me a note and I’d be happy to help!

Happy college application essay writing!


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