Essay Myths

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Make Sure You Know The Truth About College Application Essays Before Starting On Your Common Application

The Common Application opens on August 1, and for many rising seniors this is the perfect opportunity to get a head start on their college applications before the start of the school year. However, before students dive into their college application essays, they need to know what’s true, and what’s false, about these common application essay myths.

With so much confusion about how colleges evaluate applications, and panic about dropping admission rates, it’s easy for parents and students to take any advice or admission rumors to heart, no matter the reliability of the source. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about what colleges are looking for, what students need to include in their applications, and what it takes to stand out.

At IvyWise, we want to make the college admissions process as simple as possible for families, so we’re here to dispel some common college essay myths and reveal the truth behind what students need to do to write great college essays.

Here are five common college essay myths and what’s actually fact.

Myth: You should use the essay to tell the college anything and everything about yourself.
Fact: Your personal statement should focus on one detail or life event.

It’s almost impossible to tell a college everything they need to know about you in 650 words or less. This is why students should pick a significant event or story that either shaped them or offers some insight into who they are today, and write only about that. Choose a topic that will help admissions officers learn something new about you that they can’t learn from any other part of your application. Be detailed, set the scene, and clearly articulate why this topic is important and how it relates to who you are as a student and a person.

Myth: Big words are impressive, so you should use as many as possible.
Fact: Colleges want to hear from you, so write in your own voice.

It’s easy to see the college application essay as an opportunity to sound extremely intelligent and perspicacious (see what we did there?), but you don’t have to break out a thesaurus to do so. Write in your own voice, using your own vocabulary to convey your message. It’s okay to look up some alternative words here and there in an effort to not sound too repetitive, but don’t use it for every adjective, and don’t use words that you’ve never heard before. Be genuine, not ersatz.
 

Myth: In order to stand out, your essay needs to be shocking, unusual, funny, or something other than an essay.
Fact: Gimmicks will often make your essay memorable for the wrong reasons.

With so many students applying to college, it can be tempting to want to find a unique way to “stand out” from the tens of thousands of other applicants. Writing about personal and intimate details, like your romantic life, strange topics that don’t relate to you, trying too hard to be humorous, or implementing other gimmicks like poems, songs, etc., in lieu of the essay won’t help you get in. You’ll stand out for sure, but as an example of what not to do on your college application. Colleges want a genuine, thoughtful essay, so give them that.

Myth: An outstanding college application essay is your ticket in.
Fact: Just like any other application component, the essay is just one piece of the admissions puzzle.

Don’t think your admissions chances, good or bad, hinge solely on the essay. Just like with anything else colleges consider – grades, test scores, recommendations, and more – one component isn’t going to be deciding factor that gets you in– or keeps you out. This is why it’s important to do thorough research on the school you’re applying to and consult with your college counselor on a course of action. An outstanding essay won’t make up for poor grades or recommendations, the same way an average essay won’t negate excellent test scores, grades, or extracurricular involvement.

Myth: It’s okay to repurpose essays on more than one supplement.
Fact: You should tailor your application essays to each school you’re applying to.

While the main Common Application essay is meant to stay the same, many colleges have their own school-specific supplements with prompts meant to gauge a student’s knowledge of the institution and their motivations for applying. While many supplemental prompts can be very similar, it’s important to make sure you tailor your essays for each school. Don’t copy and paste your “Why Columbia?” essay into your Penn application. Repurposing parts of some essays, like an activities essay, can be okay if the point you’re tying to make is the same, but on the whole, avoid using the same essay on more than one application – and make sure if you do that you don’t accidentally mention Harvard in your Stanford application.

Remember that the most important thing students can do when writing their college application essays is to be themselves! Colleges want to get to you know you, so craft an essay that showcases the best version of yourself and helps admissions officers gain some insight into who you are.

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