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3 College Admissions Essay Techniques

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College essay time, yay! Time to write my life story in 600 words!


Many students are appropriately reticent (or violently opposed, as the case may be) to write their college application essays. How are they supposed to get across their key attributes and unique genius? Their wild, compelling life stories and personal vision? Their warm & fuzzy contributions to the world? Their struggles, their moments of growth, their epiphanies? And in only 600 words?!

We will cover a number of best practices for the essay over the course of a few blog posts. In today’s offering, I want to tell you about three simple editing techniques that go a long way to making your essay easier to read– and under word count.

1. Punctuation and transition words.

There’s a reason this is the most commonly asked topic on standardized tests. It simply matters a whole lot. The common college applicant has no idea how to use a semicolon, let alone a dash or an apostrophe. Add in the sophisticated use of timely transition words– such as “moreover”, “consequently”, or “thus”– and you have a storm brewing.

It is in this context that applicants have a great opportunity to really stand out. If most people use only periods and an extravagant over-indulgence of commas, you’ll stand out if you use other punctuation marks well. A well-placed colon, for example, has a huge impact, believe it or not. And when it comes to commas, remember that less is more!

The biggest no-no is a comma splice, this is when you connect two full sentences with only a comma (do you see the comma splice that I just used?).

In any event, when you edit your essay, do it with a very strict eye on punctuation and transition words so that it stands out.

2. Redundancy and word choice.

One of my rules with students is that they are not permitted to use a good vocabulary word more than once in the entire essay. Consider such words as proliferate, epiphany, revelatory, insightful, sporadic, inveterate, harbinger, and the like.

If you use a decent vocab word once, don’t use it again. And avoid boring verbs as much as possible. Instead of “is” or “were” or “have” or “did”, employ more impactful words, such as “spearhead” or “collaborate” or “explore” or “implement”. Sexy verbs go a long way with admissions officers.

3. Less is more.

You’re trying to pack a lot of punch into a little body. In order to do so, you need to find those areas of each sentence in which you use six small words and try to bundle them together into one solid vocabulary word.

Instead of writing “by means of,” use “via.” Instead of writing “It is for this reason that…,” write “Therefore…” Instead of writing “He cried loudly and without control,” write, “He bawled.”

You get the idea. And be ruthless in your cuts. Get rid of any sentences that aren’t absolutely dead-on and crucial to your story. Everything else gets cut.

If you follow these simple editing rules as guideposts for your essay crafting process, you will get a lot of mileage out of whatever story you’ve decided to tell. Good luck and I hope you STORM IT on your essay!

This entry was posted in Brain Food, BrainStorm’s resource center for parents.
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