College Essay Writing 101

Hello potential future Johnnies! Amanda here. I’m the Associate Director of Admissions and one of our admission counselors. I’ve been working at St. John’s College for 5 ½ years now and have absolutely fallen in love with this little College. I love our Great Books program, our collaborative community, our two gorgeous campuses, and I even love our application process. Yes, our application process.

Liberal Arts Colleges in the US have long been lauded for our holistic admissions processes. At St. John’s this rings especially true (and I love the College because of it). We believe students are more than a GPA or standardized test score. We review supporting documents (academic transcripts, letters of recommendation, etc.) in light of what each applicant tells us in their application essays. The application essays are the lynchpin, the crux of the entire application. In them you’ll be able to explain in detail why you want to attend St. John’s, and why the academic program at the college is a good next step for your academic and intellectual journey.

To get you started I have listed below a few basic do’s and don’ts for each stage of writing an application essay. I hope you will find these basic tips helpful as you organize your thoughts and begin the writing process. Please use these guidelines to assist you in finding your voice – a voice so distinctively you that even if you left a copy in your school’s library, your friends and teachers would know it was yours, even if it didn’t include your name.

It’s only fair to mention that the tips I’ve included below are in no way an exhaustive list, but rather a few of my own suggestions collected after a decade reading student admission essays. Among the myriad of advice dedicated to the topic of essay writing, you’ll encounter one theme time and time again –be your genuine self, and have fun with it. At the end of the day, this is the best advice any of us can offer.

WRITING YOUR ESSAY

Brainstorming/Finding Your Topic

Do:

  • Understand that everyone has a story to tell and their own voice—you just have to find yours.
  • Ask yourself questions. What makes your story compelling?
  • Understand that essays are not judged based on the topic you choose, but rather on how well you handle that particular topic.
  • Make sure you address the topic you choose.
  • Write about something that’s important to you.

Don’t:

  • Try to cover too much.
  • Over-exaggerate or invent situations or accomplishments to sound impressive.
  • Pick a topic because you think it’s what the admission committee wants to read.

Rough Draft

Do:

  • Be sure the essay is within the required length.
  • Dig deeper into one aspect of your topic instead of trying to cover too many different things superficially.
  • Focus on your “internal monologue” rather than just describing your involvement in an activity.

Don’t:

  • Inflate a situation to make it sound more impressive.
  • Use words that aren’t in your vocabulary—the thesaurus is not your friend.
  • Use rude or inappropriate language, slang terms, or deal with a subject in bad taste.
  • Write in clichés, or generalities.
  • Try to rework a paper written for a class to fulfill an application essay requirement.
  • Paste information from a college’s website into your essay—colleges don’t need a history lesson.
  • Repeat anything you’ve already described in other parts of your application—this is an opportunity to show the committee something they haven’t already seen somewhere else.

Revision Process

Do:

  • Ask for help.
  • Be open to constructive criticism, and choose readers who will give you honest feedback.
  • Wait a few days and then re-read your essay with fresh eyes.
  • Maintain your own voice when you make changes.
  • Listen to your college counselor – they have read hundreds of essays and generally know what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t.

Don’t:

  • Overlook this step or think it isn’t important.
  • Count on Spell Check to catch all mistakes.
  • Include another college’s name or facts.

Final Copy

Do:

  • Hit send. Colleges aren’t expecting perfection; at some point, you will need to submit your essay if you want your application to be considered.

Don’t:

  • Contact a college after you have submitted an essay to ask that changes be made.
  • Let friends “borrow” any part of your essay to use as their own.

Please feel free to contact your Admissions Counselor if you get stuck, have questions, or need help with anything. We hope that you’ll enjoy writing your application essays for St. John’s as much as we enjoy reading them!

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Robert says:

    Thank you Amanda! I’m now exhaustively ready to apply to my dream college ( St. John’s Annapolis)
    This is totally an insightful article. No other admissions officers can offer such advice especially those from elite liberal schools like St. Johns’

    Like

  2. Jhon Lee says:

    This is nice blog. thank you so much for sharing your information.

    Like

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