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Five Tips for Writing Your College Essay

With the start to the school year just around the corner, the college application season looms.These lazy, hazy days of summer are the perfect opportunity for you  to take time to think about essay topics that will offer admission officers some insight to who you are and who you may become in a college or university community. Good reflective writing requires time and effort (read: more than one draft!), so getting started now will provide you the opportunity to consider topics that allow you to craft a compelling narrative. The essay is the part of the application that you can control the most and one of the few opportunities where you can advocate for yourself through sharing an experience or perspective.

A well-written and reflective essay introduces admission officers to the side of you not shown by grades and standardized test scores. It can reveal more about your values and goals, personal history, interests, and creativity. In fact, it isn’t the question you choose that matters to us, but rather what your response reveals about you.

With that in mind, here are 5 tips for writing a revealing and reflective essay:

1.  Choose a topic that appeals to YOU. Write about something you know, and write in your own voice. If possible, write about yourself or at least write from your perspective.

2.  Brainstorm! Scribble down everything you can think of about your chosen topic. Pick out the good stuff and work it into a brief outline. Do a rough draft. Read it. Ask yourself: “Have I focused on the topic? Does it refer to specific things I’ve done, read, known, and experienced?; Does it speak to places I’ve been, people I’ve met, etc.?  Does it sound like me?”

3.  Write more than one draft.  Narrow your topic and try to be as descriptive and detailed as possible. Specific examples and little details can be the most interesting. Be revealing. Let us know more about you.

4.  Use a strong opening, an interesting middle, and a good conclusion. Make sure that the opening sentence or two “hooks” the reader and compels him or her to read further. Take risks with style and don’t be afraid to use your imagination. However, DON’T try to write a funny story if you’re not a comic, or use this as an opportunity to reveal your “inner poet.” Be comfortable with your style of writing.

5.  Ask a friend, teacher, or parent to read your second draft. Ask this person: “Is the essay interesting from the start? Does it sound like me? Was it interesting to read?” Listen to what your reader has to say, but don’t let someone else rewrite your essay. Use this feedback to make the essay compelling and concise.
Have fun!  We’ll enjoy getting to know you through your essay, too.

Jennifer Desjarles

Jennifer Desjarlais is Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Wellesley College. She is a graduate of Simmons College with a B.A. in International Relations and Spanish, and holds a M.Ed. degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration from the University of Vermont.

Ms. Desjarlais joined Wellesley in 1999 from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she had served as Associate Director of Admission/Coordinator of Admission Marketing since 1994. She was also responsible for coordinating international admission at Smith. Earlier she was Associate Director of Admission at Simmons College where she began as Assistant Director in 1986.

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