Tips on Application Essays

Writing each application is the responsibility of the student. We encourage students to consult with parents, teachers, and your Envision counselors regarding the topic, organization, and effectiveness of the writing. It is imperative that the essay be the student’s own work. Although your Envision counselor is available to help; however, there should be enough time provided for appropriate editing.  Here are a few questions we receive frequently regarding college essays: Why is the essay so difficult for students? Often there is complete freedom in the answer. Students find it difficult to talk about themselves (don’t want to brag). They struggle with “saying what they (the colleges) want to hear” Some just hate writing essays!


Why do colleges ask you to write an essay?  
  • To get a small glimpse into what makes you “tick”.
  • To evaluate your skills as a writer.
  • To gauge interest in the school – ie: “What is it about X college that made you want to apply?”
  • To get a sense of the strengths and passions you might bring to campus.


What should the essay reveal?
  • Originality; your own unique view or a particular episode in your life.
  • Some aspects of yourself that does not appear elsewhere in the application.
  • A lesson learned, a core value, a greater understanding, the benefit of some kind of experience (ie: a job, a journey, a family reunion) work very well.
  • The effects of particular people, objects, cultural background, works of art or literature, local or international events on the student. (Stress the impact of these things more than the things themselves -- how have these made me who I am?)


What to avoid?
  • Platitudes and clichés (or paternalism in community service essays!)
  • “My coach, my hero…” (or other athletic essays that may end with --“and through this experience, I learned the values of hard work, determination, and giving 110% ”)
  • Being overly critical… it’s ok to look skeptically at any issue, but be thoughtful about it.
  • Length!  If an app says that the essay needs to be 500 words, 550 may be ok, but 900 is not.
  • Essays that don’t ultimately reflect back on you: “my dad/mom, my hero” in which only the parent is spoken about and no sense of the student is given.
  • Flatness. The key to a great essay is in the details: “My dad taught me how to cook” vs. “Slicing red bell peppers into thin, crescent moons, my father said ‘a sharp knife is the most important tool for any cook…” Which creates a more vivid scene?
  • Gimmicks. Highly risky. Sometimes lists, recipes, poems, and other non-traditional responses go over well, but it’s a subjective process; you never know how these kinds of essays will be received. Discuss such responses thoroughly with your college counselor before submitting them to a college.


Here are sample essay topics:
  • Discuss the influence of a person, work of fiction, experience, or event of international/local importance on you.
  • Think up a question you think should be asked in a college essay—and then answer it.
  • What’s the worst mistake you’ve ever made?
  • If you had $10 and a whole day free, what would you do?
  • What is it about [name of college] that makes it a good choice for you?
  • You have just completed your 300-page autobiography, please share with us page XXX.
  • If you could meet any one person, living or dead, real or fictional, who would it be and why?


How your EnvisionPrep Counselor Can help:
  • Talking things through. We can offer suggestions or provide an angle for your essay that you have not considered. These conversations often lead to interesting options.
  • Reviewing your writing by checking for obvious errors in grammar, usage, and style.  Plus we can give feedback as to the overall tone and effectiveness of the essay. We would also help you better organize your stories and you want to make sure that your voice is the one that is heard.


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