Find Your Voice: Crafting Your Best College Application Essay

Hey guys! This is Julia Clausen, the copywriter here at March Consulting. You may not see me much, but if you’ve worked on a college application essay with Kat, then you probably know me as the mean lady on Google Docs who tells you to change everything you liked about your writing.

I’m not trying to be mean, I promise! I want you to send in an application essay that conveys the best version of yourself, and sometimes that requires a lot of revising.

Trust me, I write for a living, and I still have to make several drafts of everything I write. It’s all part of the process.

However, I thought I might make your lives a little easier and share some of the most common mistakes I see in student’s essays from year to year.

1. Informal Language, Dude

It can be tempting for students to use markers of everyday speech. They think it will make them seem more natural or genuine to the admissions officers, but instead it makes them appear sloppy, with poor writing skills and vocabulary. Aim for a respectable, formal tone, as you would address an adult you admire but don’t know well.

Some examples to watch out for include: contractions (wasn’t, shouldn’t, etc.), addressing the reader directly with second person (You might think that…), and slang or text-speak (Dude, I got a lousy grade lol).

2. The Phrasing of a Complicated Nature, and Grammar, Indubitably

Often when students sit down to write an essay, their first instinct is to write in the fanciest style they can imagine, believing this will impress admissions officers. Unfortunately, when a student is not a trained writer, their efforts to seem smart only make the writing more confusing and wordy.

Examples Include: passive voice (The ball was passed by me.), run-on sentences (Hearing the bell ring, I knew I would be late so I came up with a plan if I could get to the bathroom in time, but… etc.), and elaborate diction (He himself would invariably cause me to be late for this most festive of occasions.).

3. Stories That Jump Around… And What About Pizza?

Telling a story in your application essay is a great idea. Putting the reader in a vivid scene from your life can communicate your personality much more effectively than facts alone. However, students not used to writing creatively often try to do too much. They jump from one moment in a childhood bedroom to another on a high school football field without transition sentences or connections between subjects. The reader should be able to see each moment clearly before you move on, and understand the story you’re telling as you move from Scene A to Scene B.

4. Who Is This About Again?

Don’t get so caught up in the storytelling that you forget the subject of the essay: You! Every memory you include should communicate a specific aspect of your personality, and each paragraph should state exactly what its subject reveals about you. You want the reader to see your character in this essay, not just a pretty scene. No matter how nice or clever a sentence is: If it doesn’t add to the narrative you are constructing about yourself, it shouldn’t be there.

The moral of the story: Be yourself, but use the best version of your own voice.

Your goal with these essays is to provide readers with a little snapshot of who you are, so don’t let sloppy or complicated language get in the way. And always focus on the task at hand: Telling your story!

Seem like too much to remember? Try this. Every time you write a sentence or a paragraph, ask yourself three questions:

  1. Is it clear?
  2. Does it actually say what I want it to say?
  3. What’s the point?

Now you have all the tools you need to write killer application essays.

Good luck, and I’ll see you in the editing process!