Tips on how to write a successful college essay

December 11, 2006

For many Maryland high school seniors, preparing the college essay creates a sense of anguish and panic, but it doesn't have to, according to academic affairs experts with the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

The essay is what sets students apart from other students with comparable grade-point averages and SAT scores, according to commission secretary Calvin W. Burnett.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling, an education association of secondary school counselors, college and university admission officers and counselors, makes the following recommendations:

· Start early. The more time you have, the less stress you'll have.

· Be yourself. Take a moment to think about what interests you, what you love to talk about, what makes you sit up and take notice if its mentioned in class or on TV. Then write about it.


· Be honest. Make sure the work is your own. College admission officers have read hundreds - even thousands - of essays. They are masters at discovering any form of plagiarism. Don't risk your college career by taking the easy way out.

· Take a risk. On the other hand, risks can pay off. Don't settle for the essay that everyone else is writing.

· Keep in focus. This is your chance to tell admission officers exactly why they should admit you. Some students try to list every single reason - their academic record, their athletic prowess, their community service. The essay looks like a list. Instead, read the essay question carefully and jot down a few ideas. Then choose the one that looks like the most fun to write about and stick to that main theme throughout. The rest of the application will allow you to list all of your achievements.

· Write and rewrite. Don't try to write a masterpiece on the first try. For your first draft, write anything that comes to mind on your topic. When you come back to the draft, look for ways to make it more focused and better written. Tips for better writing include going through the essay and removing every "very" and every "many." Words like these are vague and your writing is stronger without them.

· Get a second opinion. Find someone who can give you advice on how to make your essay even better. Choose a person you respect and who knows something about writing - an English teacher, a parent, a friend who writes for the school paper. Criticism of your writing can be tough to hear, but try to listen with an open mind.

· Proofread. Read it over one more time, looking for those little errors that can creep in as you write or edit.

· Don't confuse applying online with sending e-mail. Applying online is just as serious as applying the old-fashioned way. It might feel like you're sending an e-mail, but you're not. Don't use e-mail language, remember punctuation and capitalization, and don't use abbreviations.

· Don't expect too much from an essay. The application essay is important, but it's not the only thing that is considered. Admission officers look at the whole package - your academics, extracurricular activities, standardized tests and other factors.

For more information ...

For more information about higher education in Maryland, call the Maryland Higher Education Commission at 410-260-4500 or 800-974-0203. Information also is available at

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