Do’s and don’t’s of college essays

College essays can be a tumultuous ordeal, filled with stress and indecisiveness about how to respond to a prompt that seems designed to be horribly vague. However, English classes have helped students tackle this issue through brainstorming, peer editing, and analysis. IB English II teachers Lisa Green and Wendy Vu have many tips for students which resolve to assist students in conquering the paper that could decide the fate of a college application.

  1. Don’t forget about audience. Focusing on who you’re going to present your essay to is key and will help you structure your essay and topic easier. “It’s important to think about who is your audience and what do you want to communicate to them,” said IB English II teacher Lisa Green.
  2. Don’t write about inappropriate topics. “Unless you’re applying to a religious school, don’t write about religion,” Green said. “Secular universities are not opposed to religion, but it’s just not an appropriate topic.” Also, avoid writing about something that may make the admissions committee question your college readiness—such as talking about your previous criminal escapades or plagiarism of your English essays. “Sometimes it’s okay to take a risk and write something very personal,” said Wendy Vu, IB English II teacher. “What I always tell students is, if you talk to your friends and they say to you ‘I never knew that’ or ‘I wouldn’t have thought that about you’, then why would you tell a college application committee that?”
  3. Don’t write a dry, impersonal essay. Oftentimes essays are written more as a list of academic accomplishments than an essay about oneself. “Those ones that just sound very formulaic and don’t have any personal voice, those are the worst essays,” Green said.
  4. Don’t write your college essay on a whim. Brainstorming will help you to think your topic through and center your essay more professionally, rather than being a stream-of-consciousness essay rattled with spelling mistakes and grammatical issues.
  5. Do write an essay that’s anecdotal. Use dialogue and tell a story about yourself, it’s an effective way to pull in readers and make yourself stand out amongst the thousands of applications your college of choice may be receiving. “They can be about really ordinary things,” Green said. “It doesn’t matter what it’s about, it’s more about how you tell it.” ‘Show, don’t tell’ may be a common phrase that is thrown around by teachers, but it is a useful piece of advice.
  6. Do be creative and think outside the box. The college admissions board has seen hundreds and thousands of essays, so making yours stand out will be an asset. There are tactics such as using humor or sarcasm that can make an essay more interesting and personal, which helps the admissions board see you as more than a transcript and SAT score.
  7. Do be specific and place emphasis on moments. Being specific helps bring your essay to life and people enjoy them and prefer having them rather than a bland, black-and-white essay.
  8. Do read up on college essays! There are plenty of interviews from college admissions officers and articles discussing certain university prompts that can help you with your essay.