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From Harvard College blogs to Teen Vogue articles, high school and college students everywhere say writing an application essay is one of the most stressful parts of the undergraduate admissions process.
Writing a college application essay is different from putting together an academic essay, which typically includes an introduction, thesis statement, supporting arguments and conclusion.
A college application essay is personal, college admissions officials in Nebraska say, and a prime chance for students to highlight their skills and talents in a way that shows how they’d be a great addition to the college’s academic and campus life.
“Consider this: the essay is the one chance you have to use your own words to tell us more about who you are,” said Sarah Richardson, director of admissions and scholarships for Creighton University. “Colleges want to see what you have to offer, what you’re passionate about, and that isn’t all quantifiable in a GPA or test score.”
Each college and university has its own application requirements. Many use what’s called the “Common Application,” which includes a high school transcript, SAT or ACT score, a list of extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, an application fee — and a personal essay. Even schools that don’t require an essay often request one from students applying for academic scholarships.
In writing an essay, experts say to provide as many specifics as possible. Vague, generic essays don’t stand out.
“It’s important to highlight your skills and talents with specific examples of how you have applied these into real-life situations,” said Lina Traslaviña Stover, associate director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “If, for example, you state that you are a ‘dedicated individual,’ include an explicit example of a time in your life — academic or co-curricular — that demanded you were dedicated. How did you show your dedication? What activities did you do? Tell the reader your story.”
Make sure your story is in line with the values of the university or college to which you’re applying, Stover said.
“If you are applying to a program that values community engagement, it’s very important to share at least one story about how you are actively involved in the community and what you have learned from those experiences.
“A statement of how many hours of volunteer services you have performed is not enough. The reader will want to understand that serving your community is part of your values, and that you have learned something from those experiences.”
Be yourself, write from the heart, and then ask your parents or a teacher to read it before you send it in, Richardson said.
“Make sure to have someone look it over to ensure that it is grammatically correct and has a good flow,” she said. “Let us see a little bit of your personality so that we can understand your overall fit to our school.”
The bottom line is not to stress. Give yourself plenty of time before the deadline to ask yourself what you like to do, what your strengths are and what you’d like to learn. In the end, it’s really less about the school — and more about you.