Tips for an Awesome College Essay

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Make Your College Essay Stand Out From The Crowd

Crafting the perfect college essay is a common source of stress for students and parents. It can be daunting to choose a unique topic that resonates with your college of choice and showcases you as a not just a student, but as a person. The team at Passport for Good can help.  Our research and interviews with college admissions officers have yielded these tips to help you thoughtfully plan your applications.

They want to know you beyond academics

One admissions director told us that the worst outcome for a college is for a student to leave after freshman year – and that a college’s acceptance decision delves beyond the academic transcript and into whether the student will fit within the college community.

When you think about it, a large part of the college experience takes place outside of class, and requires a student to independently interact with the college community and feel comfortable enough to be involved in the fabric of the school’s culture. If that connection is not made, the student is more likely to leave.

Your essay is an opportunity to show how you’ve made a meaningful impact on your current community, what kind of person you are, and how you would similarly be involved in their community.

Care and compassion make for winning students

Another admissions officer stressed that a potential student’s kindness, compassion, and community service involvement are definitely aspects they consider in admissions decisions. It will be important for you to convey how your volunteer experience has been meaningful and shows a pattern in your interests – not that it is just a one-off project or something to simply build your resume.

Earlier this year, a report by the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common project emphasized that meaningful community and intellectual engagement, and interest in the public good, are as important as test scores in the admissions process. The report, endorsed by about 80 educators, including top admissions officials at major American universities (including Yale, MIT, Columbia, and more) is available to read here.

The report’s content isn’t new. Colleges don’t just want developed minds, but also developed hearts – they know that productive citizens are usually productive academics, and turn into accomplished alumni.

Tips to show compassion in your college essay

Answer the following questions before you write your essay, and try to work some of the answers into your writing:

  1. What unique and meaningful experience in your community has influenced you or inspired you to take action?
  2. How did your community involvement over the last months or years change you?
  3. What important lessons did you learn, and how did the experience help shape your goals?
  4. How have you made a difference in the life of one person or a cause?
  5. Do you have unique family obligations, such as helping provide care at home for a parent, grandparent, or sibling? Do you have a part-time job to help support your family? How has this experience been a catalyst for your future pursuits?
  6. Have you been involved with your church or synagogue for a long-term project or community action?
  7. Have you mentored a fellow student?
  8. Have you engaged in an advocacy campaign to stop animal abuse, bullying, racism, or another issue about which you feel strongly?
  9. How has your deep experience become characteristic of something you always do, or strive to do in the future?
  10. What attributes and skills have you learned, and how will you use them throughout your academic pursuits, life, and career?

Last but not least, make sure to tell your personal story with emotion, passion, and authenticity (and don’t forget to check your spelling, grammar, and punctuation, of course)!


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