How to Be Yourself in Your College Essays
Time and time again, you will hear college admissions representatives say to “be yourself” in your college essays. I find that many of my students struggle with this because they RATHER be the student that the college wants to admit (versus being truly themselves). And, really, who can blame them? College admissions are high-stakes, and students innately want to put their best foot forward!
Here are some of my tips on how to be authentically yourself in your college essays:
If You’re Going to Use the Thesaurus, Use It Wisely
Many students exchange their natural words for much larger words they find in the thesaurus. It is one thing to make yourself more polished, but it’s entirely something else to use a word that you’re not familiar with. A good rule of thumb — if you don’t use this word at least occasionally in your vocabulary, verbally or through writing, keep it out of your college essays. An incorrectly used SAT word will have the exact opposite consequence of your original intention.
Limit the Number of People Who Review Your Essay
One student I knew had his essay edited by so many people (and made all of the changes that others suggested) that, in his desire to present himself in the best possible light, he completely lost his voice. I would suggest having four different types of people read your essay:
- Someone who knows you well. This person will let you know if your college essay sounds like you.
- Someone who doesn’t know you well at all. This person will give you a more objective look at how your essay will read to a complete stranger (because, after all, that’s who is going to be reading it eventually!)
- Someone who is great at the English language. This person will make sure your essay has good grammar, flows well, etc.
- Someone who is familiar with college admissions (like a high school counselor). This person will make sure you steer clear of frequently used topics and has the insider-scoop of what colleges are really looking for.
I want to stress that I am saying “types” because you may not necessarily want four people to review your essay. It is very likely that you will be able to do a few of these with the same person. For example, your favorite English teacher could easily knock out points 1 and 3.
Stick to Topics You Know and Love
Going back to my earlier point about students trying to impress colleges (versus being themselves), a lot of kids will choose topics that are very intellectual sounding but have no knowledge or personal interest in. The same goes for essays that mention a book, quote, role model, character in literature, current event, world issue, etc. Stick to what you’re passionate about and what you’re interested in.
Don’t say Albert Einstein is your role model when you really idolize Batman. Though you might have laughed at that last statement, I can tell you that college admissions readers will thoroughly enjoy reading your tribute to Batman because they’ll be able to see your passion, learn more about you (indirectly from what you love about Batman) and enjoy the change of pace. In fact, it will probably give you an edge over a boring essay that someone else wrote about why they “love” Albert Einstein. I mean, who doesn’t?
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Author: Stacey Ho
Stacey has over ten years experience in college admissions counseling. She graduated from UCLA and then received a Master’s in School Counseling from the University of Maryland, College Park. She also obtained a certification in College Admissions Advising from UC Berkeley Extension. She is passionate about helping first-generation college students.