Top Ten Tips for Writing a College Essay

   One part of the college application that can cause a lot of stress is the essay.  Students may struggle with the essay and parents might not feel equipped to help them.  Fortunately, there is help!

Check out the following tips from the National Association for College Admission Counseling.  Also, be sure to explore their student and parent resources here.


Top Ten Tips

Start early. The more time you have, the less stress you’ll have. You’ll have plenty of time to give the essay your best effort.

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 it’s mentioned in class or on TV. Then write about it. One of the biggest mistakes students make is “writing what they think others want to hear, rather than about an issue, event, or person that really had significance for them,” says an admission and financial aid official at a New York college. An essay like that is not just boring to write, it’s boring to read.

Be honest. You’re running late (see #1), you can’t think of what to write, and someone e-mails you a heartwarming story. With just a tweak here and there, it could be a great essay, you think. It’s what you would have written if you’d just had enough time. Don’t be fooled! College admission officers have read hundreds, even thousands of essays. They are masters at discovering any form of plagiarism. Adapting an e-mail story, buying an essay from some Internet site, getting someone else to write your essay, admission people have seen it all. Don’t risk your college career by taking the easy way out.

Take a risk. On the other hand, some risks can pay off. Don’t settle for the essay that everyone else is writing. Imagine an admission officer up late, reading the fiftieth essay of the day, yours. Do you want that person to nod off because he or she has already read ten essays on that topic? “The danger lies not in writing bad essays but in writing common essays, the one that admission officers are going to read dozens of,” says an associate director at a Pennsylvania high school. “My advice? Ask your friends what they are writing, and then don’t write about that!”

Keep in focus. This is your chance to tell admission officers exactly why they should admit you. Unfortunately, some students try to list every single reason, their stellar academic record, their athletic prowess, their community service, all in a page or two. When that happens, the essay looks like a grocery list. Even though the Common Application main essay has a suggested minimum of 650 words, with no limit, every admission officer has a big stack to read every day; he or she expects to spend only a couple of minutes on the essay. If you go over 700 words, you are straining their patience, which no one should want to do. 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. Stick to that main theme throughout the essay. You don’t have to list all your achievements, that’s what the rest of the application is for. Use the essay in a creative way to help the admission officers get to know you as a person.


Write and rewrite. Don’t try to write a masterpiece on your first try. It’s not possible, and all that pressure is likely to give you writer’s block. For your first draft, write anything that comes to mind about your topic. Don’t worry too much about grammar or spelling. Just get it down on paper (or computer screen). Then let it “rest” for a few hours or a few days. When you come back to the draft, look for ways to make it more focused and better written. Some people are “fat” writers: they write long, wordy first drafts that need to be shortened later. Others are “skinny” writers: they write short and simple first drafts and then need to add details or examples to “flesh out” the skeleton. Either way, don’t be afraid to make major changes at this stage. Are there details that don’t really relate to the topic? Cut them. Do you need another example? Put it in.

Here are two other things to try, suggested by one college counselor:

  • Remove the introductory and concluding paragraphs, and then see if your essay seems stronger. These paragraphs are often the most likely to have unnecessary detail.
  • Go through the essay and cut out every “very” and every “many.” Words like these are vague, and your writing is often stronger without them.

Get a second opinion. Even best-selling novelists ask other people to read their manuscripts before they’re sent to the publisher. When you’ve rewritten the essay to your satisfaction, find someone who can give you advice on how to make it even better. Choose a person you respect and who knows something about writing, a favorite English teacher, a parent, or a friend who writes for the school paper. Ask them to tell you what they like best about your essay, and what you can do to improve it. Criticism of your writing can be tough to hear, but try to listen with an open mind. You don’t have to make every change suggested, after all, it’s your essay and no one else’s, but you should seriously consider each suggestion.

Proofread. Finally, you’re ready to send your essay. Not so fast! Read it over one more time, looking for those little errors that can creep in as you write or edit. If you’re using a computer, also run a spell check. Sometimes, it can be difficult to catch minor typos—you’ve read the essay so many times that you see what should be there rather than what is there. To make sure you catch everything, try reading your essay out loud or having someone else read it out loud to you. Another strategy is to read the essay backward, from the last sentence to the first. That makes it just unfamiliar enough for errors to stand out.

Be accurate. Applying online may feel like you’re sending email, but you’re not. An Oregon director of admission warns against using informal email language, incorrect capitalization or abbreviations such as BTW or “thanx,” which are not appropriate to a formal document. Make sure your online essay represents the best of you.  ​

Don’t expect too much from an essay. The application essay is important, but it’s not the only thing that is considered. “Can [the essay] make a difference in getting the ‘thin versus thick’ envelope? Absolutely,” says the New York director. “But that is the exception rather than the rule.” That’s because admission officers look at the whole package, your academics, extracurricular activities, standardized tests, and other factors. A great essay rarely makes up for a weak academic record. On the other hand, a mediocre essay won’t necessarily consign your application to the “deny” list. So make your essay as well-written as you can, but don’t put so much pressure on yourself that the rest of the application fades in importance.

– Kimberly Hutchinson, Project Launch

DISHS Offers Support for Parents and Students During College Application Process

    Blustery wind, falling leaves, wood smoke, and pumpkins- the fall season is upon us!  If your child is planning to attend college after high school, it is also the season of college applications.  Many parents and students struggle with this often-challenging process.  There can be many questions and concerns about how to best fill out college applications.  There can also be stress about doing it “right” so that your child will have a better chance of being accepted at their first-choice colleges. Fortunately, there is help!


The following support is available for Deer Isle-Stonington High School (DISHS) students and parents:

1- Does your child have a college coach?  This is a program that matches high school students with community members specifically for the purpose of college planning and help with the application and scholarship process.  College coaches work one-on-one with the students and can help with any parts of the application, no matter how big or small.  College coaches can be particularly helpful with the essay.  In order for your child to be matched with a college coach, a permission slip needs to be signed by you and returned to the Guidance Office.  Permission slips are available in the Guidance Office.

2- Is your child signed up for Project Launch?  This is a program that begins in the senior year of high school and continues throughout the college years.  Students are matched with a college “Guru” (a past graduate of DISHS with college success of their own).  The Guru is available to help students navigate the college application process and make a successful transition from high school to college.  The sooner your child gets matched with a Guru, the better!  If you are interested in learning more about Project Launch or having your child sign-up, please contact Director Kimberly Hutchinson at 348-6123 or through the Guidance Office.

3- Help with college applications is available a few times a week during focused study.  Students need to sign up for this.  Mrs. Robinson, Mrs. Siebert and Kimberly Hutchinson are available to help during this time.

Kimberly Hutchinson, Project Launch

The Perfect Place to Raise Your Kids


Perfect Place HouseSomeone near and dear to me recently confided how disappointed he sometimes is, that he can’t give his kids the same kind of small town, close-knit, free-wheeling, and outdoorsy kind of childhood he had.

I get it. I totally do. He is sentimental about afternoons in Packerland watching M*A*S*H (cause homework, what homework?),  summers without schedules, fishing streams mere minutes away, low parental supervision, and the joys of grape Bubble Yum and Country Time lemonade. I get it. I was there.

I think that place also existed in a particular time, but I’ll set that thought aside for now, and instead write to suggest that he maybe not feel so bad about not providing the perfect childhood place. Because here’s the deal: while that was a youth he loved and longs to share, he’s got to remember that not everyone who lived there, loved it.

I didn’t. I mean, I didn’t…

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