Writing the application essay is the hardest part of the college admissions process, the president of the New York State Association for College Admissions Counseling told Wow during a recent phone interview.
“When I tell my students they need to tell a story and give it their own voice, many of them just sit and stare at the paper,” said David Coates, the group’s president and a veteran counselor at Kenmore East High School near Buffalo, New York.
We met Coates in April during the Michigan Association for College Admissions Counseling annual conference at MSU (we are both Spartans, so we bonded); he was just sworn is as president of the largest state affiliate for the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (1,700 members.) He shared with Wow some personal thoughts about why the essay is so challenging.
“Writing a college essay for admissions is very different from essays for language arts and social studies,” he explained. “A lot of their college application involves taking things off of their resumes. Grades are grades, test scores are test scores; kids struggle with the writing component. It is hard to write about yourself.”
Coates offered tips for writing compelling college essays:
- Grab the reader in the beginning.
- Keep it succinct. “Nine times out of ten, the essays I read are too long. Tear it down; make it succinct.”
- Write it yourself. “I read a student’s essay that was outstanding, but I knew he didn’t write it. It was way beyond what this student would write. He rewrote it, and it really was wonderful.”
- You don’t need to tell a traumatic story. “Kids come to me and say, ‘I haven’t had a traumatic experience.’ I tell them you cannot make yourself someone you are not. When it comes to hardship and tragedy, I hope these young kids don’t have so much of that.”
- A good college essay will take at least three to 10 edits.
- Write clear, and write concise. “They will say, ‘Wow, this person is a thinker.’”
- Don’t put off writing the essay.
“Everybody has a story; everybody has something to say,” Coates added. ”You need to find what your story is. I’ve had kids talk about being the team captain and about hardship. The essay is a story about how an experience helped a student grow. Let them know who you are in your own voice.”
School just got out for most students; it is a good time to start brainstorming ideas for your college essays. Check out Wow Writing Workshop’s summer offerings to learn how to craft essays that stand out, and stay tuned for a new college essay course program catered to your busy schedules.
Kim Lifton is co-founder of Wow Writing Workshop. Stay tuned for news about an exciting new college essay writing program tailored to students' busy schedules.