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Essential Strategies for Writing a Great Essay
By: Gen and Kelly Tanabe

Have a point and stick to it.

Have you ever spoken on the telephone with a friend for an hour and at the end wondered what the conversation was about? That is not the way to impress admissions officers. To test if your essay has a clear point, try to say in one sentence what you are trying to convey. If after reading your essay, you (or your editors) cannot summarize the central message of your essay in a single sentence, then you need to re-examine it.

Spend as much time thinking as you do writing.

When you are writing—especially under a deadline—it is sometimes convenient to settle for the easiest answer. For example, let's say that you are writing about your decision to become a pre-med major. You ask yourself, "Why do I want to become a doctor?" You think about it and realize that you always seemed to enjoy helping people. Is that enough? No, go further. Why do you enjoy helping people? Now the answers get harder. Is it because of some early experience when you were a child? Was it because of the influence of your father? Maybe after thinking about it, you realize that this is not even the answer at all.

The hardest part about writing your admissions essay may not be the writing. To create a successful essay, you need to think carefully about what you are going to write and be willing to spend time examining your answers. The best essays begin as simple answers to the colleges' questions. As writers continually ask that nagging question, "but why?" until they can go no further, they transform their essay into a work that contains their best thoughts and ends in a place they hadn't imagined when they started.

Highlight growth.

One of the qualities admissions officers look for in essays is maturity. They want to know that you are ready to make the transition from high school to college. Use your essay to demonstrate how you've grown or developed over the years. If you are describing a challenge, you might focus on how you overcame it or succeeded despite the obstacle. If you are writing about a failure, concentrate on what you have learned or how you have changed—make it positive. Colleges want to see that you are introspective about your life and that you can view it with thoughtful perspective. It is very compelling to see in an essay how you have grown as the result of specific experiences.

Keep your introductions brief.

You probably know from English class that having a strong introduction is important. However, unlike an essay that you write for class, you have a very limited amount of space for the college admissions essay. Therefore, resist the temptation to overwrite the introduction. Ideally, your introduction should be no more than a short paragraph. Even for a narrative introduction that tells a story or is filled with detail, be careful not to use too much space on it. Admissions officers are primarily concerned with the main points of your essay, not that you have a lengthy, creative overture. Good introductions are important, but a good introduction alone (without an even better body) has never produced an acceptance letter to college.

About the Author

Gen and Kelly Tanabe
Founders of SuperCollege and authors of 13 books on college planning.

Accepted! 50 Successful College Admission Essays

By: Gen & Kelly Tanabe
Learn how to write the essay that will get you into your dream college with this step-by-step guide that includes writing strategies from top students and admission officers. Read over 50 successful essays, and learn the 25 essay mistakes you must avoid.

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Get Into Any College

By: Gen & Kelly Tanabe
The only how-to book which shows all students how to get into the school of their dreams. Based on the experiences of dozens of successful students and authored by two graduates of Harvard, this book shows you how to ace the application, essay, interview, and standardized tests.

Learn More