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How to Write an Admissions Essay that Works

In a recent article on the way standardized tests are graded, NY Times writer Todd Farley reveals that the people grading students’ essays don’t boast the credentials we might expect. The scores they assign are often influenced by emotions and circumstances.

No matter who ends up grading your admissions essay, there are certain qualities of good writing that every reader can appreciate, and it never hurts to include these in every essay you write. The reality is that all people, including editors who evaluate writing for a living, will find boring writing to be just that – boring. Writing that engages the reader, either because it’s humorous, insightful, dramatic, or lyrical, is far more likely to produce a favorable response, which may lead to a higher score.

Here are some guidelines for writing admissions essays that any reader will appreciate:

1) Give your admissions essay a title. A good one.

Imagine, as Mr. Farley points out, that your reader has a whole stack of essays to pore over, and it’s getting to be that time of day when his or her energy plummets. Choose a title that will rescue your reader from his or her afternoon slump. Don’t choose a title until you’ve finished writing the essay – how else will you know what it’s really about? Here’s a hint for coming up with your title: pick a word or phrase in the essay that expresses something essential about your topic. Or just pick a good word or phrase. Make that the title. Fiction writers do this all the time, and it can end up sounding mysterious and professional. It’s pleasurable for the reader to come across that phrase in the text. Suddenly, your title makes sense!

2) Grab the reader with an interesting first line.

This is your hook: your chance to capture the reader’s interest and compel him or her to continue. If your essay begins with an anecdote, deliver us right into the action: …. was poised at the starting line, waiting for the gun to go off…or Andy handed me the news article that would change my eating habits forever. Aside from starting a story with a bang, a good first line can include a confident statement. Consider using strong language, and avoid watering it down with a phrase such as “I believe.”

3) Section your admissions essay into multiple paragraphs, and begin each paragraph with a strong transitional sentence.

This sentence marks a slight change of focus – hence the new paragraph – while linking what is about to be said to what has been said already. Transitions give your essay a sense of continuity and wholeness.

4) Know your strengths, and play to them.

If you’re funny, be funny. Obviously, the topic itself is something you should take seriously, but the occasional humorous line can lighten your tone and greatly improve the experience for your reader. If you aren’t funny, then be insightful or observant. Bring out the drama in a situation that is inherently dramatic. Most importantly, be you – at your best – so that your writing shines through any reader’s fatigue. Maybe you’ll get lucky and land someone alert. In that case, he or she will appreciate what you’ve done even more.

5) Practice, practice, practice. The best way to improve as a writer is to write, and other people’s input can take your admissions essay to the next level. Top Test Prep offers admissions essay critiques and editing.

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For even more information on how to perfect your essay, call Top Test Prep for college admissions counseling help at (800) 501-7737.

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