Admissions

Application Essay Tips from College Admission Officers

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College admission officers read scores of application essays each year, leading them to establish a few likes and dislikes. Check out a few of their preferences below.

What They Love:


- “Essays written with passion and emotion. Those which discuss a personal matter/conflict/growth.”

- “A small event described in detail that sheds light on who the applicant really is.”

- “Essays noting events that change a student’s perspective on life and/or how they approach their daily life.”

- “I enjoy it when students write about an occasion that brought them to a new perspective or understanding, or affected their relationships with others.”

- “Admissions officers read hundreds, if not thousands, of essays each year, so the truly memorable essays are well written and tell us who the applicant is as an individual. Essays that are standard, safe or could have been written by anyone are forgettable and do not help us get a sense of the applicant’s personality or passion. Great essays are exciting to read because they allow us to hear the student’s voice and picture him or her as part of our campus community. The topic of an essay is often less important than the student’s ability to convey enthusiasm, humor, a point of view or tell a meaningful story.”

What They’d Like to See More Often:

- “Everyday occurrences can sometimes tell us more about an applicant than one major event.”

- “We love it when students write about things that get them excited, no matter how mundane the topic may initially seem. Some of the best essays have been written on seemingly basic topics — in fact, it’s more impressive if you can take a bland or common essay topic and make it interesting!”

- “Travel, books, events, teachers or mentors that have had a significant impact on [the applicant’s] life and why.”

- “Experiences, conflicts and circumstances that shaped their personality. I like to see how they navigate life experiences and attain some insight into their personality and soul.”

- “Personal challenges or self discoveries can lead to strong essays. A few times I have read an essay and either audibly gasped or ‘awww...’d.’ There’s no special formula to ‘win over’ the person reading your essay, but I would certainly encourage students to write for their audience. Bring us into the essay. Take a journey and let us discover it with you.”

What Bores Them:

- “Recapping athletic success in high school.”

- “Reading about The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield, The Great Gatsby or Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.”

- “Why my grandmother means so much to me.”

- “TOO MANY students write essays that are descriptive (rather than analytical) and omit the interesting personal stories that might make them stand out. Since we are trying to build a community, we care less about ‘what’ the student’s experience has been, and more about ‘why’ that matters and ‘how’ it has affected the student.”

- “The passive voice. Colloquial writing. Run-on sentences. Essays that read like book reports. Attempts to mask bad writing by being cute and clever. School essays that are reworked to fit the college essay question.”

Excerpted from College Essays That Made a Difference 6th Edition, by the Staff of The Princeton Review. ©The Princeton Review and Penguin Random House, 2014.