My brother, Scott, forwarded me this article about how triathletes can make their race reports less boring because he thought the tips might also be applicable to college essays. They are, and it’s not surprising, as the rules for writing a good college essay overlap with the rules for most good writing.
Here are the relevant tips, with my college essay corollaries.
1. Keep it short.
Most college essays have word limits to guide you here. But in just about all written communication, good editing usually leads to making your point just as effectively with fewer words. And most readers will thank you for that.
2. Know your audience.
High school students should be careful with this one, because the surest route to a clichéd college essay is to try to impress admissions officers by writing what you think they want to hear. Just remember that there is a difference between writing something to send to your best friend and writing something to send to a college. Knowing your audience doesn’t necessarily mean you should pander to them or try too hard to impress—it just means that you should remember who will be doing the reading.
3. Talk more about what you thought or felt, and less about what happened.
Yes, the story of what happened is still important. But some students get so caught up in describing the events of their debate victory, life as an army brat, or struggle to overcome a learning disability that the writer actually disappears from the story. College essays are supposed to help the reader get to know you. Make sure you include yourself in the story. Often, the best way to do that is to describe what you thought or felt.
4. Explain what you learned and, hopefully, how that might benefit others.
College essays don’t need a moral, and you shouldn’t try to inject deep meaning that wasn’t there. But you also don’t want admissions readers wondering why you bothered to share this story with them. If you learned something, even if it’s important only to you, be honest about it. Lesson or not, make it clear why this particular tale is important to you. And as far as how it might benefit others, the best way to do that is to describe what’s next.