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Still Trying to Write That Essay?

If you haven’t applied early and find yourself still trying to wrap up your essay, here are a few tips that might help you finish strong…or at least in one piece!

Tip #1: Tell them what they don’t already know
When I read applications, I always saved the essay for last with the thought in mind, “okay, now what else can I learn about this student before I make a decision?” Don’t tell the reader what they already know about you. Tell them what they should know about you. Respond to the question at hand and let them know why you matter, what kind of a difference you will make, that you can reflect on your life and who you are as a person and that you know how to use that understanding to make progress towards your goals and dreams.

Tip #2: Understand what the question is asking
We’re making basic connections here, just like we try to do in effective communication. Before you start writing, really look at what the question is asking for and prepare yourself to respond appropriately. When you are thinking about your answer, ask yourself repeatedly if you are answering what the question is asking for.

Tip #3: How well you write matters
When your reader is trying to form an opinion of you, you don’t want them distracted from your message simply because your grammar was poor, or because your writing lacked flow or that you simply wrote 500 words without considering proper punctuation. The bottom line: don’t write like you text. Your essay needs to tell a story and it also needs to show your reader that you have strong writing skills.

Tip #4: Easy on the pronouns
If you write, “I this” and “I that” and “I this” and “I that”, it starts to sound like a broken record while becoming painfully apparent that your writing skills leave something to be desired.  Starting off each sentence with a repetitive pronoun is writing with empty language. Be creative and separate your sentences if you have to – what does each one tell you and how does it partner up with sentences that precede it as well as the ones that follow it?

Tip#5: Keep it positive
It’s okay to want to talk about an obstacle or challenge you have faced in your life, but don’t dwell on telling the story of this challenge – talk about what you learned from it, why you are a better person for having gone through it and how you’ve grown it. Nobody is going to learn anything of value from you if you fill your essay with complaints, excuses and self-loathing.

Tip #6: Hear your voice
One thing I have all my students do is read their essay out loud to themselves. Why do this? To see if your voice and your personality are really on that piece of paper. Are you in that essay or does it just sound like it could be anyone else? When you read it yourself and actually hear your words, you are more inclined to identify areas where your writing doesn’t flow well or where you start to stray from your message.

At the end of the day, the essay is just one piece of the process and, according to the 2011 edition of NACAC’s State of College Admission report, it is only the fifth most important thing colleges are looking at after grades in your college preparatory courses, the strength of your curriculum, standardized tests and cumulative GPA. So, get after it and keep it in perspective.

Good luck and please post any comments or questions about your essay below. You can also email me directly at


Eric Dobler is the president and founder of Dobler College Consulting. Follow him on Twitter.

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