Here are a few tips that will add color and life to a college essay rough draft.
Tip 1. Start your essay with the climax.
An important goal of the college essay is to tell a story that creates immediate curiosity in the writer and the story. One way to do this is to reveal the story’s climax at its outset. One of my students, a pitcher on his school’s baseball team, wrote about how came through failure on the mound by remembering his coach’s mantra for avoiding stress. My student began his essay with these two words: “Ball Four.”
Tip 2. Use dialogue.
Dialogue brings the reader closer to the action. One of my students wrote about how he comforted a peer who was upset by talking him through it. The writer added a few lines of dialogue that captured their personalities and their senses of humor.
Tip 3. Write a short paragraph. Write some simple sentences.
A short paragraph and simple sentences temporarily halt the narrative and gives that moment special emphasis. It can be a great way to make the reader stop and consider what the writer experienced or learned in a single, important moment. One of my students wrote about her relationship with her grandfather and how the stories they created together made her a more creative, joyful person. In the middle of her essay, she penned a short paragraph after describing her grandfather’s recent illness: "As my foot steps out into the hallway, the tears start running down my cheeks. I feel scared.”
Tip 4. Use self-deprecation.
Even though the purpose of a college essay is to distinguish yourself, you never want to come off as arrogant. A way to avoid this pitfall is to gently poke fun at yourself. One of my engineering school applicants wrote about creating a device that would turn off his bedroom light switch, which was across the room from where he slept, without having to get out of bed. He wrote: “One might say my creativity was born out of my own laziness, but I would prefer to say it came from my love of the engineering process.”
Tip 5. End with memorable lines (bonus points for including a literary work).
Like the opening, a well-worded ending has the potential to stay in the mind of an admission officer. One of my students wrote about his refusal to unearth a time capsule he buried in his back yard when he was in kindergarten. Despite his curiosity, he resisted the urge to dig it up because he wanted to discover more about himself before he revisits his past. He wrote: “so I’m leaving it there. And it will still be there tomorrow. And tomorrow. And tomorrow.” Those final lines were a neat twist on Macbeth’s gloomy speech the final of the play. The writer’s ending showed his reader that his writing is thoughtful, clever and references Shakespeare.