College Essay Tips: Engage Your Audience by Writing What You Know

A lot of weight is placed on the college essay.  Even though it’s just supposed to be a page or two in length, it counts for as much as your SAT score, although not as much as your grades throughout high school.  But if you have lower grades than you know you’re capable of, you can make up for it by writing an amazing college essay.  In fact, you can even use this space to explain why your grades are not that great.  Or you can use it to draw attention to a certain facet of your personality which might not be obvious from the rest of your application.  This is the place where you get to show college officials who you really are.

As this article from USA Today states, “If you had 10 minutes to talk to them in person, what would you say?”  This might feel like a lot of pressure.  After all, there’s not that much you can tell a person in 10 minutes.  Similarly, there’s not that much you can tell them in a couple of pages.  So where do you begin?  How do you wow them?  How do you get them to set your application aside and think, “Yes, that’s the type of candidate we want at our college”?  Here are a few college essay tips:

Engage Them

Have you ever come across a piece of writing and gotten totally absorbed in it?  It might have happened with your favorite novel, a historical epic or just an article about something that interests you.  For some people, that feeling of engagement doesn’t come from books.  It might come from watching a baseball game or looking at a great painting.

Everyone’s had this experience at some time or the other.  It’s called engagement.  It happens when you get so involved in what you’re reading or watching that you forget about everything else.  Time seems to go by really quickly and when you finally look at the clock, you’re surprised.

Engagement is the feeling you’re trying to create in your audience.  So think about which experiences have made you feel that way and whether you can use them to create a piece of writing that holds your audience spellbound.  When it comes to college essay tips, this is a really important one to follow, especially at the beginning of your essay.

Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation

Sometimes, you start reading a book or article and you feel like you’re really getting into the subject matter.  However, a typo crops up and unfortunately, it breaks the rhythm of your reading.  After that, you might try a great deal to get involved in the topic again but you just can’t seem to do it.

This writer from US News and World Report puts it like this: “I don’t mean just use spell check (that goes without saying). Attend to the other mechanics of good writing, including conventional punctuation in the use of commas, semi-colons, etc.  If you are writing about Dickens, don’t say he wrote Wuthering Heights.  If you write about Nietzsche, spell his name right.”

Making little mistakes of this sort can break the flow of your essay.  One good way to avoid them is by reading your writing out loud when you’re done.  This helps many professional writers to correct little mistakes in spelling, grammar and punctuation.  So it also deserves its place in college essay tips.  Additionally, it’s a good idea to give your essay to someone else to proofread, assuming that they are good writers and will be able to pick out the mistakes you made.

Write What You Know

This might seem like a very hackneyed college essay tip because it’s been handed down from writer to writer since time immemorial.  However, that’s only because it’s true!  Why write about Nietzsche if you’ve only read snippets of his writing?  Instead, you’ll make a bigger impact on your audience if you write about the things that have really touched you and that you know inside out.

For example, if you’ve always been a fan of the children’s writer Enid Blyton and feel like you’ve learned a great deal from her writings, tell your audience about that.  If you’ve found yourself more absorbed by one of Agatha Christie’s mystery novels than by all the great modernist writers, then write about her, by all means.

College officials are not looking for someone who has read a lot and already has an education; they’re looking for someone who knows how to think.  So if you’ve only read simple books but you’ve learned a great deal from them, this counts for a lot more than superficially reading all the classics of Western literature.

Write Well

It’s very easy to say, “write well” but it’s actually quite hard to do.  You’re willing to put in the time and effort but there’s no map for you to follow.  And different people give you different college essay tips.  Sometimes, you write something that you think is really good.  But other people might hate it.  On the other hand, you might write something that you think is very simple.  Yet others might love it.

Often, however, the problem is that we don’t sit down to consult ourselves about what we really think.  We judge our writing on the basis of what others have told us.  An English teacher might have drilled into your head that Charles Dickens was a great writer.  This is, no doubt, true.  But that doesn’t mean that you have to write like him.  There are many other great writers out there and your style might be similar to theirs.  Or it might be something completely unique, although that’s hard to find.

What you need to do is set out to write well.  Put a tremendous amount of effort into it.  And don’t settle.  Write as many drafts as needed until you think that you’ve come up with a piece of writing that’s outstanding.  Everyone recognizes quality.  So if you send in a college essay that you believe is exceptional, you greatly increase the chances of other people thinking so as well.

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