Admissions Essays: Getting Started

Ann Crane & Nancy Westwood

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It is never too early to start thinking about the essays that are an essential piece for most college applications! Most applications require at least one general essay of up to 650 words. Many colleges require additional statements on topics related directly to the school or your choice of major.  Essays are a large piece in the puzzle for the holistic review of applications. They are also a terrific opportunity to showcase details about you that might not appear elsewhere in your application.  The two largest common application sites for Texas students, Apply Texas and the Common App (2019-2020 prompts), typically release essay prompts for the upcoming class of students in January.  The general prompts do not change significantly from year to year. Essays can seem overwhelming and intimidating.  Often, the largest hurdle is just getting started. Here are our top five tips:

  1. Read all the prompts carefully and think about which one resonates with you most. Your parents should not select the prompt for you. Select one that excites you! There is nothing worse than spending hours drafting and redrafting an essay on a topic that isn’t meaningful enough to you. This is your chance to write about something that was significant and influential in your life to date.
  2. Be authentic. Write from your heart and make it personal. You will drive yourself nuts trying to select a topic that you *think* will impress admissions officers. Write what speaks to you, not what you think they want to hear. An inauthentic essay can come off as stale and passionless. Similarly, when a parent writes it for you, it can be obvious. Be sure to describe your experience and talk about how it shaped you and how it ties to your future plans. Try not to make it a play by play, e.g. first this happened and then this happened, etc.
  3. Start the process early. All juniors should go look at the prompts some time in this new semester. You don’t have to take pen to paper at this point but it is an excellent time to reflect on your experiences and passions. This reflection can lend to picking the perfect prompt for you. Begin writing the essay during your senior summer. Expect that it will take several drafts to get it right.
  4. Take a fresh look at your topic. The best way to make your essay stand out is to take a small piece of an overall experience that resonates and reflect on that. Rather than trying to cover the entire span of a weeklong mission trip or long term struggle with a class, focus on a single event that stood out as a highlight. Describe how that pivotal moment or event shaped you in a broader context.
  5. Don’t forget your supplemental essays. Many schools ask for statements beyond the required general essay. We highly recommend taking the opportunity to write every essay a school asks of you! Many of these ask why you are interested in that particular school or program. Be as specific as possible. Do your research and look for targeted examples that go beyond the ‘you have a beautiful campus’ commentary. Reflect on the school’s specific programs, unique setting, opportunities for undergraduate research, or a specific course that stands out to you and your path.
  6. Ask for help editing. It is always good to have at least one more set of eyes look at your essays before you hit send. If you have a friend or teacher who can fill that role, politely approach and ask for help. Be sure to do this well before the deadline.  Seek help not just with grammar but the essay content itself. Editing someone’s essay can be a time-consuming job. Be sure to follow up with a heartfelt thank you.

If you have additional questions on college essays or the application process, the KHS College Room is here for you. We are open every day at One-Lunch in room 4405.

Ann Crane & Nancy Westwood, KHS College Room Coordinators

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