Nearly all colleges rate application essays as either important or very important in their admissions process. A poorly executed essay can cause a stellar student to get rejected. Exceptional application essays can help students with marginal scores get into the schools of their dreams on the flip side. Many college applicants make the mistake of trying to include all of their accomplishments and activities in their application essays. Such essays read like what they are: tedious lists. Save your lists for the places where they belong, so other parts of the application provide plenty of space for you to list extracurricular activities. The most engaging and compelling essays tell a story and have a clear focus. Your writing should reveal your passions and expose your personality through carefully chosen detail. A thoughtful and detailed narration of a difficult time in your life tells far more about you than a list of competitions won and honors achieved. Your grades and scores show that you’re smart. Use your essay to show that you’re thoughtful and mature, that your personality has depth. You don't want your college application essay to be too heavy, while it is important to be both mature and thoughtful.

 

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Try to lighten up the essay with a clever metaphor, a well-placed witticism, or a little self-deprecating humor. But don't overdo it. The essay that is filled with bad puns or off-color jokes will often end up in the rejection pile. Furthermore humor is not a substitute for substance. Your primary task is to answer the essay prompt thoughtfully; the smile you bring to your reader's lips is just a bonus (and a tear can sometimes be effective too). Many students have been rejected for failing to take the prompt seriously and writing essays that end up being more foolish than clever. Not just humor, but the overall tone of your application essay is remarkably important. It's also difficult to get right.  Those 750 words on how great you are can make you sound like a braggart when you are asked to write about your accomplishments. Be careful to balance your pride in your achievements with humility and generosity towards others. You also want to avoid sounding like a whiner -- use your essay to show off your skills, not to explain the injustices that lead to your low math score or failure to graduate #1 in your class. Most colleges rate "character and personal qualities" as extremely important in their admissions decisions along with the essays. Your character shows up in three places on the application: the interview (if you have one), your involvement in extracurricular activities and also your essay. The essay is the most immediate and illuminating to the admissions folks as they read through thousands of applications of the three. Remember, colleges aren’t looking solely for straight "A"s and high SAT scores. They are looking for good citizens for their campus communities. Grammatical problems, punctuation errors, and spelling mistakes can hurt your chance of being accepted.