Writing a Killer College Application Essay

The 600-word personal essay is typically the most dreaded aspect of the college application process.  Students spend hours brainstorming and crafting the perfect piece, and many parents pay hefty sums for college consultants and tutors to assist their children through the process.

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Students are told to strive for originality and depth, and as a result many choose to write about family tragedies and “life-changing” travels. Not to belittle the death of a beloved grandparent or the importance of a family vacation to Mexico that taught you to care about poverty, but these topics are often clichéd and overdone.  College admissions officers understand that you probably have not yet suffered major personal catastrophes or had the opportunity to save the world in your 17 or 18 years of life.

When writing your personal statement, we recommend that you keep the following tips in mind:

1. No negativity. Admissions officers understand that rough patches are a part of growing up, and we are sorry that you have had to deal with a divorce, physical injury, poverty, family death, illness, etc.  Unless you are able to write about these topics in an original, compelling way that demonstrates your growth, steer clear.

2. Don’t be offensive or overly controversial. You do not know who will end up reading your essay: making comments about certain religions, socioeconomic statuses, racial backgrounds, sexual orientations, or political viewpoints is a poor decision.  John Cabot University looks for students who will be respectful of our community diversity, and demonstrating ignorance or intolerance in your essay will not work out in your favor.

3. Oversharing is not a good thing. Personal essays are meant to be personal, but don’t share personal experiences that will make you embarrassed if you meet your admissions officer face to face during your first semester.

4. Remember where you are applying! When you apply to John Cabot University, don’t tell us how much you love the city of Boston, spell our name wrong, or label us your safety school. Insulting your potential alma mater is not the way to gain acceptance, let alone be considered for scholarships.

5. Be specific. A generic essay won’t allow a university to learn what sets you apart. Brainstorm specific examples of events from your past that you can use to demonstrate certain skills and qualities you possess, and think creatively when explaining why you believe a specific university is the place for you. Using concrete examples and anecdotes will help set your application apart.

6. Avoid Arrogance. First in your class? Take pride in correcting your teacher’s mistakes? The best volleyball player in your state? Congratulations! But insulting your classmates or acting narcissistic will not play to your advantage.  Be proud of your achievements, but don’t use an overly haughty tone that will make admissions counselors dislike you.

7. Answer the prompt. John Cabot asks applicants to write an essay describing themselves in terms of past experiences and future plans, and indicate how JCU’s academic programs are related. While an anecdote about how your middle school soccer experience that made you a team player is nice, it doesn’t tell us why John Cabot is the place for you.

8. The word limit exists for a reason. Try to stick as close to the standard 500 word limit as possible.  Counselors don’t have all day to read your essay, but writing too little will make it seem as if you simply don’t care.

9. Proofread your essay. Use spellcheck, read your essay out loud, and read it again. You are applying to a university where you are expected to have a university-level grasp of the English language. Write in paragraph form with a clear structure, avoid profanity and slang, and remember what your English teacher taught you!

10. Write what you know, and write well. Sometimes the simplest essays with the most mundane topics end up being the best. Be personal and specific, and aim to “show” rather than “tell.” This is your place to show your personality: show what your grades, resume, and test scores can’t.

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