shaun-85Many high school students are under the impression that getting into college is all about the numbers—that is, test scores, GPA, and APs. But the truth is, colleges come across a much larger percentage of applicants that fall into their average GPA and SAT pool than they are able to admit. So what do they look at to determine who will receive those golden “Congratulations!” letters? First and foremost, The Essay.

Essays are without a doubt the most grueling (and therefore most dreaded) element of the college application process. Some applicants will sigh in relief to see that one of their colleges doesn’t require a specific essay, and others will apply to schools (*cough* Davidson) that require several supplemental essays in addition to those attached to the Common Application. You may be thinking, “How in the world can I write 53 essays before the January regular decision deadlines?” Here are a few tips:

1. Before you do ANY writing, read through ALL of the essay prompts. It is more than likely that you will be able to use one essay, especially if you choose your topic wisely, to answer several prompts. *Note: If you do use an essay for more than one school, be sure to carefully proofread and change the name of the school accordingly. Your Dartmouth admissions counselor doesn’t care about all of the reasons you want to attend Vassar.

2. Quality is admired above quantity. Admissions officers don’t want to read (and would probably stop half way through) an essay that was the length of a doctoral thesis. Say what you want to say in the most succinct and sophisticated way possible, and impress them with your ability to convey your thoughts and experiences clearly.

3. Don’t be afraid to take risks and write about something unconventional. My college advisor always told us to pretend that our essay was the last in an admission officer’s pile at 4:55 on a Friday afternoon. They have read tediously similar essays all day, and in order for them to remember yours it will have to have a wow factor. An admissions officer once told me that the best essay she ever read was about peanut butter. Be creative!

4. Lastly, be sure to SHOW rather than TELL. This is the difference between saying, “It was a hot day and I was nervous,” and opening the reader into your mind with “My heart raced and I wiped my sweaty palms on my faded blue jeans while my gaze flickered anxiously at the clock.” Which essay would you rather read? Incorporate all five senses, use synonyms, and work on explaining one moment with as much detail as possible rather than explaining your whole life story with bland word choice and vague phrasing.

Writing this many essays may not be fun, but on the bright side, you will never have to do it again! Try to see your essays as an opportunity to show the admissions officers a wonderful and unique side of you that isn’t reflected by your test scores and GPA. Good luck!