What Are Colleges Looking for in an Essay?
- Can you write?
- Who are you?
The Four Most Important Points to Consider
- An essay alone will not get you admitted to college, but poor effort or questionable taste in your essay may keep you out.
- Don’t worry about finding the perfect topic—there isn’t one. Just tell a story that’s authentically you.
- It’s not rocket science, it’s just hard work. You will have to write multiple drafts.
- Feedback is good, but too much feedback or help is bad. We highly encourage students to send drafts of their essays to their college counselors over the summer. In addition, we are fortunate to have English and creative writing teacher Will Torrey available to review your essays as well.
Here are some questions to help you brainstorm ideas:
- How do I spend my time?
- What do I like to do?
- What do I think about most of the time?
- What is my family like?
- What would I say about myself if I had to omit any mention of my extracurricular activities?
- What do I want the college to know about me?
- What am I most proud of?
The hardest part is getting started. Just write and don’t expect your first draft or first idea to be perfect. As with your academic writing at St. Andrew’s, your first draft will not be your best. Remember to use specific examples and details. If your essay is too broad or general, the reader will not get a good sense of who you are.
What to Avoid?
The resume essay—College admissions officers are going to see a list with a description of all of your activities. Don’t try to summarize them in an essay.
Sex, drugs, and rock & roll—We strongly recommend that you don’t use foul language, or describe sexual experiences or the use of drugs or alcohol.
The excuse essay—Don’t write an essay that blames parents, coaches, teachers, etc. as a reason you did not achieve a goal.
The complaint essay—Don’t write an essay that whines or complains about how unfair life has been. One of the buzzwords at college admissions offices is “grit”. They want students who are okay with failure, and who are resilient.
Why Is it so Important to Start My Essay Over the Summer?
When you return to St. Andrew's for your senior year, you will be very busy with leadership, sports, classes, performing arts, etc. Completing this essay will feel like a huge weight has been lifted off of you. Trust us—you will feel so much better if you can get this done by August 27.