Essay-writing falls into the same class as French films: either you love them or you despise them. There really is no middle ground. Unfortunately for essay-haters, the majority of first-tier universities require that their applicants submit essays as part of their application process. And why not? Students will write countless lengthy papers throughout their college careers–if they can’t compose a simple 500-word essay, they will be in trouble.

Having said that, the admissions essay presents an awesome opportunity to applicants. It’s the one place in the application where they get to speak for themselves. So rather than seeing the essay as a hurdle to cross, applicants should see it as a chance to shine. To help you in this endeavor, here are five tips to help you write a winning admissions essay:

how to write a good college admissions essay1. Make it personal.

With tens of thousands of letters crossing admissions personnel’s desks, it’s quite likely that you will say something similar to what other applicants wrote. That is, unless you draw on what is most unique about you. After all, the one thing other applicants can’t write about is you. Nothing will catch an admission council’s attention like a unique, memorable, personal story that tells them what makes you distinct.

2. Don’t lie.

Having said the above, don’t resort to dishonesty to make your personal story stand out. Other than just being pathetic, lying on your essay opens you up to all kinds of risk, not to mention guilt and paranoia. Chances are, if you dig deep enough, you can find something outstanding to share about yourself. You don’t need to make stuff up.

3. Mind the errors.

After securing a decent score on the SAT or ACT and snagging some sweet letters of recommendation, you don’t want to ruin your whole application with one misspelling or a misplaced period. For some reason, one typo in an otherwise perfect piece of writing can completely decimate the writer’s credibility. If you’re thinking, “Well, that’s a stupid thing to keep someone out of college for!,” you’re right. Take the time to proofread your essay. After you’ve proofread it ten times, give it to an English major to proofread it one more time.

4. Give it some structure.

When people start to write about personal things, their writing tends to wander, lacking any one point. Don’t waste your chance to shine pretending that you are suddenly spouting spontaneous fits of poetry at some coffee club. Any college admissions council worth its salt will smell a meandering essay. If they wanted you to imitate James Joyce, they would’ve asked you to write a poem, not an essay.

To avoid meandering, start with a solid thesis in mind. Outline your essay carefully and break it out paragraph by paragraph. Surprisingly, the admissions council will actually get what you’re trying to say. If you have something unique to say, they will accept you.

5. Follow directions.

Review and re-review the directions given on the admissions application. Once you are absolutely sure you know what they are asking for, adhere to it like Crazy Glue to a movie theater floor. Beware especially of word count. As in number three, you don’t want some minor technicality to disqualify you from a competitive admissions process.

How do you feel about your college admissions essay? Freaked out? Confident? If you already did yours, how did you make your essay distinctly yours? Tell us in the comments below!

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