Mastering the Art of the College Essay from an Admission Counselor

As college application season is upon us, many are starting to wonder about the essay question.  Should I actually put forth the effort to write the essay or just copy and paste the same thing over and over again? Will anyone actually read the responses? What weight does it carry with the application?

I am here to tell you that YES college admissions counselors are reading your essay questions! As a former admissions counselor I have read way too many essays to count… and they were good, bad and ugly. I am not going to lie, essays get pretty boring to read over and over again so the ones that were creative and interesting were the ones that stood out to be admitted. (And my eyes didn’t gloss overJ)

I have learned a few things about what counselors are looking for and would like to share some tips:

1)      Read the question and fully understand what they are asking of you. Think, “if you were an animal what species would you be and why”. They really are wanting to see if you can be creative.

2)      Follow the word count. If your prompt says 550 words or less then keep it pretty close to that limit or even a little shorter. That 1500 word response that you worked so long on did not get read to the end.

3)      Please please please spell check, grammar check and have someone else read through it before you submit it. Comments are made on the application if there are grammatical errors or if the answer doesn’t even address what was asked. This reflects negatively on the application.

4)      If you are going to copy and paste (which I don’t recommend), please make sure to change all specific references for each institution. Do not say “Go Blue” in an essay to the University of Illinois. Yes this does happen more often than you think.

5)      Be creative! Reading the same Biology essay response about how you volunteered at a hospital and now you want to be a doctor gets really old. Dig deep and find out why you really want to be a doctor and tell me that.

6)      The 2018-2019 Common App essay prompts have already been released. Use your time this summer to start working on them so you aren’t inundated with work this fall between high school classes, extracurricular activities and applying for colleges.

7)      Let’s keep the 50 cent words to a minimum. Yes we want to see that you have a broad vocabulary, but I don’t want to pull out the dictionary.

8)      Just don’t use the cliché quotes (i.e. If you find a job you’ll love, you’ll never work a day in your life).

I know you have heard these tips multiple times from so many different people, but everyone you have heard it from is telling you the truth. Any article that you read online about how to write the essay is going to say everything that is listed above. Take note of these tips because they are important!!

In conclusion, please take the time and effort to write your essays. I know they are a pain to write and with students applying to so many more colleges now, it will take forever (or at least feel like it). The essays really could be the deciding factor on if you are admitted to your dream school or rejected all together. Do you really want to take that risk by not paying attention to your response?


brittany cortez.jpg

Brittany Cortez has a Master’s degree in College Student PersonnelAdministration and. worked at the University of Illinois in admissions. She currently works with dual enrollment students at Seminole State College. She is passionate about helping students and parents navigate the college process