5 tips for getting that college essay written

OK, all you procrastinators, it’s now officially December, and with Jan. 1 deadlines looming, you really can’t wait much longer. Yes, of course, I know you can, and some of you will wait until Dec. 29 to start “thinking about” what you’re going to write.

So here are some tips that I’ve culled from college websites and my own toolbox:

1 Just sit down and do it. Stop worrying about writing the “perfect essay.” There is no perfect essay. Just put fingertips to keyboard and start tapping.

2 Don’t write what you think the admissions office wants to read; instead, write what you want them to know about you. Tell them how you’re different than your peers: Share what’s important to you, what you care about, or maybe better yet, what you don’t care about that is so important to other teenagers. Describe how you’ve matured over the years. Give them an insider’s look at what’s going on inside your head.

Lee Coffin, dean of admissions at Tufts University, has this to say: “Your application is a story… about you… think about how the “extra” pieces (of your application) might shine a different light on your candidacy. Be candid and straightforward, argue your case. Be authentic and have some fun with it!”

3 Communicate clearly how you’d be a great fit. Do sufficient research on each college so that you can articulate why that college represents a good fit for you; an academic fit (majors, courses, professors, study abroad and internship opportunities, etc.) and a social fit (extracurricular activities, clubs, athletics, etc.).

MIT’s website shares an anecdote of a colleague, a Yale admissions officer, who visited a Native American reservation to assist students with college applications. He was shocked by their essays.

These students, “who had lived vastly different lives than most mainstream applicants – were writing essays that were indistinguishable from those written by applicants in southeastern Connecticut. They were composed of billowing clouds of “my global perspective” and “future potential as a leader.”

4 MIT’s advice: “Do not allow your essays to descend into an impenetrable bulk of buzzwords and banality. You are an interesting person. Your essays should be yours.”

5 Don’t buy the books that scream “Winning Ivy League Essays.” Chris Peterson, an assistant director in the MIT admissions office, had this to say on their site: “So let me save you the trouble of buying any of those books and close by quoting Kurt Vonnegut’s seven rules for writing well, which are as applicable to college applications as they are to writing everything else:

Find a subject you care about. Do not ramble, though. Keep it simple. Have the guts to cut. Sound like yourself. Say what you mean to say. Pity the readers.

“Specificity, clarity and brevity are your keys. Use them to unlock the writer inside you.”

Great advice. Now, get writing.