Three Key Ways a Writing Coach Can Improve Your College Admission Essay


by Alan Stransman - Date: 2010-10-11 - Word Count: 624 Share This!

In an article entitled "Writing The Essay: Sound Advice from an Expert", Parke Muth, Senior Assistant Dean and Director of International Admission at the University of Virginia, states that ninety percent of the college admission essays submitted to the university as one of the application requirements, consist "primarily of abstractions and unsupported generalization".

The Assistant Dean refers to these essays as "McEssays", intending no disrespect to McDonald's, but suggesting that the consistency of product quality that is a desired result in the fast food industry is the kiss-of-death in the college admission essay business.

In short, if your college admission essay or personal statement reads like every other essay or statement that the Admissions Officer reads, you will not improve your chances of being accepted into the college or university of your choice. You may well even undermine your chances of being accepted.

So, how can you make sure that your application stands out?

There are many hallmarks of good writing, regardless of the genre, but the college admission essay or personal statement, because it is, by definition, autobiographical, needs to have the following three elements: 1) insight 2) a distinctive voice and 3) rich detail

Let's consider each of these elements:

1) Insight

It is not enough to simply relate or describe an incident or experience in your life. You must relate that experience to an insight that you gained through that experience. What the Admissions Committee is looking for is an ability to reflect upon your past experiences and to express what you learned, how you were changed and, most importantly, how you have grown through the experience. Reflecting upon the past is meaningless unless it leads to greater self- awareness and maturity, and that is what your essay needs to express.

2) A Distinctive Voice

Your college admission essay has to grab the attention of the Admissions Officer in the first sentence, or if not, in the first paragraph. The way to do that is not by using big words or by writing about a very unusual topic. The best way to make an impact on your reader is to have a confident, distinctive "voice". That means writing in a way that expresses your unique personality. Developing a distinctive "voice" is one of the most challenging aspects of writing for anyone, even experienced writers. The simplest advice for a very difficult challenge is to "be yourself".

3) Rich Detail

In almost every genre of writing, authentic details are interesting and abstract generalizations are boring. In the college admission essay genre, an ability to relate an incident or describe an individual in rich, authentic detail will make your essay stand out from the others, because the particular details of your life are unlike the particular details of anyone else's life. Similar to, but different. Focusing on specific details in essay will demonstrate your ability to think and write with acuity, another key skill that Admissions Officers are looking for.

Writing a college admission essay or personal statement that stands out from the rest is a significant challenge for the vast majority of students, and that is precisely why it is one of requirements of the application process. It is intended to separate the wheat from the chaff. College and universities want students who will enrich the campus culture and community, and the college admission essay or personal statement is their way of determining, to a large extent, which students are capable of doing that.

Some students possess the analytical and writing skills to compose an insightful and compelling college admission essay on their own, but most don't. Those in the latter category - and don't feel any shame if that means you - would do well to consider working with a Writing Coach.

Working with a Writing Coach can not only be game-changing decision, but a life-changing one.


Alan Stransman is a former teacher of English at the high school and university levels, the author of a book on starting a small business and a writing coach. He helps students write compelling college admission essays.n
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