October 27, 2011
The infamous college essay. For most colleges, this is a required part of the application. For some of you, this may be a major source of stress within the application process. While there’s no perfect essay, topic, or approach, there are some general tips that may be helpful when writing your college essays.
Admission counselors at USC view the essay as our opportunity to get to know applicants better. Since we use a holistic review process, we hope to gain more insight into who our applicants are beyond just grades and test scores. While it is not about the topic you choose to write about, it is more about how that topic is relevant to your life. We realize that you may have many different people providing input and helping you edit your essay, but we are genuinely interested in hearing what you have to say and what you want to write about. Your essay shouldn’t be what your friend’s parent’s cousin’s dog’s owner wrote for their college application; your essay should reflect your voice, interests, and individual personality.
Another general tip is knowing your audience. Although you can’t anticipate the sense of humor of who will read your application, you can use common sense. I’ve read essays in the past that use slang, swear words, or internet and text abbreviations. These are not appropriate for the standard college essay! While we like to see students who try something different in their essay, just keep in mind that you also don’t want to offend someone who reads your writing. At the very least, you know that the audience for your college essay will not be your peers.
This may be obvious advice as well, but spelling and grammar can make a difference. It’s so easy to use spell check these days that I’m often surprised when I find students who haven’t mastered how to spell words like “definitely.” Although we are looking at the college essay more for the content than anything else, it can be hard to ignore multiple glaring mistakes in one essay or application. Writing is an important part of being a college student, thus we want to make certain that students have the ability to write an essay with a solid structure while paying attention to spelling and grammar.
At the end of the day, it’s important to follow your heart and write about what comes naturally to you. We read many different types of essays and many essays that have a similar theme. What we’re most interested in reading is the essay that you want to write, that reflects your voice, and tells us more about what makes you special.