By the time you’re ready to actually apply to college, many of the pieces of your college application already are the way they are. You’ve taken the classes you’ve taken, you’ve earned the grades you’ve earned, you’ve been involved in activities that have been important to you, and your counselor and teachers have been reflecting on their relationships with you and starting to write their letters of recommendation. Essentially, your college application has been a work in progress for the past few years and at this point much of it is already– to a certain extent– out of your hands.
Sure, you might take the SATs one more time to see if your scores improve (though we’re test-optional at Holy Cross). You’ll continue working hard through senior year to keep your grades up (because we will see them). And hopefully, you’ve contacted us to set up a personal interview (we HIGHLY recommend this).
But one piece that’s still completely in your control and ready to be molded by you is your college essay.
This is great power, and it’s exciting! Consider the college essay an opportunity, and take full advantage of it. This is your chance to share something unique about yourself and to give us a glimpse into one aspect of your life that we wouldn’t otherwise have been fully privy to. We know you aced AP Calc and we know you’re captain of the soccer team and we know your teachers love you … but such is the case for many of our other applicants, too. So now let’s get personal. What wouldn’t we discover or understand about you just from reading your application? Let us in.
If you keep putting off the writing or are filled with dread every time you think about it, ask yourself why this is. Chances are, if you’re having difficulty getting started or making progress, your topic might not be as meaningful to you as you thought. Don’t write what you think we want to hear, write what matters to you. Start a couple of drafts on different topics, walk away, see which one you look forward to returning to the most, and stick with that one. A great personal essay often comes from a place of passion, pride, pain, amusement, nostalgia, curiosity, confusion, desire, joy, love. Write about what makes you tick, what gets you up in the morning, what brings tears to your eyes. Write about experiences that have changed you, relationships that have bettered you, accomplishments that have truly mattered to you, moments that have stayed with you, challenges you’ve overcome. Write about who you are and who you want to be.
The point is, write about YOU. You’ll notice that all five of the essay prompts on the Common Application direct you to write about yourself. So even though we are looking to evaluate the strength and style of your writing, please don’t send us the English paper you just got an A+ on. Boring! Make sure that the people who know you best would be able to read your essay and know it’s yours. Also make sure that if those people are helping you proofread and edit, don’t let their opinions influence you to the point that you end up losing “you” in the essay.
Finally, help make it easier on us admissions counselors by crafting a piece that’s interesting to read! Inject your voice, your personality, your creativity, and in some cases, your humor. A few comments we often make when we’re reading college essays:
- “Show, don’t tell!” Illustrate the who, what, when, where, and why with details, examples, anecdotes, even dialogue.
- “Too thesaurus-heavy!” Don’t use words that are outside of your normal vocabulary. It will sound forced and unnatural.
- “Get rid of the first paragraph!” Don’t feel the need to have a formal introduction and conclusion with three neat topic paragraphs sandwiched in between. You have a limited number of words to use, so please just jump right in there and grab our attention.
Believe me when I say that we here on the admissions staff at Holy Cross love and appreciate the college essay. We look forward to getting to know you.