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How to Use the College Essay to Your Advantage

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So, you are settling into your comfy desk chair and cracking your knuckles, ready to start writing. You take a drink of water, open Microsoft Word and stare at the blinking cursor. You suddenly realize: you have no idea what you’re supposed to be accomplishing with this essay. Don’t worry, we are here to save the day! (Picture us flying through the sky, our capes dancing with the wind.)

You should use these essays as an opportunity to say something that hasn’t been said. “This is how I FEEL about this thing. This is what is important to me. This is what I value.” Maybe you talk about the bonding that occurs in morning car rides shared with your mom, or your nerdy love of experimenting with model rocket ships. Wouldn’t it be fun to detail your all-consuming allergy to processed foods (we are so sorry about that, by the way), or maybe compare your talents and inner qualities to your favorite sports cars?

The students who are most successful try to reveal something to admissions officers that they would not be able to find on your transcript. And this doesn’t mean you can’t write about something that already appears on your activity list or in your academic report.

What it means is that your essay shouldn’t be about the mission of Habitat for Humanity, or what you did in your community service hours for that organization; rather it should be about how YOUR experience with Habitat for Humanity changed YOUR life in a real and compelling way. What unexpected experience did you have there? How did it make you a more complete and interesting person? If you can’t tell a story that is personal and revelatory, you should consider looking elsewhere for a topic. (Maybe in your own Instagram or Facebook feeds).

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