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Structure: How to Build a Boss Essay

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Your college admissions essay is a required writing assignment, yes, but try not to think of it as more work that will stress you out. YOU OWN THIS ESSAY. How can you be the boss of this assignment instead of letting it be the boss of you?  It’s easier than it seems. Just do these three things!

Have your takeaway in mind.

Knowing what you’re trying to communicate to admissions from the start is the key to entering this task with confidence and building an essay with a strong foundation. What might admissions not know about you from your grades, test scores and activity list? Which of your personality characteristics might be most valuable in an academic environment or on a college campus? How are you different from similarly qualified applicants? How are you going to reveal these aspects of your persona to admissions? Start with your bottom line and flesh out your essay roadmap from there.

Focus on a killer opener and closer.

Admissions officers often read over 100 applications in a single day. It takes a killer opener to shake them from their boredom, into a place of interest. It also takes a bold, poetic or otherwise memorable closing line to ensure you’ve been burned into an admissions officer’s brain, long after they’ve read your submission (and a hundred others). Try something funny or mysterious; an interesting quip of dialogue or advice, a detail that is easy to visualize — the possibilities are endless. Can you tie your closing line back up to the opening line? Or leave your reader wanting more (without leaving them confused)? These are just a few ways you can take charge and make sure you get noticed and stay top of mind.

Create smooth transitions.

So you know what you say and you have an admissions officer’s attention. Now, you have to take it all the way home. The key to a well-written story that holds a reader’s attention from beginning to end is smooth transitions. Think of your paragraphs as vines in the jungle. Your reader is Tarzan and you need to provide the connections for him or her to grab onto. Sharing your essay with peers, counselors, or experts (like us!) to confirm that you have done this successfully is often a good idea. But a basic test for whether or not your transitions are strong enough is to read through the essay and ask: “Am I getting tripped up anywhere as I read? Are there awkward areas where I have to pause for a beat before moving forward? Are any lines in this essay <gulp> boring?” And that’s where you do the fine-tuning to make your essay 100% BOSS.

 

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