Mission (I’m)Possible: Writing College and Program Applications

By Ash Thoms

College and program applications are full of different information that, while giving a good overview of where you’ve been and what you’ve done, doesn’t actually represent who you are as a person. When was the last time you introduced yourself with your GPA, or handed a potential new friend a letter of recommendation? I’m going to go ahead and guess never (but hey, I won’t judge if you have). How does the college or program you’re applying to really get to know who you are? The place where you can actually interject your personality and experience into applications is the (potentially dreaded) essay portion. There’s plenty of different ways to attack the essay portion and leave a lasting impression with the admissions staff of your chosen program or college.

If you only take one idea from this blog post, make it this: read the prompt and follow the instructions.

  • If the instructions say “write xxx number of words” or “in x number of pages,” don’t exceed that many words or pages, and—on the opposite end—don’t cut yourself short! You have this allocated space to write about the prompt, make use of it. If you’re given 500 words to answer the prompt, don’t only write 150 words, but also don’t write 600. There are instructions for a reason.

In reading the prompt, you’re setting yourself up to actually answer the question you’re being asked.

  • A really common question in admissions asks why you want to go into that program or college. Show your passion! Do you want to go into social work because your sister spent years trying to find the right therapist, and you want to be that “right therapist”? Talk about it! Take this chance to show yourself off.
  • At the same time, address why this is the college or program that would best suit your needs. Do you like the faculty? Do you think you’d benefit from being part of the student body? Why? Include some key features about the college or program that you really like and feel would serve you as a student.

This point is really important—be appropriate.

  • The application essay is not a place to relate a story about when you were intoxicated, or did something illegal. The essay is a place to show off the best part of you; if your personal experience doesn’t do that—don’t include it. Think about writing this essay in the way that you would approach a job interview. You wouldn’t walk into a potential employer’s office and greet them like you would your best friend. Similarly, in this essay, you shouldn’t write as if you’re writing to your best friend. Be respectful and professional.

Of course, these three tips aren’t everything you need to think about in writing an application. Fear not! I’m about to tell you a handful of other things you need to consider.

Follow the writing process: brainstorm, write a draft, revise it, proofread, and have someone else proofread too. This is an important application; it is worth the extra time that it will take you to go through these steps.

Know your audience. The person who reads your application is probably going to read a ton of other applications too. They’re probably in the field that you want to go into. Figure out how to get their attention and keep it, while still staying true to yourself.

Use your own voice and be concise. The person reading your application wants to know you, not how much vocabulary you can throw into an essay.

Some risks equal reward, and some others don’t. Be careful about bringing up sensitive subjects. Don’t make blanket statements about a group of people and don’t alienate a group of people in your writing. Again—be respectful, especially if you’re going to take on a topic that is sensitive.

College and program applications are definitely intimidating, but following these tips will help you to tame the monster that is your anxiety and write the best application you can!

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