• Simple and Practical Writing Tips from Real Writers

I’ve had my fair share of application essay writing. Somehow, the people I know always end up asking me for some help when they get stuck, whether it’s during the writing or editing stage. Usually, it’s during the writing stage. I’ve seen the mistakes they are making and I’ve been giving them tips for success. Here’s a thought: why don’t I share those tips with everyone who reads my blog?

The Two Crucial Tips to Success

Before we start getting into details, here are the two main tips to follow if you want to write a successful application essay:

  1. Start early
  2. Be yourself

Go ahead and call the admissions office of any university to ask for advice. They will tell you the same thing: start writing the essay as soon as possible and just be yourself. Seems like simple advice, but it’s essential.

It’s important to start working on the essay early because these things always require more work than you assume. That’s a rule. The sooner you start outlining and writing, the more confident you’ll be that everything will turn out well.

Should I even start talking about the importance of being yourself? The essay is the only part of the application that you can control. Your grades are already earned and your diplomas from different activities are already there. Many other students have similar foundation for applying to university. What makes you different from them? It’s the essay. It has to show your character. Your goals and aspirations. The application committee wants to see if you’re a candidate who fits into the culture of the campus. They want to see some personality and wit.

Extra Tips… the Ones that Admissions Offices Don’t Share

1. Don’t Tell. Show!

Make a test: pick two random blog posts from your favorite blogs. What do you like about them? Are you after dry text that goes on and on with its long sentences and smart words? If you’re like most other people, you prefer vivid style that paints a picture. Well, admissions officers are like most people, too.

You can make a great impression if you include a short anecdote. If, for example, you want to pursue a BA in literature, you can tell how you fell in love in stories when your grandpa used to tell you about the adventures of Asterix and Obelix with a very unusual plot twist. Think of an experience that made such an impression that you decided to devote your life to a particular field of interest.

2. Make It Short and Sweet

“If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.”

That was Ernest Hemingway speaking, people!

You don’t have much space in the application essay. If the university’s application guidelines say that the essay should be up to 600 words long, you should never go above that limit. In those 600 words, you’ll need to introduce yourself, tell a short anecdote, explain why you want to go to that school, and throw in a visualization of your future. There’s no space for fuss.

Say more in fewer words. When you’re editing the essay, substitute the advanced vocabulary with simple words and phrases. Remember: the big words you find in the dictionary don’t make you look smart. Write concisely, with clear style that makes you look confident.

3. Get a Second Opinion. Make It Count!

When you’re done with an application essay, it’s important to see how it affects other people. Ask someone to read it and give you feedback. This person can’t be a random friend. You should find someone who understands how an application essay should look like. Some of your professors might be willing to help.

Why is this important? When you’re writing about yourself and you invest huge efforts into a single paper, you may be blind to the mistakes that are obvious to others.

The feedback will open your eyes. At this point, your ego might kick in. Maybe you won’t like the feedback. You’ll think: “What do they know? My essay is just great?” Don’t do that! Consider the comments you get and think how you can use them to improve the essay.

4. Read Samples to Find Your Own Voice

This may seem like a paradox: how do you read other people’s essays to find your own voice?

This is the most important personal essay you’ll ever write. It determines your chances to get into the school of your choice. The mere thought of that may get you stuck. Application essay samples will help you make a difference between good and bad writing. They will show you how important it is to write in your own voice. When you read enough of them, you’ll notice the clichés and you’ll make sure to avoid the same phrases and ideas that everyone else is using.

Keep in mind that you mustn’t copy or paraphrase these samples. The application essay should be yours. Finding your writing voice is not easy, but you can do that with committed practice and feedback from the right people.


Do you have some of your own wisdom to share with other students? I’m always glad to see such comments!