College Essays: Four Writers' Advice

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College and scholarship essays can be incredibly stressful to write. It often feels as if so much rides on the words you pick to represent yourself in front of a committee. Why, let's be honest, it can feel as if your entire future rests in how well you can write an essay. We as writers, however, want to give you some advice to hopefully make this time less stressful. 


When it comes to formal writing, it doesn't take much to stress me out. I strive for excellence in all my school work, but when it comes to academic writing, this habit goes to a new extreme. When I was in high school, I thought that good writing had a lot of long sentences and big words so it would sound fancy. I was an expert at including unneeded paragraphs full of what we often call "fluff" or unneeded content. So my advice comes straight from John Mayer: say what you need to say. Kill the fluff, friends. I know that fluff is helpful when it comes to reaching a word count or page number, but it never makes for good writing. The most effective writing is concise and powerful, saying what it needs to say and nothing more. To write a killer essay, organize your thoughts well, make a plan, and impress yourself and the readers with your ability to communicate your thoughts. I promise, the judges won't miss your fluff.  


When I was writing scholarship essays, I put way too much pressure on myself. Academic writing stresses me out because my typical writing style is pretty casual. No matter what type of writing you are doing, you are telling a story. Once I realized that these essays are a new form of storytelling, writing them was so much easier for me. Let your writing show who you are. No one else has your voice, so don't be afraid to let it come through in your writing. In essays it can be easy to over edit yourself. When you trade your words for big intellectual words that you don't normally say, you're robbing us of the chance to see who you are. Be proud of your writing.


For me, an essay will not work unless the beginning idea is good. Sometimes, this means that I don't write for a while, but I actively attempt to discover that one great idea. My piece of advice is to not settle for a just okay or even a good idea, but keep pushing yourself to connect ideas and personal situations with the prompt. To do this, I read a lot of material that I thought could be useful to the prompt, and then, I talked my ideas out and kept them in a chart so that I could compare and contrast ideas, eventually choosing the best. You probably already know this, but your idea is fundamentally important. Sure, you definitely want to use formal rules of the language, but you also want to capture your reader with the main idea. They're not going to remember that you used a semi-colon properly; they're going to remember your unique, brilliant, well-thought out idea. Seriously, do not settle for any idea that pops into your brain to get the essay written and out of the way. Struggle with it a little. 


I am not over exaggerating when I say I'm a perfectionist. This character trait often hinders me when I'm writing under pressure, so the first thing I advise you to do is take a deep breath and remember that your future does not hang on this one essay. When I can get into this mindset, I can at least write something down without feeling as if every word I write determines my future. I suggest you just write the thoughts and impressions that the prompt sparked without self-editing. Just write. Don't worry about giving the correct answer. What you write down at first will not be perfect and may not be what you use, but if you don't censor yourself, you will be able to put a little piece of your mind down on paper. Admissions teams and scholarship committees read a lot of essays, so you want yours to say something only you can say. Those unique bits often come during free writing. After this, hone your words. Play around with organization. Move a word. Move a paragraph. Delete an idea. Add a new thought. Revise. Repeat. It may take a while to write an great essay, but you can do if you work hard. And remember, your future is not determined solely by this one piece of writing. 

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