I love writing college essays. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking that’s only because I’m a writer—it must be a breeze for me. But it’s not. Having writing skill is definitely useful when it comes to conveying a sense of yourself through your essay, but what’s really important is self-discovery and focusing on voice rather than the message.
What do I mean by that? Well, even on the most open-ended of prompts, your essay should always be about showing the application readers a polished version of your real personality—not what you think the readers want to see. You want to stand out by addressing topics only you know, all with a bigger message behind it, of course. But never make the purpose of your essay your message. You’ll find that, when doing so, your writing comes out unnatural, since you’re twisting yourself around said message to answer a prompt.
“You do know it’s okay to have an answer that touches on two prompts or more, right?” These are words from my writing tutor’s mouth, and she’s a Stanford graduate who has worked as an admissions reader.
Don’t let yourself be limited by the prompt you choose. Don’t write an essay about an overseas trip you went on solely for the purpose of telling your dream college how you’ve become more courageous or understanding. Write about baking bread if that’s your true passion. We as people are more than just words like courageous, persevering, and kind. There’s often more nuance to the motivations that power our behavior, and if you want colleges to see that, you have to use your writing voice to give an impression of how you think, how you talk, and if you’re the kind of person they would want to spend four years with. Your voice has to be unique. That sounds hard, but really, all you need to do is sound like you and you alone.
That’s why I love writing college essays. To sound like myself, I need to examine my past, my traumas, and my triumphs. I need to construct insights about myself I’ve never fully realized. Such as the fact that I’m shy. Really, really shy. Not in the conventional sense, maybe—I talk to people just fine. But when it comes to telling people about myself, not even my parents can make me comfortable enough to address some topics. And the only way I’ve been able to truly express myself is through writing.
“Why is that?” I ask myself.
Perhaps it’s because I’m not comfortable with leaving a conversation until I’m sure the other person knows my exact meaning/intention. Perhaps it’s because I don’t trust my own voice to hold, my mind to deliver everything I want to say. Perhaps it’s because I’m afraid of seeing the other person’s reaction, afraid that I won’t stay true to myself in order to appease their anger.
Perhaps all of these are right.
But you get it now, don’t you? There’s something so rewarding about reexamining everything you know about yourself and phrasing it in a good way, to see how you’ve either grown past your deficiencies or whether those deficiencies were never really weaknesses in the first place. Maybe I’m such a proficient writer because for a long time, writing was the only way I could express how I truly felt.
You’re the main character. The final boss is your college essay, and all you need to defeat it is already inside of you. For some, it might be easy—the story you require is just under the surface but no less significant. For others, well . . . if only you could let loose the secrets you keep even from yourself. But that’s impossible, right? No admissions reader would ever want to know that. But it’s not about them. It’s about what you believe, and if you think even the act of admitting your secrets have improved you as a person, write about it. You might not feel strong enough, but I promise you, there is always strength within.
That’s the amazing thing about college essays. You already have the strength you need to tackle them, so stay true to yourself and write.