With the widespread shutdown of schools and exam cancellations brought on by COVID-19, college admissions changed drastically for the 2020-2021 school year. However, with campuses and classes opening up again in 2021-2022, an increasing number of applicants are coming out of their houses (and dorms) and applying for college in droves.
With colleges refocusing their admissions priorities, the admissions essay has increased in importance. Furthermore, many applications, such as the Common Application and Coalition Application, have announced new prompts specific to COVID-19 for fall applicants.
Here are five tips for writing college admissions essays for the 2020-2021 school year.
1. Make the essay deeply personal.
The best-performing admissions essays show a trend of being intensely personal. When members of an admissions committee are comparing two prospective students that are similar in terms of academic and extracurricular achievements, they are more likely to choose the student they feel a personal connection to. Furthermore, with the de-prioritization of standardized test scores and academic records in the light of COVID-19, colleges are emphasizing the personal aspects of an application.
Students should tell stories that they “own” – stories that only they can tell. They should also write about their feelings, their life priorities, how they approach problems, and how they make decisions.
2. Avoid writing about cliché topics.
Avoiding clichés is a basic rule for all writing, and admissions essays are no exception. Producing an essay with fresh content is more important than ever with the essay’s increased significance as part of a college application.
Understandably, many students struggle with figuring out which topics have been overworked. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that an essay answers the Four Core Questions that should be answered in a good college admissions essay:
(1) “Who am I?”
(2) “Why am I here?”
(3) “What is unique about me?”
(4) “What matters to me?”
In addition, it may help to look up various sources on admissions essay clichés. Some frequently mentioned ones are epiphanies (e.g., “suddenly I realized…”), short term volunteer work/community service (e.g., blood drives, a one-time stint at a soup kitchen, etc.), immigration to America, sports, and travel experiences.
A stand-out essay describes an uncommon topic, makes uncommon connections, or uses uncommon language. Students who have chosen to write about a common experience can avoid cliché by connecting it to an unexpected value or telling the story in a surprising way.
3. Study successful admissions essays.
Reading successful admissions essays is a good way to develop a sense of the kinds of essays admissions committees gravitate towards. Some schools, such as Johns Hopkins University, post selects of admitted student essays on their websites. There are also many online resources that share previous admissions essays. On top of that, applications – including the most widely used Common App – rarely change their prompts. This makes it easy for students to access essays that are not only excellent but also relevant to the prompts they are seeking to answer.
4. Don’t put COVID-19 at the center of your story.
With COVID-19 having impacted the lives of so many worldwide, students may be tempted to write admissions essays about their pandemic experiences. However, college admissions consultants are generally advising students against writing about COVID-19 in their admissions essays. Many students have been affected by the pandemic in similar ways, and an essay about such a ubiquitous experience is unlikely to stand out.
This does not mean students should avoid writing about COVID-19 altogether. Many applications, such as the Common Application and the Coalition Application, are providing coronavirus-specific prompts with the purpose of giving students the opportunity to share their pandemic experiences. Students should try to limit writing about COVID-19 to these prompts and use their main essays to elaborate upon their interests and perspectives beyond COVID-19.
5. Check out online editing services to take your essay to the next level.
Online admissions essay editing services are ideal for international students who struggle with English or simply want to take their essays to the next level. Students should take care to choose a company that’s reputable and employs highly qualified editors.
Wordvice employs professional admissions editors who not only correct grammatical and mechanical errors but also improve the style and flow of an essay. Check out our admissions editing services to learn how our editors can improve your essays and help you get into your dream school.
And in the meantime, check out some of our other resource articles on writing admissions essays.