Steps and Hacks For College Application Essay Format To Stand out From The Crowd

Jul 24, 2021

Before we talk about the college essay let’s dive into some college essay hacks to stand out from the crowd. 

When it comes to writing college essays, many students wonder why it’s important and how it can help them. You may have stellar SAT scores or honor-level courses on your transcript. Still, without great college essays, your application will not make a significant impact on the admission officials of your dream college. 

A persuasive and compelling college essay will make you stand out from other applicants. Through this article, we will give you 5 hacks that can make a significant difference to your college essays.

In a nutshell, your college essay demonstrates something unique about you that you cannot reveal with your grades or test scores- that is your personality.

Challenges of Writing a College Essay

When it comes to writing college essays, students face a myriad of challenges.

According to college essay papers, the first challenge of writing a college essay is procrastination. Many students put off their essay writing until they are left with no time, which could add more pressure and make them get things wrong. There is also the challenge of explaining yourself in just 500 words. How is it even possible given the information running down in your mind?

Students also focus on pleasing the committee to the extent of failing to demonstrate their actual experiences.

As a rule, keep your college essay length close to the maximum limit possible. Usually, college essays fall within 500 and 600 words long. Does this sound good?

Let’s get rolling. 

5 Insider College Essay Hacks to Stand Out From the Crowd

  • Plan Your Writing In Advance

Part of the reason why many students fail to write outstanding college application essays is that they put off things until the last minute. If you fall for this trap, you’re going to rush the writing process, and the quality of your essay will suffer. When the time to write your college essay comes, remember that you need enough to plan, write, proofread and edit, then polish your piece before submitting it. As a rule, you need to plan your writing project to give yourself enough time for the entire project. 

You also need to know your audience. It’s only when you understand who they are and what they are looking for when you can learn how to tailor your application essay appropriately.

So before you start writing your essay, find out what they are looking for in a potential candidate; and how you can demonstrate yourself as a deserving student.  Avoid over exceeding their expectations, though. Focus on demonstrating your strengths and how you can convince them you’re the right candidate.

  • Understand the Essay Prompt

This sounds like a no-brainer, but many students have had their essays marked ineffective for not addressing the prompt as required. 

Not understanding the essay prompt could give the admission committee a reason not to accept your essay, no matter how outstanding it is.

So, read over the essay prompt several times and be clear about what you’re required to do. Some institutions will require candidates to choose from several prompts. Understanding the essay prompt enables you to let the admission committee know more about yourself while complying with the writing standards required.

Being clear on the prompt also enables you to stay on track. Here is some common application essay prompts examples.

Example 1: The lessons we obtain from difficulties we experience can be fundamental to future career success.  Describe a time when you encountered a challenge, difficulty, failure, or setback. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn from the experience.

Example 2: Think about a time when you challenge an idea. What prompted you to question it? Recount the outcome.

Example 3: Describe a problem you’ve solved, or you’d like to solve. Explain its importance to you and what steps you took or you’d take to identify a solution.

  • Choose An Interesting Topic

Sometimes you’ll have some freedom to choose a topic for your college essay by yourself. In that case, select a topic that interests you.

Remember that the freedom to choose a topic for your essay can make things difficult for you. You might be tempted to choose a topic only to find that you cannot get enough information about it on the internet. Ensure you choose a subject you can confidently research and write without scratching your head too much. The idea is to let the admission committee know your personality as a candidate.

  • Create an Outline

To have an interesting writing process, you need to create an outline that shows all of the critical points you’re going to discuss in your essay without going over or below the word limit. Write down all the main ideas either in bullet points or a list so you can be guided accordingly.

Creating an outline of your essay will help you stay organized and ensure that you don’t wander during the writing process. 

  • Start Strong

You’re now into the actual process of writing your college essay. Remember that the admission committee will be reviewing dozens of application essays, so your first impression matters.

As a rule, you need to immediately capture the reviewers’ attention. They place their eyes on your essay. That’s why you’re required to craft a compelling introduction. Your essay’s first sentence can make the reviewers develop a desire to continue reading or stop and toss your essay into the dustbin.

To make your essay stand out, you need to know how to open strong. Hook the readers and drag them by their collars. Make your opening sentence as exciting and intriguing as possible, and then introduce your topic at the end of the first paragraph. Use the tips below to write an eye-catching introduction for your essay.

Write it in your own words.

Often, it’s advised to start with a quote, a startling stat, or a question. When it comes to writing a college essay, you need to write the introduction in your own words. Remember that the intro should tell the reviewer about you or your ideas.

Avoid overused phrases

As stated earlier, your essay needs to reveal your unique qualities. Repeating phrases that have been used for a long time shows that you cannot come up with your ideas.

Additional tips on how to nail a college essay

Be Proud, But Don’t Brag

When it comes to making yourself stand out from the competition, it’s easy to fall for the temptation to brag about yourself. The goal of the essay is to demonstrate why you deserve the opportunity anyway. But hold your horses.

You don’t want to overdo it- but you shouldn’t shy away from bragging a little bit while showing the committee you’re human. Don’t be afraid to mention instances when you failed. After all, failing is normal but what you do after failing differentiates you from the other failures.

Show Emotions

When writing your admission essay, you want to make sure the reader can connect with you. You want the reader to see you as a person, not a faceless writer.

Showing emotions can help you achieve that. To show emotions, don’t be afraid to demonstrate your vulnerabilities- after all, everyone is vulnerable. Showing times when you felt nervous, afraid, or defeated demonstrates self-awareness.

Show Don’t Tell.

Someone reading your essay wants to know your experiences. Use real-life examples. Ideally, you want to show the reader how you’ve achieved your career success so far but not just telling them.

If you’ve achieved something worth mentioning in your application, show how you did it.

Proofread and Edit

Perhaps this is not the first, second, or third time you’re reading about it. Still, you’ll be shocked by the number of times admission officers have encountered application essays with a ton of grammatical errors, punctuation mistakes, sentence structure problems, and many other errors. Sometimes this happens when students rush their essay writing process up- partly due to procrastination or other reasons. As a rule, you should give your essay writing process ample time so that after writing, you’re left with more time to proofread it thoroughly.

You can use a spell checker tool or ask a friend to read over your essay for you.

Now, let’s look into the College essay format. 

Where do you start? Is there a foolproof college essay format?
There surely is a college essay format to help you get going and make your mark. 

How to format an essay for college?

Formatting college essays is a learned skill. Simply follow basic guidelines on formatting college essays and you can come up with a memorable college essay.

College Essay Format in 11 Easy Steps

Step 1 for college essay format:

Understanding what the college admission team is looking for in your essay

Every college admissions office is flooded with almost identical applications that come with the pre-requisite test scores, transcripts, application form, and essay.

Now, it is the essay that sets each student apart. It is your chance to demonstrate your writing skills and your ability to narrate in a logical and organized manner. Your essay will give the admissions team an indication of how articulate you are and how well you will fit into the college besides conveying your values and preferences.  

Step 2 for college essay format:

Choosing the essay topic

Every college will give you essay topic options in the application form. These options are usually general to give you the liberty to choose and write as best as you can.

The essay is, however, a reflection of you. It will give the admissions team an inkling of your personality so choose a topic that will project you in the best light. Make sure the topic isn’t something that the admissions team will find in other documents that you submit. Be sure to choose a topic that doesn’t bind you and gives you the freedom to fly while expressing yourself.

Step 3 for college essay format:

Get going early

Begin putting together your essay long before you get caught up in the mentally exhausting application activities. Write while you are still fresh and energized and have the time to re-write and fine-tune your essay. This cannot be a last-minute effort as your essay can well be the decider of being accepted or not.

Step 4 for college essay format:

Brainstorm about your essay topic

Weigh the pros and cons of your chosen essay topic with your family and perhaps some friends. They will be in a better position to analyze and list your core strengths. In fact, they may even help you identify some of your idiosyncrasies that will validate your strengths.

Step 5 for college essay format:

Essay Content

Your first few lines should engross the reader. You should narrate an incident or various events in your life that have shaped you into who you have become. It needn’t necessarily be an achievement but what you write should be like a window through which the reader has a glimpse of you and your life.  

Step 6 for college essay format:

Be yourself when you write

Try to write in your voice. That way, you will write originally and whatever you write will ring true.

Step 7 for college essay format:

Essay Structure

You can opt to write using a narrative or montage structure.

The Narrative structure

‍It is like a story. You will write about an incident in your life.

It will have:

  • The pre-amble, where you introduce the incident and where you were in it.
    For e.g., the incident could be about your family decide to make you take dance lessons. So you will narrate what led your parents to take this decision.‍
  • The build-up, taking the event forward as things changed.
    You will narrate your initial lessons, perhaps about the teacher, your struggle, etc.  You had two left feet and were constantly getting into trouble perhaps.‍
  • The climax, when the adversities mount and project the challenges before you. You get an ultimatum from your dance teacher but you want to make your parents proud of your dancing.
  • ‍Happy landings, about how you overcame your troubles.
    You take up the challenge and use various devices to become a good dancer and surprise your teacher by doing well in the audition for a TV program.‍
  • Net result, of how the incident/event has enhanced your talent, helped you evolve as a person, learn new skills, etc.
    How taking up the challenge to become a good dancer changed your life. 

Read an example of an essay that is narrative: https://www.essayedge.com/blog/sample-college-essay-after/

Read 50 successful Ivy League Application Essays along with an analysis of the essays: http://www.qianmu.org/u/lystu/school/file/0hme5mn180002vc/0hmlotdce00040a.pdf

The Montage Structure

Just like the name suggests, it is an amalgamation of snapshots comprising various events, qualities, skills and values that you wish to highlight. However, you must write about them in such a way that they will appear inter-woven. It’s like the innumerable frames of a movie that play back-to-back to give us a moving experience.  Your montage narration will be snapshots that are not linear in narration like a movie is but how you juxtapose them and connect them will make it a readable story.

It is very much like the trailer or promo video of a yet-to-be-released film. It is various events and qualities of the main protagonist are so well montaged that even though you see just 90 seconds of the movie, you get it. Both structures work well depending on what content you wish to share. While the Narrative Structure is linear and sequential, the Montage Structure is composite.‍

Step 8 for college essay format:

Quality check

Once you’ve completed the essay, it’s time to check if it will carry you through. Read your draft once again and then answer the following questions:

  • Does it convey your fundamental beliefs and values?
  • Does it convey your flaws and weaknesses even while projecting your strengths?
  • Does it have enough punch to keep the reader engrossed?
  • Does it sound boring?
  • Does it sound like you are bragging?
  • Does it sound real and insightful?
  • Does it showcase your ability to write well?

Step 9 for college essay format:

Editing and proofreading

After answering the above questions, be sure to check that your essay is within the stipulated word limit and then get down to the task of tweaking and editing it.

Your essay must be error-free. So after you’ve proofread it, get your family or teacher to do it too. 

Step 10 for college essay format:

Read it aloud

Read it out not just to yourself but also to your family, peers or teachers. Hear your essay and pay attention to the comments and further re-edit your essay and perhaps seek their help in further fine-tuning it.

Step 11 for college essay format:

Sleep on it

Once you’ve given it your best shot, take yourself away from your essay. Set it aside for a day and then go through it one final time to be sure that you have a cracker of an essay that will help you sail through.

Read about how some students went about writing their essays: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2019/09/how-they-wrote-and-rewrote-their-harvard-admissions-essays/

Read successful Harvard application essays: https://www.thecrimson.com/topic/sponsored-successful-harvard-essays-2019/

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