Writing the Admission Essay

There are several important factors that go into the admissions’ committee reviewing process. Of course, grades play an important role, but colleges are looking for well-rounded students. A student’s academic transcript and standardized test scores do not tell the full story of who a student is, and if they would be an asset to the campus community. With that said, in addition to letters of recommendation, admissions committees rely on a well-written essay for insight into who a student is and why they are interested in attending their institution.

For many students, writing the college admissions essay can be nerve-wracking. What should I say? How should I say it? What is considered an “overshare”. The goal of this article is to help you avoid some of the pitfalls I have seen in reviewing many college admissions essays.

Pitfall #1: Grammar

I am sharing this one first and foremost, because while it seems like common sense that colleges would want an essay free of grammatical errors, a well-edited essay shows the reader that you took the time to proofread your essay before submitting it.

Make sure you give yourself enough time when writing your essay to have it proofread by someone you trust. The recommended number of people to have review your essay is no more than two. The more people you share your essay with, the more opinions you will have, which seems great, until those opinions contradict one another.

Full disclosure: I am a Ph.D. student, so I know grammatical mistakes happen, I personally love to use free resources such as Grammarly and the Read Aloud feature in Microsoft Word.


P.S. There is often a difference of opinion about the use of profanity in college admissions essay. Some students use profanity to express emotion or if it was used in a story they are retelling in their essay. This one is tricky because students do not know who will be reading their essay and if the reader will be offended by the language. While I encourage students to be themselves in their essay, the safest bet is to avoid use of profanity in the admissions essay.


Pitfall #2: Sending the wrong essay to the wrong school

Facepalm! Yes, this happens, and yes it happens often, and I will tell you why. Many students apply to schools using an application (such as The Common App or The Coalition Application) that will allow you to apply to multiple schools with just one application and essay. No problem with doing that however, if you are going to send the same essay to multiple campuses, be sure not to include an institution’s name in the essay. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve read an enjoyable essay but cringed at the conclusion of the essay, where the student expressed how happy they would be to attend (another institution). In my years of reviewing applications, it was never enough for me to not admit a student to the university, however, it was always well noted.

Pitfall #3: Not including details about why you want to attend our particular school


Now I know what you may be thinking. This is an exact contradiction to Pitfall #2 but hear me out. Some colleges will ask you to write a supplemental essay related to why you want to attend their school. This pitfall is related to that scenario or in the case of a student who is not submitting the same essay to multiple schools. Whenever possible, you would want to show the school that you did your research on their institution and provide specific examples as to why you believe their school would be a good fit for you. For example, stating they you are interested in a specific professor’s research within an academic department, or your interest in a particular study abroad program, or your interest in participating in a particular club or organization. Again, it is my recommendation that all LGBT students of color research clubs and organizations at any potential school you are considering, as belongingness has been shown to have a significant influence on our mental health and academic performance.

Pitfall #4: Not sharing enough about yourself

This one can be tricky, especially for LGBT students of color. Thankfully, I can say awareness and acceptance of challenges faced by LGBT students have grown since I was applying to college. While I do not encourage students to feel forced to disclose information about themselves that they do not feel comfortable sharing, remember the goal of the essay is for the reader to walk away feeling like they know the writer. Many colleges do not offer interviews as part of their decision, so the essay is truly your time to shine.

Here is a mistake that students often make on college essays. The essay prompt will ask you to share a story about someone that has influenced your life. Seems simple enough. The mistake that students make is that they will spend so much time talking about this person that has influenced them but will forget to bring it back to themselves. So, now your reader has 800 words about how amazing your grandfather is, but your grandfather is not the person applying for admission to the university. Remember, no matter what the prompt is, bring it back to you as the applicant. As LGBT students of color there is often a story of resiliency and hope, feel free to share that story.

As mentioned in previous articles, it is wise to make a connection with the admissions office. Most colleges have assigned admissions counselors based upon your last name or location. That admissions counselor is going to be your ally. They are going to be the one to advocate for you in the admissions committee. This is especially important when applying to reach schools (reach schools are discussed in the article about applying to colleges). Sometimes when an admissions committee is on the fence about a student, it is the contents of the essay that helps the admissions counselor you are working with, advocate for you to be accepted.

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