Writing Rules for the College Application Essay

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There’s a lot riding on your college application essays, so it’s important to put your best writing skills on display. Whether you’re in the planning phase, the writing phase, or the editing phase, keeping a few rules in mind will help guide you to produce a well-written and compelling essay. Below are some fundamental and nuanced rules that will put you on the right track.

Fundamental Writing Rules

You should be familiar with these basic ideas from your English writing classes. Take them at face value – they should be straightforward to follow.

  1. Your first paragraph/sentence must draw in (or “hook”) your audience.
    Good hooks don’t need to be overly dramatic. Oftentimes, placing your reader in the middle of action is sufficient to pull them into the story. Still, make sure you provide enough context, and experiment with a couple different approaches before you settle on your first paragraph.
  2. The paragraphs must flow in a logical manner.
    Plan out your essay by creating an outline before you start writing. Create a logical story with a beginning, middle, and end and then fill in the details. Once you identify the major plot points of your story, you can turn them into dedicated paragraphs.
  3. Grammar and spelling conventions should be followed without any mistakes.
    Avoid silly mistakes by taking advantage of resources like
    – built-in spell checks in your word processor,
    – external plug-ins like Grammarly,
    – asking your friends and family to proofread your writing, or
    – hiring professional editing services like Scribbr.
  4. Everything you write should be your truth.
    Do not fabricate major plot points of your story or plagiarize someone else’s experiences.

Nuanced Writing Rules

Following these rules requires a little more care and creativity.

  1. Write concisely.
    – Flowery prose that you find in English class is not useful in your college essay. – Be careful to not overdo the edits such that the meaning of the sentence disappears or changes.
  2. Choose your words carefully.
    – Avoid reusing words, especially adjectives.
    – Don’t use adjectives unnecessarily, especially “very”, “really”, and “literally”
    – If you use a thesaurus to find a fancier synonym, 95% the word is not going to sound right in context
  3. Be an active character in your life story.
    – Avoid phrases like “I had the opportunity to…” or “I got to…”
    – Experiences are actively pursued or achieved, not stumbled upon.
  4. Emphasize your individuality.
    – Showcase your unique perspective to problem-solving.
    – Avoid writing general or obvious statements.

For more college application essay writing tips, check out these other posts.

The College Application Essay Basics
The Five-Step Guide to the College Application Essay
Authentic and Unique Storytelling with the 50 Words Activity
Avoiding Clichés and Taking Risks with Your College Application Essay
Writing Rules for the College Application Essay
Writing a Concise Personal Statement

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