5 Tips for Seniors to Conquer Their College Application Essays

Tips for the class of 2013 from a South Orange resident and former admissions officer at Rutgers University who has developed tools for college application essay writing.

By Carol Barash, PhD

Founder and CEO, Story To College


Class of 2013: What’s the most important thing you can do this summer to make a difference in your college applications next fall?


  • Write everyday:  Aim for 500 words – the length of the Common App personal statement. Come up with something you want to share? Blog it! Or send it to us, and we’ll post it on our blog. Consider this practice for college, where you’ll be writing all the time, and not just 5-paragraph critical papers either!


  • Narrow your list:  Apply to 8-10 colleges where you are a good fit. Include a range of colleges where you are a strong candidate and can make a difference, and then really research those colleges and connect with their programs and people in your applications.


  • What matters to you?  Forget about “what colleges are looking for,” and don’t write the essays that were original 5000 people ago (e.g. the engineers’ Lego essay). Make a list of the important experiences and ambitions you bring to a college community, and find moments that convey your unique perspective.


  • Take the time to shape strong essays in your own voice: Most students write college essays that are safe and generic – perhaps even edited by someone else – missing the opportunity to connect with colleges genuinely in your own voice. Great essays take time; it makes sense to put that time in before the stressful crush of senior fall.  


  • Money matters: Talk to your parents about how you’ll pay for college and research colleges where you’re likely to win merit scholarships. There are often extra essays for scholarship apps, another place where your authentic story makes a big difference.


In a recent study of admissions officers, we found that the people who read your applications are looking for “authenticity” and “strong writing,” not “unique experiences.”

“What matters is a student’s unique perspective and voice, what you do because of the difference you can make, not the experiences that others organize for you,” said Joseph Latimer, Assistant Dean of Diversity and Outreach at the University of Rochester.

For more suggestions on how to use your senior summer to have fun, tune your essay engines, and get into your top choice colleges, check out the Story To College 21 Days of Summer, written by Story To College alumna Eliana Kwartler (Andover ’12, Yale ’16).


Carol Barash is a resident of South Orange Village. Her two oldest children graduated from Princeton University and her youngest is headed to Yale in the fall. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Carol Barash June 27, 2012 at 04:46 PM
The 21 Days of Summer link in the article does not work. 21 Days of Summer can be accessed at http://21daysofsummer.tumblr.com/ .
Jessica Wolf June 29, 2012 at 06:17 PM
FYI, in your usage, "everyday" should be two words. Every day.
The College Essay Expert July 13, 2012 at 03:55 PM
USA Today did a great piece on 5 top college essay blunders. I’m going to add some of my own: One mistake I see kids making is trying to cram everything they know/want/think into one essay. An entire life experience – whether you an octogenarian or a teen – can’t really be fit into 250-500 words. An essay is not a résumé, after all. Rather, one thought, one quirk, one person or book who moved you in a unique way gives you a better opportunity to explore – and explain – your thinking. Zelda Fitgerald once wrote that what she missed most about her father after he died was the particular way he tented his fingers when he spoke. That single detail brought all of her emotions – loss, love, the power of memory - to light. What is the one detail or anecdote that can become the focal point for your essay? It is worth taking the time to think about that before you write. For more tips, go to The College Essay Expert. http://collegeessayexpert.org


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