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What college admissions officers are looking for in college essays

What to Write About
Brad Schiller
Brad Schiller
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    This article is part of Step 1: Understand your audience, from our Ultimate College Essay Help Guide. Explore the other steps to efficiently writing great college applications here.

    When you know what college admission officers are looking for, you know what to write about.

    You save time.

    You save stress.

    You write better essays.

    Let’s get going!

    If you read just one article, we suggest it be: 

    The #1 college essay myth (and what college admissions officers really look for)

    • TL;DR — We dig up quotes on admission officers talking abstractly about essays and contrast that with what they say when they’re actually choosing an applicant. Spoiler: not the same thing. More spoiler: “tell your story” isn’t enough to get in.

    If you want a little motivation, this is the one:

    Strong essays increase your admissions chances by up to 10 times

    • TL;DR — We got our hands on Harvard’s admissions data and it was jaw-dropping. This one has charts and data. But don’t be scared off. The message is simple: (1) essays make a huge difference because applicants self-select on grades and scores; (2) most applicants mess up on the essays. (But not you!)

    If you want a fun one (or — be honest — if you’re on social networks a lot), please read:

    Don’t let influencers influence your college essays

    • TL;DR — In this article, we examine TikTok influencers who talk about college essays. We show that clever metaphors in college essays (an influencer staple) are like parsley on pasta — utterly marginal. Influencers rarely know what they did right in their essays.

    If you want a to-the-point video watch this:

    College Guidance Network: The College Admissions Essay

    • TL;DR — Prompt.com CEO lays out how to write a great essay in ~30 succinct minutes. In the next ~30, he teams up with Olin College’s Head of Admissions to answer FAQs (including hot stuff like the Oxford comma). 

    Finally, if you want the basic, nuts-and-bolts answers, read these 2 short pieces:

    The purpose of college essays

    • TL;DR — Colleges want students who will do well in their classes and graduate; who will contribute to the school’s community; who will achieve interesting things in the future; and who will benefit from being at this college. Show those things in your essays.

    The 5 traits colleges look for in applicants

    • TL;DR — Drive, Initiative, Contribution, Intellectual Curiosity, and Diversity of Experience. Each of your essays should show one or more of these traits by describing experiences you've had.
    Strong essays increase your chances of admissions by 10x. You don't have to tackle your essays alone.
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