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7 Questions to Ensure You Write a Great College Application Essay

7 Questions to Ensure You Write a Great College Application Essay

7 Questions to Ensure You Write a Great College Application Essay7 Questions to Ensure You Write a Great College Application Essay

There’s big news in the college admissions world: Many colleges are no longer requiring the SAT or ACT essay as a component of the college application!

This month, Princeton and Stanford joined a growing list of schools (including Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, and the University of Chicago) who have dropped the SAT/ACT essay requirement. Brown University is the only Ivy League college still requiring a score, along with non-Ivies like Duke and the University of California. While applicants are still highly encouraged to submit an essay score, if they don’t, their writing skill will be assessed in other ways.*

How will colleges assess students’ writing ability?

Some schools will count on the multiple-choice part of the tests which assesses writing skills on some level. But no multiple-choice exam can test how a student puts ideas together, or how they use language creatively.

Princeton now requires a graded writing sample from a high school class (preferably English or history), which is definitely a measure of a student’s ability to write. But it’s the only school as of now that does so.

What’s left?

To me, it seems intuitive that the application essay will hold more weight than ever before.

Here’s a clip of my WBBM radio interview on that topic – High School Seniors: Brace for Big College Application Changes:

What makes a great college application essay?

Rumors abound as to what makes a good essay topic and what topics should be off limits. I hear often, for instance, that students should “never” write about sports. That’s simply not true. There are effective ways to write about sports and ineffective ways to write about sports. No, we don’t want to read a play-by-play of a football game in 650 characters. But leadership growth can be a great topic, as can relationship building or coming back from an injury or other challenge. You just need to be self-aware and creative in your presentation.

The fact is, there are no good or bad essay topics in themselves. There are only good or bad essays. Harry Bauld hammers this point home in his book, On Writing the College Application Essay: Secrets of a former Ivy League Admissions Officer.

How do you know which category your essay falls into – the good or the bad?

Here are seven questions you can ask yourself to see if your essay will fall into the “good essay” category, regardless of the root topic:

  1. Am I using most of my 650 characters to talk about myself (good)? Or am I defaulting to explaining some topic or describing someone else (bad)?
  1. Am I telling a true story of how I’ve grown (good)? Or am I bending the truth to sound good (bad)?
  1. Am I using clear, persuasive language (good)? Or am I using overly flowery language to try to sound like a good writer (bad)?
  1. Am I using mostly active voice (good)? Or is my essay written mostly in passive voice (bad)?
  1. When I read my essay aloud, does it sound natural and compelling (good)? Or am I tripping over the words or getting bored (bad)?
  1. Did I give good thought to the conclusion (good)? Or did I rush it because I was running out of space (bad)?
  1. Does the conclusion build on the opening (good)? Or does it sound like a disconnected wrap-up (bad)?

Do all the things in the first half of those seven questions, and you’ll be on the road to a great college application essay.

And what about the topic? If you’re applying to college in the fall, start thinking about your essay topics now – and be aware of these seven questions and possible pitfalls. The application essay has never been as important as it is now.

The Essay Expert is here to support you in writing a great college application essay on a great topic! Contact us to find out how.


This change was implemented because many states and school systems pay for their students to take the SAT or ACT – and since the essay adds up to $17 per student to the price tag, many students don’t have that option. They would have to sign up and pay to take the test on their own.

ONE COMMENT

  1. Jul 31, 2018 at 5:10 am

    Another academic standard gone due to inconvenience. We wonder why so many have to take remedial courses i. college because they are unable to write and use language in an intelligent manner.

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