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How To Write an Effective College Essay

"How can I make my essay stand out?" "What do admission counselors expect or look for in an essay?" Prospective students frequently ask questions like these about their college essay, and while I'm usually hesitant to offer suggestions for content or topics, I've heard other admission officers instruct students to "make the reader cry" or "teach me something." I believe that whatever story you choose to tell is secondary to making sure that your essay actually communicates something about yourself.

Students enjoying Waves Weekend

Advocate for Yourself

Rather than fishing for the best story to tell, focus on what you hope to communicate about yourself to the admission committee, and use your essay as the vehicle to deliver that message. I would consider this to be particularly critical when applying to an institution like Pepperdine that does not offer admission interviews. The college essay is the best opportunity for you to advocate for yourself and present something that might not be apparent in the rest of the application.

Show That You Are a Critical Thinker

Demonstrating an ability to think critically is imperative l in a college essay. Don't just recount or describe a situation, let us know why you're writing about it. Reflect on how the subject of your essay has impacted things like your approach to life, your worldview, your work habits, or your relationships.

Look ahead and talk about what kind of person you expect to be when you walk on campus as a result of what you talk about in your essay. Showing that you have the ability to think analytically gives us the confidence that you're prepared to handle the academic rigors and environment at Pepperdine.

Female student thinking in class

Proofread, Proofread, Proofread

My final piece of advice is do what you can to make sure your essay is easy to read. Our admission staff reads between 30 and 40 applications a day. With two required short-answer essays in addition to the primary common application essay, they're reading around 90 to 120 writing samples daily.

If your application is number 38 out of the 40 they're reviewing in a day, you will want to make sure that what's in front of them is reader friendly. Minimizing careless errors and mistakes with grammar, punctuation, and tense helps a lot as well as being conscious of formatting and spacing.

The tone you choose is important. While you shouldn't go overboard with the thesaurus, your writing should be somewhat formal and academic. Avoid using slang or language that might be considered inappropriate. Even when such language is used in an appropriate context, you run the risk of the reader missing the point you're trying to convey because he or she is distracted by the choice of vocabulary. A reasonably scholarly essay that is also well-edited, cleanly formatted, and easily digestible, will help ensure that it will get a good, fair read from the admission staff.

A strong essay by itself won't get you admitted, but it can certainly help contribute to a favorable review of your application. Ultimately, if you choose a topic that is personally meaningful and that allows you to present yourself in an honest and genuine manner, you have probably written an effective college essay.