Writing your college & scholarship essaysJuly 30, 2022
What to expect:
- The Multi-Year Strategy
- Reusing essays
- Combatting writer’s block
- Who to ask for edits
- Ending thoughts
I’ve been waiting to write this one for a while. I’ve divided the advice into the various Google Docs that I’ll be referring to throughout the post so I don’t clutter this post with too much information.
For starters, I spent a lot of hours brainstorming and writing my first drafts of my essays each, so start as early as you can in your senior year (or maybe even earlier if there’s something incredibly meaningful) as it’ll definitely take a while.
If you’re a transfer student, most of these tips should still apply except for the multi-year strategy.
The Multi-Year Strategy
Planning is your best friend, so as such, you need to start early. Refer to this article if you haven’t read it yet.
I’d start planning for topics as early as summer in your senior year, if not earlier if you have ideas you’re certain you’re going to write about. Having at least a first draft of your essays is so useful by the time school comes out as it really takes all the pressure off your hands. Think about things you have strong feelings about, not necessarily what you think may be the most impressive as that’s what your EC list is for. You need to be able to write strongly about a topic so that creating the long first draft is easier and all that remains is trimming the fat off.
There’s two types of essay questions: narrative-based papers and interview-based papers. Narrative-based papers are where you provide an anecdote at a specific point of time either in the beginning or throughout the paper (although it shouldn’t take much space, 1/3 at most) to demonstrate how you grew as an individual. Interview-based papers are more direct, exactly like the name describes. There’s no need for dialogue or explicit padding on the details, rather exactly what you did and how you accomplished it.
Examples of narrative based papers
- Your personal statement
- Write about a time you… [eg: demonstrated leadership]
Examples of interview-based papers
- UC Personal Insight Questions (it’s recommended this way, but you can do it narrative-style like I did)
- Why this school
- Proposing a solution to a problem
Make sure you look at the prompt carefully and answer ALL parts of the question. Be careful if the question says and or or as they mean completely different things and you can definitely lose points for ignoring parts of the prompt.
You shouldn’t be writing unique essays for each one. By that, I mean you can reuse integral parts from other essays as long as you can change the minute details to adapt to the prompt. You can reuse things that you haven’t brought up in that school yet.
Just make sure you don’t do this on questions that ask for specific things you look forward to at the school or don’t mess up by putting another university’s name in the prompts. That’d be bad.
A word of advice: if you’re applying to the UC system, start on those questions first and refine them. The questions are pretty diverse to where you can reuse them on about 80% of prompts. UC questions are also just about the right length to where they aren’t too long or short to adapt to other essays. Master those essays, then apply them to others later, saves a lot of editing time.
Combatting writer’s block
This is why I recommending starting so early. By being able to get some basic concepts, you’re able to change or complexify existing topics by not looking at it for a while. It doesn’t matter if you can only write a short blurb at the moment, little writing is better than no writing.
Another thing to do is writing about stories you like without prompts in mind. It’s much easier to adapt a story than it is to remain stuck at a prompt because it exactly has to fit.
Worst comes to worst, you let Parkinson’s law do its thing.
Who to ask for edits
- English teacher
- Your admissions officer (more on this in the article linked above)
- People who know your writing style, in particular “stronger” writers
No one should be replacing direct words on your paper, only advising on things you can do better. And you don’t have to take everyone’s advice on editing your paper, often times you’lll find themselves contradicting. Just use your best judgement on who you trust.
When I originally wrote this paper, tools such as ChatGPT were nowhere near as convenient as they are today. ChatGPT be a tool to improve your writing, not supersede it. ChatGPT should be no different from a person looking at your paper. In fact, you’ll find that ChatGPT is pretty bland in its styling, something you should avoid in essays and they’re trying to figure out who you are.After all it has no personal detail, is repetitive, and is exactly how you get caught using an AI.
I’ve personally used ChatGPT to get ideas on how to rephrase clunky sentences, or get an initial idea on how to shorten/lengthen certain prompts, but the words and ideas I wrote were always my own.
No one can guarantee what school you do/don’t get into, it truly depends on the mood of your admissions officer/committee. I’ve truly seen some random selections; don’t beat yourself up over not getting in.
My own essays:
This article is part of a whole guide to getting into college. View it here!