Jonathan Reider, who is the director of college counseling at San Francisco University High School and prior to that was the senior associate director of admissions at Stanford University, offers some insights.
1. To the point
Every admissions officer is busy and as such he or she prefers to invest only a couple of minutes skipping through an applicants essay. The Common Application main essay has a suggested minimum of 250 words with no upper limit at all. I suggest that you limit your essay to only 700 words or you risk pushing your luck.
Don’t be attracted to embellishment. Just be honest about who you are and what you have achieved. After all, not everyone has to be the best of the best, and in trying to prove that you are, you’ll generally be inflating the truth and that will not necessarily go down well.
3. Express Yourself
When writing the essay, you want to be as unique as you can. You want to distinguish yourself from everyone else. Make sure you detail who YOU are in order to stand out.
4. Snapshot You
The essay should be a snapshot of who and what you are. There’s no point in babbling and trying to cover too much. It may appear that you are a very busy individual, but it can also seem somewhat superficial. Although a brief snapshot of who you are and what you do may seem too brief it’s not. It’s incomplete, yes, but that’s exactly what the colleges expect.
Make sure your writing is accurate and also grammatically correct. Watch your spelling, take care of your punctuation, and try not to make any glaring factual errors if you make reference to something which is common knowledge.
6. Tell a Story
A solid bit of essay writing often reads like a story. By all means utilize people’s names to help set the background (or foreground). This makes the plot more humane and thus more appealing.
Humor is something that sits firmly in the eye of the beholder. Thus, what’s funny to you, may very well not be funny to someone else. Be cautious about your use of humor.
Cautious about humor but on the other hand, indulging in controversy can be a plus. Kids often write in a bland fashion. If you enjoy writing about religion, politics, or whatever, be balanced and be thoughtful. Give arguments and reasons in support of your point of view. After all, colleges are places where the discussion of ideas are ripe, and diversity of the mind is to be encouraged.