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College Application Essays: More than a Catalogue of Accomplishments

All too often, when students write their college application essays, they are striving to impress admissions officers with what they have done. Whether they are writing about what they have learned, experienced, or aspired to do, it can come across as a vivid description of their endeavours at best and a catalogue of accomplishments and activities at worst.

Essentially, they are focused on the human-doing side of things. What they have forgotten is that many applicants, especially the top ones, would also be just as accomplished. Therefore, "showing off" about all the activities that they have done will only result in merging into a sea of faceless top applicants, all vying to be noticed.

Brainstorming to write a college application essay. Image by Hagar Lotte Geyer from Pixabay

So how should a college applicant stand out from the crowd?

To illuminate your unique identity, you need to focus on the human-being aspect of the equation.

While activities may overlap, one college applicant is differentiated from another because how they have connected with their experiences varies according to their identity.

  • What was the impact of these experiences on the college applicant? How were they transformed?

  • What did the college applicant learn about themself and the world (as a result of participating in the activity?

  • How did these experiences translate into their aspirations for the future? 

In a nutshell, a college application essay requires an applicant to take an in-depth stab at getting to know their inner selves — an exploration of their actual and ideal selves.

Setting aside its function as a requirement for college entry, college application essays are also an invaluable initiation of young applicants into the next phase of their lives — the brink of young adulthood. They should carve out a space to reflect introspectively on their life experiences to date to distil what truly matters to them and ask themselves why. Application essays thus constitute the launching point of a journey of self-discovery that applicants will continue for the rest of their lives throughout the different life phases.

College Application Essays — Opportunity for self-discovery. Image by John Hain from Pixabay

How I come in as an educator, writer, and copyeditor is to challenge applicants to embark on this reflective journey that requires depth in critical thinking and feeling. My role is one of a sounding board, guide, and mentor with a specialised understanding of how to harness writing as a vehicle to capture an individual's essence.

Ready for takeoff? Your journey of self-discovery awaits!


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