How to get into the school of your dreams: 6 admissions essay tips

College admissions is hyped up as one of the most stressful times of your life. For most people, it’s the first big application that they’ve done. There are no guarantees. This isn’t applying for your high school honor society, this is something more. If you don’t get in to a school you want, you see yourself as a failure.

And that’s the way most people view the college admissions process: they view it in a negative light. People don’t think about how much they can accomplish if they get into MIT. They think about how much they’ve failed if they don’t. Too many people see college admission as “happiness on the other side”; if you get into the school you want, then you’ll be happy. People are motivated by failure.

Let’s change this way of thinking. Why not be motivated to have success — why not be happy first? We know that if you’re happier, then you’re more creative, you have more energy, you can think better. So shift your mode of thinking — don’t put happiness after being admitted. Be happy now and let it lead you to being admitted. And if you’re not happy, just forget about the negative thoughts. Think positively. If you want to be happy, then you can be happy.

Live life fully, learn for the sake of loving learning, don’t be negative. All you can do is do your best and then hope for the best. Do good work, be ambitious, be a good human being, and it doesn’t matter what college you go to, you’ll have success in this world. And you’ll have success because you’re happy.

So just keep this in mind while you read this advice and throughout the whole admissions process.

Schools don’t teach you how to write so here are 6 tips for writing (a college essay):

1. Pick a topic that you’re passionate about. Ask yourself this: what is it that really makes you “tick”? What is something that you can talk about for hours without it getting boring? It can be a school subject, like math; it can be a social issue, like fixing education; it can be an experience, like scoring a game winning goal. Whatever that is for you, write about it.

If you don’t write about what you’re passionate about, it’ll show in your essay. You will be boring. If you’ve never met your grandparents before, don’t write about how they have changed your life because it’s a common essay. Conversely, if you never think about time travel, don’t write about how you’re going to be the one that creates a time travel machine because it seems like an original idea. It probably isn’t, and even if it were, you’d have nothing to write about. Pick something that you feel strongly about, pick something that you have an opinion on, pick something that you love.

2. Don’t try to stand out. You don’t have to worry about standing out. Just be yourself. Keep it simple. The more you worry about differentiating yourself, the less time you spend on writing. Everyone is inherently unique. You don’t have to flaunt your uniqueness. If you pick a topic that’s important to you and just write about it, then that will stand out on its own.

My friend who got into Yale wrote about a common topic; a triumph after almost failing at a sports event. They didn’t care that it was a commonly written about topic; it had passion, quality, and individuality. It’s not about what you write, it’s about how you write it.

Don’t actively try to be different. You won’t be yourself. Writing your story already makes you stand out.

3. Just write. When you’ve picked a topic, just start writing. Whatever comes to mind. You can change it later, but if you just sit at your computer and stare for hours, then you’ll have wasted those hours. The way to get around “writers block” is to write.

I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with this post: I had the goal of giving college tips, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to say. So I just started writing and everything came to me.

If you can’t come up with anything,  then you’ve probably chosen the wrong topic. Change topics, and start again.

4. Write the way you talk. Forget about “show, don’t tell”. Not everyone is great at “showing”. If it’s not your style of writing, don’t write like that.

People communicate ideas through speaking, and writing is just another way of communicating ideas. Everyone has a natural sentence rhythm in speaking, so just use that rhythm in writing. Don’t use words you’d never say. Don’t phrase sentences you’d never phrase.

Read your paper out-loud. If anything sounds ridiculous to you, if anything sounds long-winded, it probably is. If you write the way you talk, you keep it simple. If you keep it simple, you seem more intelligent. So write the way you talk, you’ll seem more intelligent.

5. Limit yourself. If you’ve chosen a topic that you are passionate about, then you can probably write many pages about it. Don’t. Restrict yourself to one or one and a half pages single spaced. 500-700 words. If you limit yourself, then every sentence will count.And if you want to write a good admissions essay, you have to make every sentence count.

If there’s a sentence in there that isn’t necessary, throw it out. If there’s a sentence in there that’s boring, throw it out. If you get past the 500-700 word limit, then cut something. You definitely can. You can’t be boring in an admissions essay; there’s limited time to leave a lasting image. You do that by making every sentence a good sentence.

6. Don’t over-edit. When you’re done writing, look over your essay again and cut the boring out. You’ll know if it’s boring. When you’ve done that, send your essay to someone you trust and ask them to cut the boring out. Don’t ask people to check your grammar; it’s not that important and it takes time away from checking what really matters. What’s important is your message.

But be careful, don’t let too many people edit your writing. Because then your writing isn’t you anymore, it’s the collection of people who have changed your essay to their liking. Your message will get lost. Limit editing to one or two people you really trust. If you think someone is a good writer, ask them to edit for you. Don’t let anyone edit that you don’t want editing, whether that be your parents, your friends, or your teachers. You decide who is a good editor.

And at the end of the day, it’s your essay. You make the call on what you cut out, what you put in. If you feel that your editor’s changes weren’t good, then tell him that and ask him to edit again. Editing should be a conversation; talk with your editor about the changes.

It doesn’t matter what school you go to. Research from Alan Kreuger shows that applicants with SAT scores as high as Ivy League admitted students could have been rejected from the Ivies and still ended up having the same average income as those who attended elite schools. It didn’t matter if you got into an Ivy or not; as long as you applied to an Ivy or elite school, you would have the same success as the people who attended elite schools.

So forget your fear of failure. If you’re ambitious, you won’t fail. Be happy, be nice, and write well — you just might get into the school of your dreams.



Filed under College Admissions, Fulfillment, How to write

4 responses to “How to get into the school of your dreams: 6 admissions essay tips

  1. I love that this blog really hammers in the fact that real success comes when you’re happy. I think that so many people, not just high school seniors, get caught up in all the stress and pressure of their daily routines that they forget what’s really important. While most people agree that it wouldn’t hurt to be wealthy and live comfortably, it seems like we forget WHY we want that. Why do we work so hard in school? It’s not to just become some future billionaire…that can’t be an end goal. It’s because we all seek some sort of happiness. Anyways, loved the blog! keep it up patrick:)

  2. I think it’s important to realize that this notion of the “school of your dreams” is something that you come to realize during your time in college. It’s up to you to construct it. It’s not just given to you.

    It’s true that various colleges have different atmospheres and your personality may suit one college better than the other. But this really has such little influence on your college experience. Every college has a place for you. You’ll hear this many times, the reason being it’s true: college is what you make of it.

    My experience with college admissions wasn’t a good one. Long story short, I ended up at a school that I didn’t really even consider going to in the first place.

    It definitely seemed like a downer at first. I didn’t really want to go to this place. MIT was the place for me: I loved the city, the people there, the atmosphere, and the heavy focus on subjects I enjoyed so much. But here I was at Washington University in St. Louis – which had little enough presence that most people thought I was going to school in Washington State or Washington D.C.

    It was definitely easy to be upset, but it was a new stage in my life, and I wouldn’t let something so trivial negatively impact that. I promised myself I would make the best of it.

    And it actually turned out really well.

    I used to tell people that it’s ironic that WashU ended up being the perfect place for me, and I never even wanted to go here. I don’t think that’s completely true, though.

    I think it’s more appropriate to say that I created the perfect place for me at WashU.

    Maybe it’s a subtle difference of words, but it makes a world of difference. Your life is your own, and that goes especially true for your college experience. Create the best experience for yourself. Strive to learn. Strive to meet new people. Strive to find a family. Strive to have fun. And always strive to be happy.

  3. Pingback: Forget about grades, just enjoy this life | Patrick Lu

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