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Essay Tips

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The college essay is often the most difficult part of preparing your application. To help you get off to a good start, we’ve put together the following tips and hints. These are comments from our admissions staff who actually read your essays and evaluate them in the admission process. We can’t guarantee results, but this advice might help you get started.

Tips from the Readers

  • Treat it as an opportunity, not a burden. The essay is one of the few things that you’ve got complete control over in the application process, especially by the time you’re in your senior year. Use it to tell us a part of your story.
  • Take the time to go beyond the obvious. Especially if you’re recounting an event, take it beyond the chronological storytelling. Include some opinion or reflection.
  • Don’t try to take on too much. Focus on one event, one activity, or one “most influential person.” Tackling too much tends to make your essay too watered down or disjointed.
  • Brainstorm the things that matter to you. Don’t be afraid to reveal yourself in your writing. We want to know who you are and how you think.
  • Write thoughtfully and with authenticity. It’ll be clear who believes in what they are saying versus those who are simply saying what they think we want to hear.
  • Be comfortable showing your vulnerability. We don’t expect you to be perfect. Feel free to tell us about a time you stumbled, and what happened next.
  • Essays should have a thesis that is clear to you and to the reader. Your thesis should indicate where you’re going and what you’re trying to communicate from the outset.
  • Don’t do a history report. Some background knowledge is okay, but do not re-hash what other authors have already said or written.
  • Answer the prompt. We’re most interested in the story you’re telling, but it’s important to follow directions, too.
  • Be yourself. If you are funny, write a funny essay; if you are serious, write a serious essay. Don’t start reinventing yourself with the essay.
  • Ignore the urge for perfection. There’s no such thing as the perfect college essay. Just be yourself and write the best way you know how.
  • Tell us something different from what we’ll read on your list of extracurricular activities or transcript.
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread. There’s a difference between “tutoring children” and “torturing children” and your spell-checker won’t catch that.
  • Keep it short.
  • Limit the number of people who review your essay. Too much input usually means your voice is lost in the writing style.
  • Appearances count. Formatting and presentation cannot replace substance, but they can certainly enhance the value of an already well-written essay.

Ready to become a Carl?

Take the First Step.

The first step to becoming a Carleton student is submitting your application. Even if you haven’t finished your entire application, you can submit Part I to let us know you plan to apply. This lets us keep in touch and guide you through the process for submitting and tracking the rest of your application. Go ahead and take that first step. We can’t wait to meet you!

Begin the Application Process

Questions about the application process? Get in touch.