How to Cure the College-Essay Blues

No need for your high schooler to agonize over the dreaded application essay. Just follow these tips from Melissa McViney, an independent college counselor in Hingham.

college essay blues

Illustration by Tommy White

Take control.

“This is your opportunity to show your voice, identity, and personality to the decision makers,” McViney explains. Take advantage of that by crafting an essay that tells the admissions office exactly what you want them to learn about you—ideally something that’s not already reflected in your application.

Narrow the focus.

“Your essay is not a clown car—don’t try to fit in everything plus the kitchen sink,” McViney says. Think small—a moment in time—and make one or two points well.

Show, don’t tell.

Don’t just tell the reader that you love the outdoors—give examples of what you’ve done that demonstrates it. “Make sure to use all of your senses to set the scene—what did it smell like, sound like, taste like, or feel like?” McViney advises.

Differentiate yourself.

Most admissions officers have hundreds of application essays to sift through, so tell a story only you can tell, in your own words. “If your admissions reader finds your essay on the floor without a name, you want him or her to know it’s yours,” McViney says.