Do a search on "college essay tips" and you will be inundated with advice. Here are some highlights:
1. Brainstorm. Think. Give yourself time and space to consider what you want to write.
2. Make a list of all ideas, good and not-so-good. Think again. Consider which ones you should hang on to and which ones you should toss. Toss freely. Only the strong survive this exercise.
3. Don't cram, so there's no reason to panic and lose your confidence. You'll want to write several drafts and ask a trusted mentor, teacher, adviser to read them. Give yourself time between drafts -- this does wonders to tightening up long, ponderous essays. You'll discover all sorts of places to cut or enhance.
4. Voice. Does your voice come through in the writing? Avoid a stilted, stuffy, knowing (basically, boring) tone -- you know, the kind of thing you "think" admissions officers would want to hear from you. No, actually, they want to get a sense of YOU. A fresh voice -- in any writing -- is the best voice.
5. Avoid humor writing, or cracking a few jokes along the way. Your story and strong writing will allow your personality to show. And while we're on the topic, avoid sound effects like OUCH!!!! WHIZZ!!! BAM!!!!
6. Reflect, don't just state the facts. What did you learn? What did you discover? And as you are reflecting, you will want to write in the past tense.
7. Write clearly and with purpose. Choose your words carefully -- each word counts in this efficient writing exercise. Avoid the passive voice.
8. Don't get repetitive. The essay shouldn't repeat or contradict other parts of your application. And in the essay itself, avoid repeating the same point over and over.
9. Answer the question. But don't repeat the prompt. Jump right into the story with no preamble.
10. Check for spelling and grammatical errors.. Ask your eagle-eyed mentor or teacher to help.
11. Avoid cliches. You know what they are. Write them down, then scrap them, no matter how much you like the sound of them.
And if your eyes haven't glazed over yet, click here for some "unofficial tips" that we liked from a Harvard student named Dan Milaschewski, who says of himself, "I am a shmuck. But I am a shmuck here for you."
We're all just shmucks here for you! Good luck!
(Photo credit: YWP Photo Library, photo by semacdonald, Sheldon, VT)