1. Find a theme
Admission officers will look at your application in its entirety to get a sense of who you are. If your essay is about an unrelenting passion, make sure that passion of yours makes it onto your list of activities (please spend a considerable amount of time perfecting your activity section). If your essay is about aspirations, make sure your future plan and intended major on the application form tell the same story. Be consistent and coherent!
2. Write amazing essays
Some students like to start their essays by repeating (or in their words, “answering”) the question asked. If the question asks for a challenge you have faced, the most unoriginal opening you can come up with is, “my biggest challenge was…”. Are you scratching your head for an eye-catching opening? Try starting your essay with an anecdote, something unexpected, or even a one-liner to capture admission officers’ attention. Before you actually put words down on paper (or on your laptop), take time to brainstorm. The common app essay prompts are designed to be broad, so you can choose the right prompt to craft an essay that’s deeply personal to you. You’d probably find dozens of topics you can write about; weed out the ones that won’t take you far and find that topic that calls for a genuine and unique essay.
3. All essays matter
A lot of students I know spend hours perfecting their 650-words common app essay but would rush through the supplement essays the week before application deadlines. Most colleges have supplement questions –and these questions range from why this college to what diversity means to you. Some schools come up with more out-of-the-box types of questions (such as my personal favorite from the University of Southern California- What is your favorite snack?). The biggest mistake you could make is not to put any thoughts into these responses- it indicates a lack of serious effort.
4. Be smart with test-optional policies
One of the most significant changes COVID-19 has brought about in higher education is the popularization of test-optional policies. But do you really understand the nuances of these policies? Some colleges are ‘test-blind’ (i.e., will not use any test score in the admission process), but some are ‘test-optional’ (i.e., will review test score IF students choose to submit). Even within the same university, specific colleges (or schools) can have different testing policies. Make sure you familiarize yourself with each university’s policy in your application year and use this to your advantage!
5. Demonstrate your 'fit'
Demonstrating your ‘fit’ to a university is perhaps one of the hardest concepts for students to grasp. Think of each university as a new friend you’re trying to get to know – each school has its own personality, strengths, and even quirky traits! Spend a lot of time researching schools, including their student clubs, curriculum, and culture; try to understand what makes this college unique. Make sure you show why you’re a great fit for this school in your application.