Unique Ways to Stand Out in Your College Admissions Essay

Admissions essays can easily overwhelm applicants, given the limited word count and the pressure to be distinct. Are you worried because you don’t possess any incredible tales about how you saved the world or overcame poverty? Relax! The strongest admissions essays are those that are poignant, self-realized, and unique. Below you will find tips for how to master various directions an admissions essay can take.

Explain a challenge you once faced and how you dealt with it.

Many colleges inquire about an instance when you had to overcome a struggle. This might leave you questioning how interesting your story is and possibly lead you to embellish the truth. If you are comfortable sharing a personal and intimate story, you are in luck–but if you’re uncomfortable with the concept, remember that even the most seemingly mundane stories can end up reflecting something quite intriguing. For example, one recent college applicant wrote a strong, humorous essay about winning a pie-eating competition and what it took to overcome the odds. The possibilities here are endless.

Describe a place that means something to you.

For those looking at the “meaningful place” essay option and figuring you need to write about the idyllic meadows in your imagination–hold on before you begin writing. Have you been at your happiest while sparring with battle-axes in your Renaissance reenactment group? Do you excitedly rush to the garage to fix your father’s old car after school? If your so-called “happy place” fits the sunshine and rainbow setting, skip this essay. If it’s a location that at least two of your friends or family members would consider uncomfortable or odd, it’s safe to assume that a compelling essay convincing the reader why it’s the best place in the world for you has the potential to be quite powerful, as well as show the school something about which you’re passionate.

Share a negative experience and how it affected you positively.

A story about a negative influence or a negative experience may show the reader more about you as a person. It can also illustrate what valuable skill or outlook you would bring to campus. For those choosing to write about a fictional character they admire, a villain may provide a more interesting analysis than an essay on the most lovable character. This is not an invitation to write about that time you were arrested or about your bad semester in high school; it’s an opportunity to speak about how you held yourself or others accountable for their actions and successfully moved past the incident. Admissions committees usually want students who will bring a diversity of experience, but also a maturity of emotion, all of which can be seen through the self-actualization process in this type of essay.

Overall, you must stand out by demonstrating a strong viewpoint and critical eye. Follow any of these paths when approaching the admissions essay and you will get the edge you need.


This article was written by Andrea Deck

Andrea Deck is a professional GRE tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. She is a graduate student at Columbia University in the class of 2015.

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