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15 college essay tips from BC, Wellesley and Wheaton admissions officers

Posted by Leslie Anderson  October 24, 2013 04:05 PM

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Together they have more than 90 years experience reading, and judging college essays: John Mahoney, director of undergraduate admissions at Boston College, Jennifer Desjarlais, dean of admission and financial aid at Wellesley College, and Gail Berson, vice president and dean of admissions at Wheaton College.

The following is a list of do's and don’ts taken from what all three of the admissions professionals had to say about the things that make a great college essay.

1. Tell a story about yourself that will give the admissions office a sense of who you are.

2. Keep it simple, and keep it short. There is no need to write a novel, and admissions people read thousands of essays,

3. Write it yourself.

4. Use your own voice. This is not the time to experiment with styles you never use - so writing in rhyme, using humor, or satire can be very difficult, and are probably not the best way to go.

5. Throw away the Thesaurus. Using big words doesn’t mean you’re smart. Use words you actually use in real life.

6. Don’t write about the Human Genome Project. Choose something you really know about. Admissions people want to learn something about you.

7. While it’s tempting to write about a hero, be careful. Sometimes you end up telling all about the hero, and nothing about yourself.

8. Don’t make simple mistakes. Typos, misspelled words, and grammar mistakes really do matter.

9. Boastful doesn’t mean smart.

10. You don’t need to have had adversity in your life to write a compelling essay.

11. You don’t need a big accomplishment to write about in your essay to impress the admissions office.

12.Small details added to the essay can be the most revealing.

13. Don’t sit down to write the night before the essay is due. It doesn’t have to be a Pulitzer Prize winner, but it does have to be thoughtful.

14. Start looking at the questions well in advance. Thoughtfully answering the “why” or “how” of the questions is the most important.

15. Don’t over-worry it.

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at

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