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  • Ishan Balakrishnan, Founder

6 Tips Every College Applicant Should Know for Short Essay Prompts

350 words -- that’s not a lot of room to work with. And, for me, just like any essay writer, it is constantly a challenge to cram your complex and creative train of thoughts onto just one sheet of paper. So, as each of you put on your writer’s cap and embark on the dynamic journey of college essay writing, it will be useful to keep these tips in your back pocket: 


1. Take your time brainstorming. Don’t jump out of your seat each and every time a bright idea pops into your head; take the time to flesh out your ideas and convert them into a fully organized and structured outline before typing even a single word.


2. Don’t be afraid to reveal your inner quirks. Many of these short essay supplemental prompts are not the place for you to talk about your laundry list of academic accomplishments or extracurricular passions. Instead, this is your chance to share something unique about you as a person -- if you love to bake, explain why the freshly baked golden-brown banana bread lights up your eyes and fires up your nostrils. Think about what characteristics define your multidimensional personality and shape your interactions with others and the world at large.


3. Every essay does not have to be a “flex.” While your accomplishments, successes, and trophies are impressive and an important component of your application package, remember that admissions officers want to get to know you for who you are and not what your successes make you out to be. Keep in mind that many applicants will likely have a series of awards similar to yours, but no applicant will think and approach life the same way you do. Sometimes just sharing your unique perspective on a topic can demonstrate much more than any trophy or award ever will. 


4. Use all the space given to you. Take a simple analogy: suggested word constraints are like the dimensions of a farm. For the farmer to maximize their profit, they will cultivate crops on every foot of land they own. Any land left untouched is wasted. Similarly, every word can help give admissions officers a better picture of who you are as an applicant, a student, and a person. But, never include words simply for the sake of filling up space --  use each word to tell your story.


5. Write first, cut down later. One of the biggest and most common mistakes high school applicants make in their supplemental essays is the order they follow when writing. Too often, students edit as they write, constantly checking how many words have been used up and how many are left. This is a crucial error: Letting the word count cloud your thought process only hinders your ability to craft a truly memorable and personal story. Express all of the ideas from your brainstorm (even if you surpass your word count) and cut down later -- you will be surprised how much your word economy can improve after repeated iterations of essay editing!


6. You can’t fit a square peg in a round hole. As mentioned in Tip #3, too often students feel the need to always showboat. In short essays, however, it is critical that the topic you write about truly fits within the allocated word count. Some ideas and topics are far too complex or meaningful to try to express in a short essay. Save these ideas for your longer personal insight questions -- trying to squeeze them in will be obvious and make for a confusing and unimpactful essay.  



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