Do: Be honest and true to yourself

College admissions officers are reading thousands of essays and can spot a lie when they see one.  Frankly, it’s more impressive to read a mature reflection about how a particular experience has impacted your life than self-aggrandizing canard.  Additionally, your writing should be personable and not use words like self-aggrandizing or canard too often. Tell your story in your own words and not a story that you think admissions officers want to hear.  There’s nothing wrong with tailoring your essay a bit to match a school’s image, just don’t overdo it.


Don’t: Brag

There’s a fine line between putting your best foot forward and bragging.  You should display all your best qualities, but try to temper them with some humility.  Be proud of your accomplishments and show how you want to build on them at college. There are going to be thousands of applicants just as qualified as you are and colleges want to pick the ones who show some nuance in their perspective.


Do: Answer the question thoroughly

Return to the prompt consistently as you answer the question.  If the question has multiple parts, make sure that you’re doing each one justice.  Ivy Admissions’ philosophy towards essays is that each one should work together like a well-oiled machine to paint a full picture of the applicant.  But, don’t let this distract you from centering your response on the question!


Don’t: Write more than asked for

Brevity is the soul of wit!  The word limit exists for a reason.  If you go over it, that demonstrates either carelessness or disregard of instructions.  Similarly, you shouldn’t go beyond the scope of the question. If you’re asked about a formative experience, don’t write about your top five; focus on one.


Do: Outline and revise

Lastly, outline each essay you write.  It’ll save you time going forward and you won’t accidentally skip or shortchange important parts of your essay.  If you outline each essay you write, it’ll help you build a more cohesive portrait of yourself. Furthermore, try to perform three to five rounds of revision on each essay.  This will let you tighten the mechanics of your writing or change it entirely if the guiding ideas are half-baked. Don’t forget to shop your piece around! Friends, family and teachers are all valuable sources of feedback.  Making sure that you have time to both solicit feedback and revise accordingly will also help you budget your time at the start of the process.


Ivy Admissions has many experienced writers in our ranks and can help you follow each of these guidelines.  We’ll keep you on track to prevent you from skipping any essay criteria and give you constructive criticism after each iteration.  We’ve also taught our students how to find their personal voice and sharpen it, so it is present in everything they write, both during the college search and for years after.