Are you a high school junior? Your college application is probably your first experience writing a personal statement. From purpose to audience, here’s a quick run-down of how college essays are different than the essays you write for English class. 

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High School Essay vs College Essay

1. Understand Purpose

A high school essay generally demonstrates to your teacher what you know. An application essay should demonstrate who you are. Colleges want to find out what you're passionate about, and what you would add to the campus community.

2. Know your Audience

When your English teacher grades your essays, she puts them into the context of every interaction she’s ever had with you. Your personal statement is your one chance to speak directly to the admissions committee and demonstrate who you are beyond grades and test scores . Help colleges learn something about you that they cannot discover when reading the rest of your application. (Tip: Don’t treat your essay like a resume !)

3. Show, Don't Summarize

College essay topics are often open-ended. (“Recount a time when you experienced failure.“) But at heart, all college essays are asking you to demonstrate the same things: your ability to reflect and think critically. Summaries are fine for book reports, but when writing your college essay take the opportunity to really examine how an experience taught you something you didn't previously know about yourself, got you out of your comfort zone, or forced you to grow.

4. Authenticity is Key

On a high school essay, it's generally not appropriate to use the first-person. Not only is it fine to make “I” statements in your application essays, but colleges expect your essays to sound like you, too!  Always be yourself in your application, not the candidate you think admissions committees want to see.

5. Originality Counts

When your teacher asks you to analyze the causes of the Civil War, he is going to receive a lot of essays that sound basically the same. But your college essay should be unique and individual to you. College admissions officers tell us that they see many essays about eye-opening travel experiences, the death of a loved one, or “The Big Game.” You can still write about these experiences, but the trick is in the details. No one sees the world quite the way you do, so let your personality shine through.


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