CV-19: Time for a College Essay?

By Joan M. Azarva, Ms.ED


While COVID-19 continues to disrupt every aspect of life, enforced downtime may have an upside for high-schoolers applying to college Encourage your child to devote a block of time each day to work on her application Following are tips to ace the essay

For aspiring college students, the essay is the one component of the college application over which students have control. It’s their chance to reveal to the admissions committee who they really are, and if their GPA and test scores are less than stellar, it can potentially tip the scales in their favor.

Colleges receive thousands of essays. The goal is for your child to distinguish hers from the pack. Below are some helpful tips from college admissions officers on how to achieve that:

10 Essay Tips to Keep in Mind

  1. Formulate your essay long before the application is due. You don’t want the pressure of having to muster extraordinary creativity during a hectic time of year, which is why the COVID-19 enforced downtime lends itself to this task.
  2. Always start with an outline, then write. Put it away for a few days then read it aloud from a fresh perspective. Now, either edit or re-write it.
  3. Be honest. Taking an idea off the internet and tweaking it is not original, yet colleges frequently receive plagiarized essays. Colleges routinely use software to detect plagiarism.
  4. Be authentic. Show your personality and passion.
  5. Make your essay so personal that no one could have written it but you. Its purpose is to allow the admissions committee to see beyond your numbers and get a peek at the positive qualities that make you a student that will enhance their college community.
  6. Use an opening paragraph that is unusual, humorous, or thoughtful—but not overly dramatic. Hook the reader and make her want to read more. Rather than using the concluding paragraph as a summation, show reflective analysis that tells the reader what you’ve learned.
  7. Be sure your essay answers the question and has a strong thesis statement. Stay laser-focused on the topic. Admissions officers don’t want to read a laundry list of accomplishments, most of which likely appear in other sections of the application.
  8. Take a risk in your subject matter, but at the same time, make sure it passes the grandmother test: If it’s something you wouldn’t want her to read, don’t send it to a college!
  9. Use ordinary language. Essay readers are proficient at sniffing out candidates who use the thesaurus to impress.
  10. Proofread! Remember, you can’t always rely on software for grammar and spelling checks. Ask someone you trust to review your grammar, sentence structure, spelling, and tone.

Finally, while you want to submit your finest writing, know that even students with superb essays can be rejected. Remember, admissions officers are looking at an entire package, and a well-crafted essay can only exert so much influence.

To Divulge or Not to Divulge

For students with learning differences, there’s the added challenge of whether or not to use the essay to divulge your disability.

Keep in mind that as an applicant your aim is to inspire confidence by showing that you are academically prepared and, if accepted, will be an asset to the incoming class. If divulging your LD status serves that purpose, consider writing about your experience. If there are better topics to achieve that end, then don’t write about your learning differences. It’s a personal decision, and there are no right or wrong answers.

If you use your essay to share your LD status (and perhaps explain inconsistencies on your transcript), consider using the essay to address how your brain works to your advantage; for example, relate how your dyslexia causes you to “think outside the box” using specific examples.

Obviously, if you’re applying to a school that specializes exclusively in students with disabilities, divulging your challenges in your essay is safe. Still, forget self-pity, excuses, doom and gloom; keep your essay upbeat.

Joan M. Azarva is a college learning specialist who focuses on the transition from high school to college for students with LD and ADHD.

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