What major changes have you been through? A move? Changing schools? Losing a loved one or a friend? (Avoid writing about romantic relationships and breakups in your essays, but feel free to mine them in your freewriting.) Tell the story of the day that change occurred—the day you moved, the first day at the new school or the last day at the old school, the day you got bad news about a family member or a friend, etc.

Although there is no single thing we are hoping to find out about you, the essay can help you “come to life” and often becomes a way for us to understand your story. Remember, we aren’t looking for perfection. We are looking for the human being behind the roster of activities and grades. Think of the essay as an opportunity rather than an ordeal. Don't psych yourself out by thinking the essay has to do all the heavy lifting in your application. It is only one part in our holistic review that allows us to construct an interesting Oberlin community.


What does crispy even mean? How crispy is crispy enough; how crispy is too crispy? The back and forth with my teammates over everything from how thick the dough should be to the definition of crispy taught me a key ingredient of teamwork: patience. Collaboration breeds tension, which can make teamwork so frustrating. But it’s that very tension which also transforms differing perspectives into solutions that propel collaborative undertakings forward.
Another way to get critical distance from your essay is to get criticism. And I don’t mean a slash-and-burn review like you might get from an unreasonable reality-TV competition judge. I’m talking about constructive feedback from trusted friends, family, or mentors. Southwestern University Assistant Director of Admission Rebecca Rother recommends having two people review your essay. The first should be someone “who knows you super well, such as a parent, best friend, close teacher, etc. They will be able to see the essence of you in the story you’ve chosen.” The second reader should be “someone who doesn’t know you as well,” such as “a teacher you haven’t had for a few years, a friend of the family, the librarian at the local library, etc. This will be the person who makes sure that you aren’t missing key details to your story.” Often, the college-application essay is so personal that you can forget that your reader, the admission officer, is practically a stranger and may not recognize the people and places you mention in your essay, so your second reader can help you clarify those unfamiliar references.
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A lively, individual voice. Writing is for readers. In this case, your reader is an admissions officer who has read thousands of essays before yours and will read thousands after. Your goal? Don’t bore your reader. Use interesting descriptions, stay away from clichés, include your own offbeat observations—anything that makes this essay sounds like you and not like anyone else.
Before you begin to write, brainstorm some ideas. Most likely, the university gave you a prompt or a choice of prompts to write about. Take your time to carefully consider each prompt. If you feel yourself drawn to a particular prompt, think about why you’re being drawn to it. Reflect on your life to find any personal anecdotes that work well with that prompt.
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