10 Tips for writing an unforgettable college essay

By Kristin Diekevers ’07, Associate Director of Admissions

A 17-year old me is sitting at my basement computer, fingers lightly touching the good ol’ Gateway keyboard from yesteryear and…nothing. I’m blank. I’m here to write my college essay, and I’m straining not only on the first sentence, but the topic itself. Sound familiar?

The Common Application is set to go live August 1; it’s time to think about your college essay. Thrilling, right? I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be painful, and it can even be enlightening.

After a decade of reading thousands of college essays submitted to Hope College for admission, here are my top 10 Tips for Writing an Unforgettable College Essay:

  1. Your topic is not OSFA (One Size Fits All). Ask yourself this question: can anyone else write this essay? If the answer is yes, it’s back to the drawing board. Sure others may have a similar topic, but the way you tell your story should be uniquely you.
  2. We want the feels from the start. How do you want us to feel after reading your introduction? Are we balancing on a cliff eager to find out what comes next? Are we shocked by your personal admission? Are we nervous standing on stage with you at your first high school musical? An emotional connection leaves us excited to continue reading.
  3. Reeeelllllaaaaxxxx. Right now, you have time on your side. If you’re feeling wound up trying to organize your thoughts, just start writing and concern yourself with structure later. If writing in your bedroom makes you feel isolated and stuck, a change of scenery could help. It might even be that typing on a computer seems too permanent; grab a notebook and pencil instead.
  4. Review, revise, repeat x3. Remember Writer’s Workshop in elementary school? The writing process is important and should certainly be applied to your college essay, so be sure to proofread after each draft. You may have to rewrite entire sections of your essay, and though it can be frustrating, the end result will be something you’re proud to submit.
  5. It’s not a text, tweet or #nofilter. Don’t write like it is. You must use capital letters and punctuation. A series of generic one-liners will not produce a cohesive story nor can 140 characters. You may find inspiration through your social media, but put your filter on knowing your writing will be read by professionals.
  6. Develop your narrative. No term papers allowed. I have no doubt you did your research when you wrote about Kate Chopin’s motivation for writing The Awakening or the religious principles of the Puritans who settled in the United States. I will also be eager to learn about this when we talk. For your college essay, though, it’s all about painting a picture through the story you tell.
  7. Does your essay sound like you? It should. Over your high school career you have developed your own writing style, your own voice. That includes how you organize your thoughts, use punctuation, and what words you use (and don’t use). If one of your editors suggests a word that you know instantly doesn’t sound like you, don’t take his/her advice.
  8. We’ve read the rest of your application. Don’t pretend like we haven’t. When you apply for a job, your cover letter should not simply restate everything that can be found on your resume. Similarly, I end an application review by reading the essay. Though you may highlight an event or activity listed in your application, it should not be a summary of it or what you gained from each activity of which you were a part.
  9. Who else has read it? Admissions committees are made up of diverse individuals and personalities. It’s important the people reading your essay before you turn it in are diverse too. Choose people who know you well (parent, grandparent, teacher, coach, youth pastor) and those who don’t (a parent’s co-worker, a teacher’s spouse, the gang who has coffee with your grandpa every Friday morning). Collect their feedback and refer to #4 above.
  10. All good things must come to an end…a really good one. It’s time to wrap it up no more than 650 words later. Ending your story well is as important as starting it. Establish your take-aways and remember those feels.

Keep this in mind: your essay will be one piece of your larger application, and for most colleges, it will not be the sole item that makes (or breaks) your chances for admission. Head over to Common Application and get started (or continue) telling your story.

I Got Into College! What Next?

It’s that time of the year, folks! Well yes, Christmas and being with family, but as well as getting those college acceptance letters! There’s a new college graduating class cohort, the class of 2019. That seems so far away, but trust me, it will be 2019 in no time. I can’t believe I graduate in 2011, and 2015 is only a few days away. Sooner than later, I’ll be in my cap and gown at graduation! Anyway, listen up class of 2019! You may have got into your college of your dreams which is great! If you didn’t, THAT’S OK! Keep an open-mind, opportunities will come. It sounds too good to be true, but life moves on and it won’t stop.

For many of you, you may have applied to several schools and were accepted at several. Now that you’re in, what comes next? Reflecting back on this time when I was a senior in high school is fun and I want to share what I did with you. It is an exciting, yet stressful time. Hopefully, this can ease some of that stress. But at the same time, it’s definitely time to start planning ahead. Before you know it, the high school graduating class of 2015 will be freshmen. Time creeps up, and it creeps up fast.

1. CELEBRATE!

After all of those hours spent on ACT studying, college apps and essays, and waiting, your time is here. CELEBRATE and breathe! Getting into college is only the first step, but is a milestone. Share with your family and friends, this is huge! Once you’re all celebrated out, choices will need to be made, including narrowing down your choices. If you really loved these schools, maybe a second visit wouldn’t hurt. One great way to experience college is doing an overnight stay. Then, you can get the sense of what that particular school is like! Talk to people that go to that school, do more research on your school options! You’re eventually going to have to pick one, so make sure its the right one. Affirm your thoughts!

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2. Be Realistic

College is expensive. There, I said it. You may have been accepted to your dream school, but is it a feasible option? Check out the scholarships you’ve received, apply for more scholarships to bring the costs down, and definitely fill out your FAFSA to see if you qualify for financial aid. These are great ways to make the college selection process more realistic, for both you and family. Figure out how finances will work because they play a HUGE factor in your college career. Other than establishing finances, identify if that is the school for you in terms of size, location, and distance. And make sure your motives are your own, not that of your friends. College is a huge chapter in your life; you need to write that chapter, not others!

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3. DO WELL

Just because you’ve been accepted into college doesn’t mean you can slack off the rest of your senior year. Your college will still look at your academic standing during your senior year. They too have the power to withdraw scholarships from you if. Heck, if you completely slack off, they can withdraw your acceptance. So my advice to you high school seniors is to continue doing well! Senioritis is real. You want to go to college now and you want to graduate. Don’t let that get in the way of your studies which are still important!

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4. Make your choice!

Picking the right school doesn’t have to happen overnight. For some, it will, but for many, it won’t. Once you’ve identified which school is the most practical in terms of scholarship and financial aid packages, location, distance, and size, and if that college is the one for you, make your choice! Being accepted to school is exciting, but choosing my college was even more exciting. The next big chapter of your life will be there, and to just know that is exhilarating. Make sure you make your decisions by the school’s deadlines. I would play it on the safe side and make a decision before then to give yourself some leeway! Once this choice is made, keep up with that school’s news through social media. It will let you know what’s going on around campus.

tumblr_inline_n3er2uX3Yz1s0u9u5If you want to see what college life for me at Hope College is like, please feel free to follow me on Twitter at @HopeMarvin15 and on Instagram at MarvSolberg. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask. Thanks for reading, folks!

GIF sources were found using Google.

Choosing Your Dream College

I’ve been in your position before, class of 2018. It’s the last half of your senior year, and for many of you, you haven’t decided where your next journey will take you. Where will I be for the next four years? For some of you, you’ve had your heart set somewhere, and for many of you, it’s at Hope College! That’s awesome. But I just want to post about choosing a college. It’s a hard choice, and it’s an important one. Hopefully this will help you decide where your next four years will take you. I got some inspiration for this blog post. You know who you are!!

SHORT PERSONAL ANECDOTE: So when I applied to college, I applied to A LOT, because I didn’t know what I wanted. I wanted to explore my options. Let me tell you, your options are infinite – and that just makes the college draft more excruciating and difficult. Another setback for me was that my high school did not prepare my graduating class well in regard to bringing in college admissions reps, applying to school, and exposing us to higher education. So, my trek to find my dream school was all on me, but I am SO incredibly happy the pressure was on me. Look where I am today. After visits and questions, I realized that each school was advertising itself.

Back to the blog post. Each school you visit, tour, and ask questions obviously want you to come there. Each school is diverse and unique. This is what attracts prospective students. Now you can keep asking questions, and “university” will keep answering them. But is this helping you make a choice? Or is it just getting your questions answered?

I mean each school can tell you all about the school they are representing, and Hope is the same. But one thing a college has a hard time answering is “Why should I go here?” And the reason is because that is UP TO YOU. Many students feel at home at many colleges, and many students attend a specific college simply because of its reputation. For some, like myself, attend a specific school because it’s a calling for them. I can ramble on about Hope’s strengths and weaknesses (which do exist, yes), but you know, there is a department that does that at each school, ADMISSIONS! 

Admissions offices all over the nation coordinate visits, tours, panels, and much more to attract prospective students. They also hire student workers to represent their school, like myself. I am here just sharing my thoughts, and my life at Hope College. It can seem so simple at times, but then I realize that it has the potential for an individual to become committed to this school or not, and that’s a power that cannot be abused.

After my rambling above, here comes my point. The question “Why should I go here?” can only be answered by YOU, but you can get help from others. Do your own research, write down what you’re looking for in a school. Make a pro and con list (those help me)! Do whatever it is you need to do to make a choice. Questions – ask them. This will help you answer your main question.

Does this help? I know it’s wordy and lengthy – but it’s important because it’s the next four years of your life. I can’t believe I’m MORE than halfway through my college career. It seems as if I just graduated a week ago. But like many college will state, college is the best thing that has ever happened. I want you, the class of 2018, to be able to say that too.

For those of you who have committed to Hope, or another school, CONGRATULATIONS!! That is a huge first step in the next chapter of your life. For those who are uncertain, I pray that you make a decision in the upcoming months, The Lord has a plan. Just wait and see!!!

Okay, one more thing here. If you are coming to Hope in the fall of 2014, here is a countdown to get you PUMPED! CLICK HERE!!

Well, that’s it for this Sunday morning. By the way, HAPPY SUPER BOWL SUNDAY!

#Hope2018

Hashtag Hope 2018. You’re in, but what now?

Before I answer that, you have NO idea how excited I am for the Hope College Class of 2018. Me, along with the student bloggers have been glued to the Hope College Facebook App answering your questions and introducing ourselves. It’s quite fun. What I am most excited about is the diversity of this class. I can already tell that every admitted student has something to bring to the table — that’s why you’ve been accepted to this fine institution! But what’s so fun to see is what every single one of you are interested in. From music, to languages, to pre-professional health studies, NURSING (my major!) and many more majors, everyone has different interests for different reasons, and it’s just awesome to read why. This is going to be one awesome group.

Ok, you are in, what now? As 2014 sneaks in on us, it’s time to fill out the FAFSA, or the Free Application For Federal Student Aid. Make sure you have your, and your family’s tax info on this! Filling this out determines the amount of financial aid you receive. Also, Hope College also has it’s own “FAFSA” called the SAF, or Supplemental Application for Financial Aid. I strongly recommend filling both of these out. They can help pay for your education! Right now, a head start on filling out financial aid papers is beneficial!

Another thing you admitted students should do is look for scholarships, either through your high school academic counseling office, or national ones. Whatever scholarships you may apply for, take advantage of them. Again, they can help you pay for school — it reduces your overall cost!

For the students who are interested in the performing arts, make sure you seek out Hope College’s Distinguished Artist Awards. Eligible students can receive $2,500 each year in a performing arts discipline. Click here for more details!

One of the most important things you can do, if you are truly committed to Hope College, is to start to get to know people from your class through the Hope College Facebook App! You can meet students, just like you, from your hometown or who share your same interests. If you also haven’t visited the campus already, I STRONGLY suggest calling admissions and make an appointment for a visit! It’s going to be your school in a matter of months, so why not, right!? For some of you, you have been living vicariously through our blogs and twitter accounts. To really make Hope life become a reality, stay with a Hope student for a weekend! You can experience what it is like being on campus and seeking out opportunities to do many activities throughout campus and Holland!

Again, if you are truly committed to this awesome institution, you can even send in your deposit! But that’s only if you are ready! So Hope College Class of 2018, it may seem like a long ways, but before you know it, it will be Orientation. I want to welcome and congratulate you on your acceptance again, and I can’t wait to see you here at Hope!

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask! You can also follow me on twitter at @HopeMarvin15.

GO DUTCH!

Big School vs. Little School

I know it’s beyond Wednesday, so this week is practically over. But, I just wanted to share with all of you my experiences from last weekend! So, Friday, October 18th, one of my best buddies and I left Holland, MI and road-tripped to Ann Arbor, the home of the University of Michigan main campus. I’m going to be honest, I love U of M. It was in my top 3 choices my senior year of high school. When Joey and I arrived there, it was around 10:00 PM, because we made a pit stop in Howell, MI to do some outlet mall shopping. I was actually disappointed with the selection and even the prices, but that’s what’s not important! We ended up staying the night in Ann Arbor. We needed all of the energy we could reserve for the big football game!

The football game started at 3:30 PM, so Joey and I slept-in a little, and we did a little tour of the HUGE campus. We ended up in downtown AA where we ate at Noodles and Company and shopped at the MDen, the official supplier of Michigan apparel. That store was packed beyond I could imagine, and I even heard from the locals that it’s that way all of the time. Crazy to think, right?

Whenever I go to Noodles and Co., I ALWAYS get the Pad Thai. I would recommend it.
Whenever I go to Noodles and Co., I ALWAYS get the Pad Thai. I would recommend it.

Just touring around South Campus was so overwhelming for me. Although this trip was such an awesome experience, it made me realize how lucky I am to be at Hope College. When you think about, we are very spoiled as students at Hope! We get the attention from our professors, they know us on a first-name basis, they care about our success, and Hope is just a closer, tight-knit community. Of course, the big universities have so many things to offer, but so does a small-liberal arts college. Here are some of the pictures I took from this weekend at U of M. Take a peek!

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Perks of going to Hope College:

For the seniors, and even juniors in high school, hear me out! The size of the college you want to go to will matter! Think about the faculty to student ratio. Glance at the average class sizes. DO YOUR RESEARCH! At Hope College, we pride our faculty to student ratio and class sizes. You will get all of the attention you need. The small class sizes truly enhance your learning. For me, I feel super comfortable asking my profs questions, which furthers my learning.

Big universities do offer financial aid, but for many, they’re only given such a limited amount. Again, Hope College prides itself in financial aid packages, making school affordable for all students. Yes, ALL STUDENTS. Hope College also offers various academic scholarships and grants. Let me tell you, I’m SO glad I came here. This is also what drew me in.

I know you are thinking about college, but it’s also a time to think about post-college education. Hope College prepares all of its students for graduate school. Hope offers many pre-professional programs that can get you in the door. Hope is also very distinct in research. It is ONE OF THE BEST undergraduate research schools in the NATION. Yes, NATION. Want proof? Click here!

Hope has an atmosphere that you won’t see anywhere else. The campus is both small and large. You can cross campus in at least 10 minutes, but the student body is at the perfect size. You will recognize others, but not know them necessarily. I know I keep yapping but Hope just has so much to offer.

As you approach deadlines for applying to schools, consider Hope. Click here to go their admissions website to learn even more. Hope offers many visit-day opportunities, fly-in weekends, and even crossing Lake Michigan on a ferry to accommodate those living out of state! I know I’ve been yapping for a long time now. But consider your options. Hope is here for you. Take the visit days to your fullest advantage. You’ll be glad you did. Seriously, this college rocks.