How to Write a Descriptive Application Essay

Writing college admission essays can be challenging. After all, a lot depends on it. This means every word counts. You’ll need to pay attention to details like striking the right note, baiting the fish (in this case the admissions officer), and keeping the reader engaged.

It does not matter what you say; it is how you say it that gets a person to read what you say. This is where descriptive writing skills will help you. To enhance its readability, your essay must be concise, coherent, and focused on its core objective.

The purpose of a college application essay is for the college to get to know you, your attitude, your values, your beliefs, and what makes you tick. In other words, they want to know the person behind the academic scores. An admissions essay is your opportunity to sell yourself. Think of yourself as a brand. What are your core values? How does your life reflect these values? What story will best describe these values? Are you aware of your strengths and weaknesses, and how do you relate to yourself and life?

Self-awareness will make the task of writing the admissions essay much easier. In addition to this, by following a few tips on how to write a college admission essay, you can submit an essay that stands out.

college application essay

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Tips to Write a Descriptive Application Essay

The Anecdote: It is often suggested that you begin your essay with an anecdote that is connected with what you’d like to talk about. To make an anecdote descriptive, try to engage the senses and bring in imagery. For example, ‘the squeal of tires’, ‘the smell of burning rubber’.

Another age-old trick when writing a descriptive essay is to ‘show, don’t tell’. Consider the difference between ‘I met with an accident’ and ‘A scream was stuck in my throat as the car skid off the street.’ Metaphors and similes are great as long as they are used sparingly.

Tell a Story: Write as if you are talking to a person directly, the way you would tell a story. In fact, you can begin by practicing this with a friend or family with a timer on. This makes it easy for you to use natural language – take care to distinguish between an informal and conversational tone and language. It also helps if you keep the essay concise. You won’t say more than you have to.

Stay Focused: Remind yourself why you are writing this college essay and the message you’d like to convey. This will help you streamline your writing. For example, you’d like the college to know you are entrepreneurial and innovative. You weave this into the anecdote, if you choose to begin with one, and keep it in the background of the rest of the essay without spelling it out each time. Remember: show, don’t tell.

Keep It Unique: This goes without saying. While you may read several essays that have worked, use them to inspire you and help you ideate. Don’t simply tweak them. Admission officers read several essays each year, and they can spot the clichéd sentences in an instance. An original story has a far better chance of holding a reader’s attention than a recycled one.

Now that you are familiar with bringing in the element of description and storytelling into your writing, let’s take a closer look at common essay prompts and how to approach writing them.

Tackle Common Essay Prompts

Here are a few common essay prompts. It is important to understand the intent behind the essay question. This will keep your essay relevant and focused.

  1. Talk about your failure.

This really translates to ‘tell us about your strengths’. Start by talking about something you failed at, but don’t stop there. You continue the conversation to explain how you overcame it. Or you move into self-reflection mode and discuss the ways in which failure altered your attitude or belief about something.

  1. Tell us about a place where you feel content.

Here, you need to talk about the things that you value. The question also tries to assess your understanding of feeling content. The description of an idyllic location may not be the answer the college is looking for unless it gives them a sense of who you are and your values.

  1. Give us an example of your personal integrity.

You can respond to this question by talking about a time you did something that was out of integrity, and the insights you gleaned from it. Personal integrity is not about judgments; talking about how someone else did something that lacked integrity and how it is something that you don’t believe in may not come across as self-reflective.

  1. Tell us about yourself.

This is an open-ended question but not an invitation to write your life story since you were crawling around in diapers. You can zoom in on a specific time in your life or pick out a few personal traits or interests to discuss to make the essay tighter.

These are just a few of the common essay topics. No matter what the essay topic is, here’s how you can start:
  • Understand the intent behind the question
  • Sift through your personal experiences
  • Explore the subject by asking self-reflective questions

This will help you come up with a story that is original, interesting, well-thought-out, and that is all about you. In other words, you’ll have an essay with the potential to stand out.