Writing a Winning College Essay

Use the four P’s to let your story shine through

Writing a Winning College Essay

For the more than 2 million students applying to colleges and universities, the task of essay writing can be stressful.

Whether applying for admission or scholarships, many students find this part of the application process daunting, and they struggle with finding a compelling topic. It can help if they think of it less as an application essay and more as sharing a story about who they are.

“Every good story, from a blockbuster movie to a novel from your high school English class to your favorite show, has four critical elements that make it fascinating and reveal inner depth about its characters,” says Howard Reichman, president of EssayDog. “That’s exactly what you want your college application essays to do: show the real you beyond the test scores and GPA.”

According to Reichman, every good story has these essential elements:

  • The initial plan
  • The anticipated outcome
  • The setback
  • The discovery

Keeping this in mind, students can work from these elements and round out their narrative by filling in details that let their character shine through.

Essays that seem to resonate most with college admissions departments typically convey a student’s intangibles, or “the Four P’s.” Students can ask themselves these questions, to help drive their essay:

Passion: What drives you and what do you really care about?

Personality: What are you like to be around? Would your friends and family be able to identify you by reading your essay?

Perseverance: How do you respond to challenges? What gives you strength, both intellectually and emotionally?

Potential: What talents, interests and goals will you bring to a university’s campus next fall? How can a college help you further develop these as you continue to grow into adulthood?

More than anything, procrastination and stress are often students’ worst enemies when they sit down to begin the essay-writing process. They can use these techniques to help ensure they are showcasing what sets them apart from other applicants.

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