College Essay Tips

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JULY 13: Students from John Moores' University celebrate and pose for family photographs as they take part in their degree congregations at Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral on July 13, 2011 in Liverpool, England. Thousands of students are taking part in graduations across Britain and will begin looking for employment. According to recent surveys there are currently 83 graduates chasing every job vacancy. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

On October 17, I attended the HawaiiUSA Federal Credit Union’s second annual Scholarship Essay Writing Workshop.

When I first received the email from senior adviser Tara Gruspe, I knew I wanted to attend the workshop in case it gave tips I might have missed from my English classes. In addition to attending the workshop, students could submit an essay to be reviewed by a retired English teacher. With college and scholarship deadlines coming up, I decided to send in my Common Application essay, which I’d worked on in my AP English class.

That Saturday morning, high school juniors and seniors from across the island attended this special workshop presented by James Oda, former TRIO Upward Bound Programs Director. Experienced in working with students from low-income families, he was also familiar with different essays required for certain scholarships. Though I already knew a lot of the information he was presenting, I still enjoyed the workshop. He introduced us to a specific scholarship: the Gates Millennium Scholars application. This scholarship, offered by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, provides money for students with diverse backgrounds. He spent some time going over the essay prompts, answering any questions the students had about what to write and what not to write. For example, one of the prompts asks, “Other than through classes in school, in what areas (non-academic or academic) have you acquired knowledge or skills?” He told us that we could write about extracurricular activities like sports and clubs or even trips that have helped us grow in some way. Overall, his presentation was helpful and refreshing as it reminded students about the variety of things they could write about.

After his presentation, Alex Novelo, UH Manoa’s Regent’s Scholar, graciously shared about his essay and gave us advice on how to present ourselves through our writing. The workshop wrapped up as members from the Alpha Delta Kappa XI Chapter club—an international, all-female organization comprising of retired teachers who believed in promoting educational excellence—took two students each and went over their college essays with them. I had the privilege of talking with former English teacher Libby Lum, who gave me important suggestions on how to improve my essay. Fellow senior Charlene Chen had a similar experience with her teacher. She said, “She was amazing and really helped me improve my essay.”

Here are a few tips that I find are of utmost importance for writing your college essays:

  1. Start early! As college admission counselors always say, “Don’t meet the deadline; beat the deadline!”
  2. Outline and know your major points.
  3. Be sure that your hook and thesis makes a good impression.
  4. Don’t tell; SHOW the reader who you are and what you’re passionate about by including anecdotes.
  5. End the essay with appreciation, by saying “thank you” or how honored you are that you can apply for the scholarship.
  6. Give it time. Revise, edit, and have your teachers look at it before submitting.
  7. Have fun with the essay so readers don’t get bored. Give them something that makes you stand out from the rest of the applicants.
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