The Write Stuff: Essay Strategies That Work

What will be your inspiration when writing your college application essays?

I once had a parent ask me if I actually read all of the essays from each applicant. With a serious face, I said “No, I like to throw the application in the air and only read the page that lands on top.” Her mouth dropped. I told her I was kidding. OF COURSE WE READ YOUR ESSAYS!!

The reality is, not only do we read every word of your application essay and short answer responses, but chances are strong that it is something your wrote that is going to make your application memorable. When I think back about my favorite students from last year, I don’t remember them because they had a 3.8/1520, their recommenders called them “enthusiastic” saying they “always went above and beyond,” or they were the president of their club or organization. I remember them because of what they wrote.

What will be your inspiration when writing your college application essays?
What will be your inspiration when writing your college application essays?

In my opinion, the essay is the one piece of the application where we get to hear YOUR voice, and, in all honesty, the one thing you have control at the time you are applying. You can’t go back and change your grades or add activities to your list, there is no time to retake the SAT or ACT, and you can’t dictate your letters of recommendation to your counselor and teachers. So, how do you make your application your own? The answer is simple: Take advantage of the essays!

Here are 3 tips to think about as you begin your essay:

  1. Be yourself. The point of this essay is for the reader to get at the heart of who you are. It’s important to be personal. Don’t be afraid to write how you speak…we want you to tell us your story. When reading your essay, I am asking myself questions like “would this student be a good roommate?” or “what type of friend would this person be?
  2. Catch the reader’s attention with your introduction. We read thousands of essays each year, so make your first sentences count. You should not be opening with a line that is a direct repeat of the question prompt.
  3. Tell us how you fit. While you do not need to directly state what you would do at a particular college or university, remember that we are looking for students who are going to give back both inside and outside the classroom. What are your interests and how would they impact our school?

Still stuck? Need a kick start? Take a look at our Essays that Worked page! Each year, we select essays from our currently enrolled freshman to share with you. Best of all, the admissions counselor who read the essay shares a brief comment on why the essay “worked.” Maybe one of these will inspire you to start writing.

Please spell check.
Please spell check.

And, speaking of beginning the process, we recently released our Johns Hopkins Supplement. Our short answer question are the same as last year, but in case you want to get a start, here are the topics:

1. Johns Hopkins offers 50 majors across the schools of Arts & Sciences and Engineering. On this application, we ask you to identify one or two that you might like to pursue here. Why did you choose the way you did? If you are undecided, why didn’t you choose? (If any past courses or academic experiences influenced your decision, you may include them in your essay.

2. Tell us something about yourself or your interests that we wouldn’t learn by looking at the rest of your application materials. (While you should still pay attention to sentence structure and grammar, your response is meant as a way for us to get to know you, rather than a formal essay.)

So, remember, be personal, be creative, and be original. We can’t wait to read your essays and see what you’ve come up with!

2 thoughts on “The Write Stuff: Essay Strategies That Work

  1. This was very reassuring. I have written my personal essay for the Commonapp. I see that Commonapp has a restiction of 500 words maximum. My essay is around 550 words. Chopping it up will make it lose some of its effectiveness. What’s your advice? I’d really appreciate if you let me know. Thanks in advance.

    Shomik Ghosh

  2. @Shomik: The Johns Hopkins University Admissions Committee does not set a word count for the main essay. The Common Application may state a 500 word limit on the essay, but this is not a Johns Hopkins policy. We prefer students to write essays of length that answer the essay prompt completely and effectively. If you feel that a more than 500 word essay does that for you then under our policies you may submit such an essay.

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