Tips for Teens: Approaching Application Essays

By Moksha Agarwal 2021-11-26

We're all familiar with essays. You start by writing about your mother, your favorite dish, or a festival. It’s simple, you scribble your thoughts on paper, and there’s no right or wrong answer as long as your sentences make grammatical sense. You reach the ninth grade, and you're introduced to a little something called the argumentative essay. It’s like a debate, but there’s no opponent. You pick a side and argue for it. But this isn’t like writing an essay about your mother. Here you’re being evaluated on the strength of your argument and your ability to introduce and refute opposing views. 

Now, here's some food for thought: under which category does the college application essay fall? I'd say it's a combination of the two, and I'll tell you why. 

The application essay combines the authenticity of subjectivity with the persuasion of argumentation. It doesn't matter what your prompt is--you still have to answer it--but what matters more is ensuring that you're at the center of your response. The other thing to remember is that no matter what your prompt is, you intend to persuade the reader to believe that you're worthy of admission into your program of choice. 


Watch: Salt Bae's tips for college applications


What does this mean for you? First, you need to figure what an ideal candidate looks like for a given college. Princeton values open-mindedness, while Brown champions interdisciplinary thinking. Duke is community-oriented, and Georgia Tech appreciates a depth of disciplinary knowledge. The ideal candidate has several qualities, which differ from one college to another. Once you know what your college is looking for, it's time to identify life experiences that illustrate those traits in an engaging and possibly entertaining manner. 

That, right there, is a hard line to walk. You can end up sounding braggy, preachy, or dreary. But if you tread lightly and proceed with caution, you will uncover the harmony of thought and emotion that will make your writing sing.