A Fresh View: Conquering the College Essay

Hello Everyone!

My name is Emily Schell, and I’m the new freshman behind “A Fresh View.” You get to read my attempts to tell jokes and blog for the next year – but at least hopefully you will get something out of it! While you all struggle through the college application process, I get to struggle through the trials and tribulations of being a freshman. So there you have it: neither of us is alone. This blog is just a little bit of Brunonia to brighten up your week!

So…I say the words college essay and you all run in fear, right? Well, fear not. One thing I’ve learned in college from my own essays has been that it isn’t something to spend your nights crying about. It really isn’t. Hopefully these few tips will help you conquer your college essay woes; I know they helped me conquer mine.

1. Don’t Write the Next PhD Thesis:

In class, you will be quick to discover that most of the essays your professors will have you read are going to have your head spinning. There are two paths that your bewildered brain could choose to take while slogging through these passages. The first is the one where you get to the end of a paragraph and think, “Really!? He took 50 words to describe what easily could be said in 4…” The second is where you, in an attempt to escape from the convoluted language in a timely fashion, skim through the passage and realize that at the end of the page you understood nothing you read. Don’t let either of these scenarios alarm you. I promise, you will learn something from these passages and in the end you will actually get something interesting out of them. Your professors don’t give you busy work just to see you all suffer – it is real learning that you are doing. Welcome to college. However, it is important to realize that you don’t have to write like the passages you read in class. The minds behind said works of academia have probably been learning longer than you have been living. When you put 8 PhDs on the wall you can write whatever academic gibberish you want. Write “Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo” somewhere in there…it could still probably get published. What I’m trying to say is this: don’t feel the pressure to write in convoluted language just because that is what you’re accustomed to reading. Which brings me to my second point…


As cliché and “How To Get Into College” this may sound, it honestly is the truest piece of advice I could give you. It is more important in an essay to get your point across rather than try and impress the professor with how well you know a thesaurus. Even in a research essay, if you are thinking, “the ruler decided that it would be unwise to go to war with that state,” but writing, “the sovereign induced that it would be imprudent to clash arms with that federation,” you’re doing it wrong. While it is smart to use the vocabulary you do know, you shouldn’t find yourself going to the thesaurus to pick out the longest synonym for every word. I promise you, a well-stated sentence that shows what you really think will go much farther than a wordy passage that, if anything, hides the point you are trying to make. However, if “being yourself” means that you do in fact write with flowery language, I am not telling you to stop that and just write in short, choppy sentences. I, for one, happen to be of the wordier types and find word limits to be the bane of my existence. The bottom line is this: just write in a way that makes you feel comfortable. If you can read your paper back to yourself and find that it resonates with what you are thinking, you are definitely heading in the right direction. ☺

Once again, I reiterate my first statement to fear not. The college essay is not something that should give you cause to panic. You’d to better worrying yourself about the crisis in Syria. Your professors are not out to give you all failing grades – in fact, from my experience, they really want to help you. I have gone into many professors’ office hours already and they have been so ridiculously helpful with my state of mind and essay writing alike.

I hope these Emily’s Tips to Essay Writing helped with your state of mind. Also, for those of you writing those pesky Common App essays (dear god why….?!), these tips can apply to you as well! Especially the be yourself one, colleges really love to see that! 😉

Happy reading! Good luck with the college application process! If you all have any questions or want me to cover a specific topic, feel free to shoot me an email at emily_schell@brown.edu.

Ever true to Brown,
Emily Schell


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