College Essays vs. English Class Essays | Winward Academy


How College Essays Differ from English Class Essays

Back when I was beginning my college applications, (it seems like a lifetime ago) I remember not knowing where or how to start. What were colleges looking for from me?

In the years since, I’ve compiled a list of things to consider when you’re writing a college essay. It’s not your typical English paper, so let’s dive into the things you’ll want to consider.

  • The differences between an English class essay and a college essay
  • How to demonstrate your values and convey who you are
  • Qualities of a strong college essay

Are college essays just like English class essays?

In a word, no – college essays are not like English class essays. Typically, in your English classes, you’ve used a similar structure for all of your work. You know, intro w/ thesis, a few body paragraphs with some analysis, and a conclusion that restates your thesis. This isn’t gonna cut it for your college essays.

Let’s break down why.

What’s the purpose of an English essay? Usually, it’s to make an argument and prove your point. In personal statements, we’re after something else entirely. You want to convey your values and demonstrate who you are. You want to show your interests, skills, and qualities and give admissions counselors an idea of what you’ll bring to campus.

In an English essay, you’ll state your thesis, and back it up. In a college essay, you likely won’t have a thesis at all. In an English essay, your tone will be analytical. In a college essay, your tone will be casual and personal. In an English essay, you won’t use “I” statements and you won’t be getting vulnerable, usually. In a college essay, you’ll do both of those things. In an English class, you’re trying to prove a point. In a college essay, your goal is to lay it all out there and let the reader get to know the real you.

So what are they looking for?

It can be valuable to first consider what a college is NOT looking for from you in your college essays.

A college essay is not a resume, transcript, or list of accomplishments. Those things should be shown in the activities list, or your additional information section.

In a sense, your personal statements and college essays are ways to introduce yourself to the places you’ll be applying. This is your chance to demonstrate your qualities, values, and the skills you’ve developed as a young adult. Colleges want to know who you really are and what you’ll bring to life on campus. A list of accomplishments and accolades isn’t the best way to illustrate those things.

Consider the possibility that the people reading your essays are going to do so in only a short few minutes. How do we communicate who we are with that in mind?

The best way is to demonstrate your values. If you haven’t completed our values exercise yet, you can do so here.

Fret not. I can imagine that you’ll spend countless hours writing and revising and rewriting your college essays. It might seem like you’re getting short-changed if someone is only going to spend a few minutes reading it. That’s why it is so important to communicate who you are and to show off your writing skills while you’re at it.

So let’s communicate those good old values and show the reader how those values are connected to specific thoughts, moments, and actions.

Qualities of a strong college essay

We also want to show growth. How do we accomplish that?

There’s more than one way to get this done. I particularly enjoy reading pieces that demonstrate vulnerability. Reason being, that i to show growth, we usually need to admit that we could improve, admit that we were wrong, or realize the error in our ways. Which leads me to my next point.

Schools love it when you’re vulnerable.

Getting vulnerable is a scary thing, especially in a society that doesn’t value it much. We’re taught from a young age that being vulnerable is the same as showing weakness. And that’s what our culture has taught us. I believe that is one of our culture’s biggest shortcomings. In fact, I think getting vulnerable is one of the coolest and bravest things you can do.

Each of these tips, along with proper grammar and spelling, will add up to a strong, impressive essay.

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Erin Crowder

Erin Crowder is a recent graduate of Newark’s Cristo Rey High School and is a proud member of Georgetown University’s Class of 2022. Erin graduated in the top of her class and has been honored multiple times by the City of Newark for her scholastic achievements, artistic contributions, community service, and resilience in overcoming seemingly impossible obstacles. Erin has interned at the City Hall of Newark, Sanofi, the Federal Reserve Bank, and NJTV News. She is committed to partnering with and empowering students of color to reduce educational inequities.