winning essays

"The Winning College Essay"

By: Al Brouillard Copyright 2003-2007.

Your ESSAY is the most important part of your college application package.

This being said, and before I go any further,
let me preface this section by explaining:
  • The applicants who seem the most credible are the ones who communicate the strongest themes, clearly and concisely.
  • Remember - all essays need not be alike. Different schools will be looking for different themes. Try to get a feel for what the schools core purpose is, and write in this direction.
  • Please, don't write just a list of facts. You're well educated already. Write personal, descriptive stories or anecdotes.
  • This process involves looking in detail at your life and researching patterns which could be developed and nurtured.

"An early love for language and a compelling passion for ideas have been an essential part of who I am. I exhibit these qualities by creating short stories and Web sites."

The primary function of your essay:

The University is seeking information that will distinguish you from all other applicants. You may desire, therefore, to write about your achievements, experiences, and aspirations. You might, for example, discuss a significant life experience and the knowledge that you learned from it. You might also describe extraordinary circumstances, challenges, or hardships you have confronted. Your school activities and experiences are additional topics to discuss in your essay, but they should not be the main focus.

Rather than listing all your activities, describe your level of achievement in the specialties that you have pursued - include employment and volunteer activities - and embody the personal qualities revealed in you by the time and effort you have committed to each. In addition, discuss your interest in your intended field of study.

If you have a disability, include a portrayal of its bearing on your experience, goals, and aspirations.

All Universities seek information referencing extraordinary triumphs such as honors programs, extra-curricular activities, sports and other awards, employment or volunteer work that demonstrates your motivation, accomplishment, leadership, dedication, and individuality.

What challenges have you overcome? What sets you apart from everyone else?

What is the College Essay?

After your SAT score, your admission essay is the most important step during your application process. Resist making it an extravagant fairy-tale. Instead, you must focus on revealing characteristics that give your readers the opportunity to discover more about you as an individual as well as a writer.

Indeed, your essay must be thought provoking and impressive, though don't take it too far. If your wish is to inform the reader that you like strength and authority, describing Hitler as your role model is not a good start. Neither is discussing your pet gerbil and your love of it an insight into your admiration of wildlife.

This essay should not be a treatise of your life nor a maudlin plea fashioned to touch your admission officer's heart. Exposing the grim state of affairs that led to your poor SAT score is also not the best idea and will most likely result in a pitiful reprimand: rejection.

Write your college essay keeping in mind the real purpose of this exercise:

Tell the reader what sort of a person you are as an individual. Ensure that this function is achieved. Remember to be honest - your essay should embrace major, effective aspects of your character and interests. Stretching the truth (or outright fabrication) is not the way to go. In their craving to be unique or "one of a kind", many applicants forget that there is a thin line between creativity and fantasy, and that crossing this line is dangerous.

What Should Your Essay Include?

Before composing your draft, choose a subject that you are familiar with, such as your accomplishments, other than academics, or successes/failures that have altered your daily life and viewpoint. Choose a topic that is interesting to the reader.

Your college essay is an exercise used to elicit the real you.

It is not the forum for authoring your sinister secrets or hidden fears (for anything too personal will only bore the reader). Essays that generalize with no topic restrictions are common ground for these gaffes. To avoid them, a great deal of consideration and formulation must go into your topic selection .

Your essay should communicate to the reader acts, thoughts, and individuals that you cherish most, with believable reinforcement using real-life incidents. Accordingly, the focus you select must highlight the following three characteristics of your personality:


Are you a 'seeing-is-believing' person or the gullible individual who won't go the extra mile for specifics and proof? Are you an optimist who is all for dialogue and debate, or do you consider war as the decisive finish to all conflict?


Your topic choice will elicit your greatest concerns. Which do you value more: financial independence or emotional fulfillment? Whatever you value, make sure you enforce your ideas with a good amount of provocation and analysis.


A discerning and heartfelt composition indicates forethought and effort. A topic like "My 5-year Battle With Teenage Neuroses" should include imagery and provoke strong (though not sympathetic) emotions in the reader. Emphasis on your opinions and judgments will give a more vivid photograph of what goes on "behind your frontal lobe", as compared to convoluted details of medications, hospital trips, and therapy.

Now that we've determined the purpose of the essay, and the content that should be a part of it, our next article will talk about how to actually sit up and illustrate your thoughts through your pen and onto your paper.

Part 2

Thank you for visiting,

Al Brouillard

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