What’s 1 Thing Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton are All Looking for?

Posted On 02.08.2019 | Blog

A good story.

Yes. It’s that simple.

Okay, maybe not that simple.

Of course, grades, test scores, teacher recommendations, and your extra-curricular activities are also very important.

But application essays that tell interesting stories about you are essential to have any chance at standing out among the thousands of other highly qualified applicants. (Over 40,000 students applied to Harvard this past year!)

Unfortunately, if you’re like the majority of students, telling an engaging story in your application essays can be one of the most difficult parts of your US university applications.


Schools rarely teach this kind of writing.

So, in this article, we’ll share 4 quick tips on how to tell and write the best stories in your application essays to increase your chances for admission to top US Universities.


4 Tips for Writing Application Essays That Tell Good Stories and Say “Admit Me!”


1.  Think about what’s missing from your application?

That’s one thing about you that can’t be demonstrated by numbers and letters on a page?

You might be tempted to write about your struggle to overcome challenges in an academic subject or what you did to receive a prestigious award.

But, please, don’t make this mistake! 


When writing US university application essays, you have the opportunity to reveal something new that isn’t anywhere else on your application. It’s a time to write about an important or unique experience you’ve had outside of school and how it has helped shape your perspective. 


2.  Think about what makes you unique 

At ARCH, we often talk about something we like to call the “hallway test” when evaluating essays. 

For this test, we ask you to imagine that you were walking down a hallway of your school, and, without you noticing, one of your application essays slips out of your backpack. What’s worse, your name isn’t on it! 

To pass the “hallway test” one of your teachers should be able to pick up the essay, read it, and immediately know it’s yours. 

Make sense? 

The point is that it’s never a good idea to write an essay about a topic or experience that your classmates could also write.


3.  Think about the essay as if it were the trailer to a movie 

Application essays are short.

For personal statements, you can write a maximum of 650 words. That’s it.

So, the likelihood that US university admissions officers are going to learn everything there is to know about you from a document that is less than two pages is quite low.

Admissions officers should, however, have a strong urge to want to know more about you after putting your essay down. 

This is why we compare the essay to a movie trailer about your life. Short in length, but interesting enough that it sticks in the viewer’s or, in this case, the reader’s mind long enough for he or she to want to action to find out more. 

Okay, so how do you accomplish this? 

Highlight the most important and intriguing aspects of your story. It’s also a good idea to show growth or personal development over time. 


4.  Think about showing rather than telling the details of the story 

This tip is super important.

In fact, it may be the most important because it determines whether or not your essay is boring or interesting to read. 

Has anyone ever told you that it’s best to “show, don’t tell” when practicing creative writing? If not, we’re doing it now because the same applies for US university application essays. 

Help the reader imagine the sounds, visuals, emotions, smells, etc. of your story. US university admissions officers should be able to create a mental image of you throughout the journey of your story.

By doing this, you increase the likelihood that they’ll be engaged by your writing, have a better understanding of who you are as a person, and be driven to say “let’s admit this student!”


Having Trouble Writing Your Story?


Writing application essays for US universities can be challenging, especially if you haven’t had many opportunities to practice creative writing or storytelling.

But don’t worry! The tips we’ve provided in this post we’ll get you headed in the right direction.

And if you’d like to work with our experienced US Admissions Consulting team, please email admin@arch-education to schedule an initial consultation meeting.   We specialize in helping students defy the odds and gain acceptances to top universities. We look forward to helping you do the same!