How to Transform Your Good College Essay into a Great College Essay

By Stephanie Doan, ’18 // Senior Admissions Intern

Everyone talks about the general things that go into a good college essay—using correct spelling and punctuation, making the essay about you, organizing your thoughts, so they’re easy to understand—but what are the little details that make a college essay go from good to great? What makes a college essay stand out among the thousands of other essays Admissions Counselors read?

Read on to find out what some of our Admissions Counselors say about some of their favorite college essays and what made them memorable.

Paint a Beautiful Picture

Julia Caminiti, Associate Director of Admissions, remembers one of the most memorable admissions essays she’s read: “The student pulled me along with elegance and metaphor. It made me want to read on and understand why they felt the way they did.”

Takeaway: Use imagery, metaphors, similes and other literary devices to create vivid imagery. Remember, the counselors reading your essay are people, and people love to be told a good story. Of course, structure, punctuation and content are important in your essay, but the way you present your essay is important, too. Just make sure that your essay reflects who you are and is not just a page full of pretty words.


Share Your Passions

What separates a good essay from a great and memorable essay? According to Veronica Lewis, MBA ’16, Associate Director of Admissions, it is when students share what they really care about. “For me, the most memorable essays have been when students really share their passions. I realize this sounds cheesy, but there are SO many ways students can do this: passion and love for their friends or family, passion for a cause that means a lot to them and how they have been involved, or passion for their major.”

Takeaway: Transcripts and test scores help us understand who you are as a student, but your essay helps us understand who you are as a person, and that is important to us, too. We want to know whether or not you would be a good fit for our community.


Color Outside the Lines

Myth: Your college essay has to be a five-paragraph essay. Not at all! Although many of the essays our Admissions Counselors read do come in your standard essay format, they don’t have to. Howie LeBlanco, ’10, Assistant Director of Admissions, recalls reading an essay that did just that: “I had one student interested in one of our Information Technology & Sciences major write their college essay in code. Thankfully I had some background knowledge of coding language, so I understood it. I thought it was clever.”

Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to make your essay different as long as it is intentional in helping your counselor understand who you are.


Don’t Tell Us. Show Us.

Sometimes it can feel a little disengaging when students write essays that only state facts about who they are or the lives they’ve led. Nicole Lentine, ’07, Associate Director of Admissions, reflects on some of her favorite essays to read: “I love essays that tell me something about the writer without explicitly stating their characteristics. I think the English teacher adage of ‘show, don’t tell’ is vital in a good college essay. Any time you can give us insight into who you are through examples, it gives us a better sense of whether or not you might be a great fit for our institution.”

Takeaway: There is just something about an essay that starts with “My heart stopped for a second as I looked down the mountain” versus “I like to ski” that makes counselors more excited to keep reading. Engagement through your five senses and your feelings will help Admissions Counselors understand how important your story is to you and who you are.

Although your college essay is an important part of your application, the experience of writing it should still be fun. Paint us a picture and share with us your passions. Write your story the way you want to and show us how your experiences have shaped who you are. The more fun you have writing your essay, the more fun your Admissions counselors will have reading it!

Want more tips for writing an awesome college essay? Check out this post by Champlain Alum and Admissions Counselor Jovan Ellis, ‘13, Assistant Director of Admissions.