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Top 4 Tips for Writing Powerful and Persuasive Short Essays

Many of the colleges you’ll apply to will ask you to answer short essay questions of 350 words or fewer in addition to the personal statement you draft. The University of California system, in fact, requires four short essays as opposed to a longer piece of writing.

Despite the smaller length, don’t assume these essays will play a smaller role in helping your admissions officer form her opinion about you. Students who overlook these essays raise questions about how interested they are in the school, how polished their writing actually is, and how much thought went into the application.

Treat each piece of writing you turn in with seriousness and precision. Doing so will help you tell the best version of your own story. Keep reading for our top four tips to help you maximize the potential of your short supplemental essays.

Get Right to the Point

Save the introduction and the rehashing of the question for another time. Dive right in with the good stuff! A meandering essay will lose the reader’s interest and reduce your capacity to share relevant evidence.

Word economy is a critical component of success in any essay, but especially one of this length. You will not be able to lay out as detailed an argument as you might in a longer essay, so focus one or two central themes and unpack them as much as possible.

To be clear: being concise does not mean forsaking creativity or losing your personal voice. It may require you to refine it, however, and that’s a worthwhile quality to cultivate even outside of the college process.

Support Your Point with Examples

Specificity still matters, even though the word count is low. Don’t get mired in a sea of vagueness. Find evidence that supports your main point and build your argument from there.

If you’re writing about an extracurricular activity or personal experience, give specific examples of accomplishments or benchmarks you’ve met. Rather than saying you gained leadership skills from captaining your sports team, for example, reflect on the top two or three ways you put your personal spin on the role of team captain. Perhaps you added a player’s only practice, brought in an element of meditation to team meetings, or incorporated analytics into your strategy.

You can imagine admissions officers will see many of the same themes recur in essays like these; it’s up to you to make it special. Make it easy for your reader to envision who you are in few words and you’ll have a much better chance of rising above the crowd.

Tell a Consistent Story

Your short essays are part of a larger narrative you’re creating about yourself. Make sure the message is consistent. Where possible, connect your essays in some way to your potential college major, current academic explorations, or future career plans.

Before you even begin writing, it’s a great idea to spend some time reflecting on the big picture messages you want to convey. Think about which stories work best in essays of different length. This will make it easier to write in a consistent tone, avoid overlap, and make the most of the space you have to share your story.

Remember Your Main Goal

Whatever the nature of the essay question, your main goal is to create an advocate for you in the admissions committee. Keep this in mind as you filter your ideas for how to approach this essay question.

Have you approached it with the same seriousness as your main essay? Is your answer specific to that particular institution or could it apply broadly to any number of schools on your list? Have you demonstrated that you’ve done an appropriate level of research on the resources and opportunities available at that school? This is the subtext with which your essay will be read. 

Don’t let your effort come up short just because the word count is low. Allow significant time and mental focus to create a meaningful short essay. If you approach the task from this mindset, you increase your likelihood of writing powerful essays that persuade.

The expert admissions consultants at Wise World Prep have helped hundreds of students maximize their potential of being admitted to their top choice colleges and universities. Over 20 years, we have successfully guided students through each stage of the application process – from choosing competitive high school courses to building an appropriate college list to drafting winning essays to writing persuasive update and appeals letters. We would be happy to answer your questions and partner with you to create a successful admissions roadmap.

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