The Importance of “Show Don’t Tell” in College Application Essays

If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class, you’ve probably heard the classic line “Show, don’t tell.” This rule helps to remind writers that it is far more exciting (and engaging) to show readers how a character is acting rather than telling them how they feel. An example might be instead of saying “Character A is sad,” a writer can use something like “Character A weeps” or “Character A cries into the shoulder of Character B.” Either of those options conveys sadness by showing the reader the action.

Show Don’t Tell in Essays

How does this apply to your college admission essays? You’re supposed to be writing a narrative—some story or anecdote about yourself that shows the admissions people who you are. You are not a laundry list of awards, classes, and extracurricular activities: Those can be saved for the rest of your application.

Take the Readers With You

Rather than tell your reader you won the rivalry game, take them through the final moments. Immerse them in the culture of your marching band. Walk them through a day at your volunteer location. Have a conversation with your best (or worst) customers at work. Once you’ve introduced them to a little slice of your life—how your interact with others, how you handle rejection or defeat, how you taught your little brother to read, etc.—you can expound upon it, connecting the narrative with your reason for wanting to go into your field or attend the specific school. It will help strengthen your essay and make it stick out to admission people, and make it more fun to write.

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