Myth: Your Application Essay Should Tell Your Life Story

Your college application essay doesn't have to be about your life story.

Flickr user Andrew_Writer

The application essay is an important element of your college application, and many students agonize over what their topic should be. Since the essay portion is your chance to show the potential college who you are, many students want to write out their life story on the page. Here’s why you should avoid doing that.

Word Count

All colleges, except a few, specify the word limit for your personal essay. In most cases, it is not more than 500-650 words. It is almost impossible to fit your whole life story within that limit. And even if the college does not mention any word limit, they still do not want to read a long drawn account of every applicant’s life. In fact, your application is more likely to be rejected if you decide to write down your entire autobiography.

Lacks Focus

If you talk about everything, you won’t focus on anything. Think of the essay as a snapshot—what is one picture you want to paint about yourself? What’s the most important story to share with whoever reads your application? You can tell a lot about a person by how they react to an event, so don’t write about every single event, just the character-defining ones.

What Should You Write About?

So what should you write about in your application essay? Ideally, you should choose to talk about one significant story that offers the reader some insight into who you are and what are your passions. Or maybe elaborate on an event that motivated you to choose your career path. The topic or story you choose should preferably be relevant to the program you are applying to.

For example, if you are applying to an Archaeology program, your essay should talk about why you chose that particular field to major in, what you have done to explore your interest in the field and how you intend to use the knowledge you have gained after you graduate from the program.

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