Dr. Jenny Billings

Accepting the Challenge: Writing Essays for College Applications

by Dr. Jenny Billings – Chair, English & Study Skills at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College

So, the time is here. It is time to apply to college. What are you dreading the most about your college applications? If you answered “the essays”, you are in luck. Here are some tips to make your college application essays noticeable, unforgettable, and ultimately, successful.

First, make sure you have read and understand what kind of essays your college is asking for. Some will ask for Common App essays; other colleges will choose their own topics and expectations. Pay attention to prompts, the number of essays or short answer, word count requirements, and submission deadlines.

Once you know what is expected of you, it is time to plan. This can be stressful because you don’t know where to begin. That is OKAY! Write out as many topics for each prompt as possible. At this stage, it is just important to get words and ideas on paper or the screen.

You want your essays to help you leave a lasting impression. You can do this, even if you only have 250 – 650 words to do so. Think of this as your branding. You need to find something about your experiences, yourself, and/or what you have to offer to the college, and thus world, that will make you stand out when being compared to those with similar applications. Knowing this should help you choose your topic from the possible ones you have listed.

Your essay should start off with something interesting: a line, image, or phrase that will immediately grab readers. This is often where you use sarcasm, wit, a pun, or something so honest or so outrageous that your readers just have to read on. You want your readers to learn more, not move on.

Your essay should say something new. The most successful students reveal something through their writing that cannot be found in the regular application. What you write should be personal and revelatory. Your personality should be on display here; after all, the essay’s purpose is to allow readers to get to know you and your voice.

When I teach the writing process, students often dread or even avoid multiple drafts of their essays. Do not do this with college application essays. Drafting, editing, and revising are good for you. You have peers, friends, family members, and folks like me that will read over your work to help. Just ask! You also have a word count to meet; make sure you are paying close attention.

Always read your essay out loud to catch mistakes and to listen to it. Think your essay is perfect? Sleep on it. Give it a few days. Then, look at it again with fresh eyes. I bet you’ll find something else you can change or improve upon.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to proofread and to know your audience. For example, let’s say you just concluded your essay with, “And that is why I want to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.” However, you just submitted this essay to Wake Forest University. As a graduate of Wake Forest (Go Deacs!), I promise you this will not go over well.

Remember: essays are components of your college application that you CAN control and thus shine through. These should not be taken lightly, written last minute, or blown off. They can make or break an application, I promise.

Once you have written your essay, ask yourself, “Would it be weird for someone else to claim this essay as their own?” If the answer is “yes”, you can most likely submit soon.

College Application Week

Every fall, as temperatures begin to drop and leaves start to change, many high school seniors balance their time between the first few weeks of classes and deciding where they should spend their next four years. It’s a heavy decision that requires a great deal of thought about many different factors. One component of this decision is cost. Tuition cost. Housing cost. Food, gas, Friday night concerts on the lawn costs. It’s no secret that the cost of college is expensive, Even the very first step in making that decision has a cost – the application fee. One initiative to help ease this burden is College Application Week, taking place October 21-25. While volunteers assist students in schools across North Carolina during College Application Week, many colleges and universities have also waived their application fee for that same period. This initiative undoubtedly sees an increase in students submitting their application while keeping a few dollars tucked into their pockets.

At Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, we think that a waived application fee is a great idea. So much so that we have eliminated the application fee year-round! At no expense to the student, he or she may visit and explore any of our programs and apply without added financial stress. With this flexibility, students are free to explore any of our range of programs like Nursing, Occupational Therapy Assistant and others in healthcare to the fast growing and in-demand career fields of Information Technology or Engineering. We also have transfer program tracks where students can spend their first two years out of high school in an associate’s program, receive a degree and then transfer to a four-year university. This underutilized resource is a great way to save money while still receiving the quality education students desire.

Regardless of the educational goals of high school students, community college is a great first step. There are plenty of opportunities to explore different career options and industries while keeping costs at a minimum compared to four-year institutions. If you’d like to learn more about our programs and the application process, please give us a call at 704-216-7222 or email us at admissions@rccc.edu.