The First-Year Priority Deadline for USC is just over one month away (December 1, don’t forget it)! Although I applied to colleges three years ago, I have been thinking about the experience and the advice I would want to give to my high school senior self.
First and foremost, don’t wait until the last minute to write an application. Yes, the deadline for your dream school might be in November, December, or January, but why wait to start on those supplemental questions? If you truly think you have found your dream school, put in the extra effort to write an essay you are proud of.
There is no formula for the “perfect essay.” In fact, the best college essays do not follow a formula whatsoever. My high school English teacher said that if you were to drop our essay on the ground and a friend were to pick it up, they should know you wrote it. While writing these essays can be hard work, this is your chance to show who you are! If you don’t want to feel like you are being judged solely by grades, scores, and extracurriculars, infuse your personality into whatever you write.
This principle does not just apply to the personal statement essay required for all the Common Application schools… it applies to every single supplemental prompt or essay as well. I remember being intimidated by the sheer number of those 250-500 word supplemental essays that each college tacked on to the end of their applications. In time, I ended up realizing that the essays are not maniacal methods of torture, but rather additional chances to show who I was to the admission counselors. After getting admitted to USC, I printed out my entire common application and read it for the first time in months. Through my personal statement, activity summary, quick takes, and supplemental essays, I was able to see my personality, passions, and drives clearly articulated in writing. It felt amazing to know that I was admitted for being myself.
Now how do you get those perfect essays? Don’t be the only one to read them. When you spend a lot of time creating these writing supplements, you can’t read them with fresh eyes. Although you might know why you wrote a particular passage in a specific way, you aren’t going to be able to explain that to the reader. There were many times in my college application process where I thought I wrote something truly poetic that ended up being illegible. If I wouldn’t have given the essays to my mom to read them over, I would not have caught some critical errors in my writing (if you’re reading this Mom, thank you!). I hate having people proofread my work, so it was initially a very uncomfortable experience. At the end of the day, however, I could immediately tell that my writing was much stronger than before.
Finally, be yourself! I know that sounds cheesy, but it is very easy to slip down a rabbit hole and think of the application process as a series of trick questions or hidden tests. It is not. Like I said earlier, there is no “perfect essay.” There is no “perfect engineering student.” There is no “one thing” that will be a make-or-break to your application. The best chance you have is to put forward the best version of yourself without any gimmicks. When asked “why USC,” you shouldn’t be quoting our websites verbatim or stalking professors on LinkedIn. When filling out the Activity Summary, don’t waste one of those precious 10 slots on a volunteering activity you did for one Saturday if it doesn’t mean a lot to you.
I know this isn’t the magic solution to get you into every college. In reality, there is no way to tell what exactly a school is looking for. It took me a long time to realize all of the tips I listed above, but when I implemented them into my own college application experience, I was certain that I was putting my best foot forward. And if a school didn’t accept me? Fine. Maybe it wouldn’t have been the best fit. But I knew that I put my true self out there, and in the end, I would end up at the perfect place for me.