Few application components cause more anxiety than essays. Candidates often wonder what schools are really asking, and can second guess themselves to a paralyzing extent. If this sounds familiar, here are 5 tips to help you overcome the paralysis:

1. Answer the question. This sounds so simple but can really throw people – don’t go down the rabbit hole and try to parse out what schools are REALLY asking. A great deal of thought goes into the essay questions, and schools go out of their way to ask very specific questions. So, go ahead and answer the question asked.

2. Be clear and direct. Please remember that the admissions committee reads thousands of essays each year. If your response is too allegorical or even wordy or disorganized you risk losing the reader. This is not the time to use flowery prose, jargon or convoluted formats. Make it easy for the committee to understand your answer.

3. Don’t try to use one essay for all of your target schools. The admissions committee can tell – these are sophisticated readers and they know if you are just adapting another school’s essay rather than responding to their specific question. This telegraphs a lack of interest and can also cause the reader to question your judgment.

4. Proofread. This seems like such an obvious point, but numerous typos and grammatical errors really detract from your presentation. This is a competitive process, and you don’t want to stumble in an area that is so easy to correct. Also, make sure that you are talking about the school to which you are applying, and don’t accidentally wax rhapsodic about a peer school. It happens more than you think.

5. Reflect before you write. Your essays are a controlled opportunity for you to tell your story, in your own voice. Make the most of this opportunity by making sure that your replies are part of a broader, integrated strategy. You get to decide what to share here, a rare opportunity in the admissions process.

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Karen Marks

Karen has more than 12 years of experience evaluating candidates for admission to Dartmouth College and to the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Since founding North Star Admissions Consulting in 2012, she has helped applicants gain admission to the nation’s top schools, including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Wharton, MIT, Tuck, Columbia, Kellogg, Booth, Haas, Duke, Johnson, Ross, NYU, UNC, UCLA, Georgetown and more. Clients have been awarded more than $70 million dollars in scholarships, and more than 98% have gotten into one of their top choice schools.
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