Be yourself: Your story is unique. If you try to tell them what you think they want to hear, your essay will be no different from the rest. Just be sincere; your honesty will shine through, making your essay more compelling than if you’d simply used the same tired clichés that applicants use (and admissions committees read) year after year after year.
Be positive: State your case in positive terms. For example, “I quickly learned that extracurricular and volunteer experiences were just as important as my academic lessons” puts you in a better light than, “My grades were not very good during my freshman and sophomore years, but good grades aren’t everything.”
Be specific: A good story includes adequate detail. For example, “Monticello, New York is a long way from the big city lights, but growing up there gave me something that many of my more “cosmopolitan” classmates didn’t have.” is better than, “I grew up in a small town, where I learned strong traditional values.”
Think quality, not quantity: Many candidates focus obsessively on essay length, to the detriment of quality. When the instructions say “maximum 300 words,” and you only have 250, don’t think you have to come up with 50 more words. “Maximum” means “at most.” Remember, it’s not a contest to see who can come closest to the maximum word count. Maximums are stipulated because admissions committees have limited time for essay reading.
Start writing: Don’t worry about writing a perfect first draft; just sit down and start writing. Think in terms of getting the information down on paper. Then you can start cutting and refining.