How to crush your college application essay –

Experts recommend students have a trusted adult proofread essays before submitting them.

After years of schooling, hours of mind-numbing standardized tests and a mountain of paperwork for college-bound seniors, the final hurdle awaits — the application essay. 

But, college admissions counselors say not to fear, the essays aren’t as scary as you think. 

The most important piece of the puzzle is the originality and uniqueness of the writer, said Libby Reigh, associate director of undergraduate admissions at Oklahoma State University. 

Reigh has read countless applications in her 13 years working in OSU admissions. She said the essays allow students to explain who they are, what they’ve experienced and the challenges they overcame. 

It’s an opportunity to express the person behind the ACT or SAT score, someone who’s more than a high school GPA. 

“This is your chance to tell your story to us,” Reigh said. “There are people on the other side of that submission reading those essays. Don’t be afraid to discuss struggles or hardships that have led you to this point. Every student has a story, and the essays are your opportunity to tell us your story.” 

The most important piece of the essay-writing puzzle is the originality and uniqueness of the writer, experts say.

Admissions counselors at the University of Oklahoma said they want to gauge a student’s writing ability, but beyond that, OU wants to know how the applicant might contribute to the campus community. 

“Students who are involved in other activities or who are passionate about a topic will add to the fabric that we are looking to create at OU, so expressing that well will help a student in the admission process,” OU admissions counselors wrote in an email to The Oklahoman

What mistakes to avoid 

Applicants might puzzle over which essay prompt to choose, what to write and how to fit within a required word count. 

Reigh suggested taking time to organize your thoughts. Don’t speed through it. 

And you’d be surprised how many people don’t proofread their writing, said Tasha Casey-Loveless, senior director of admissions at Oklahoma City University. 

Some write their essays as if they were crafting a text message, Casey-Loveless said. The writing should be more formal than that kind of conversational tone. 

OU recommends you have a trusted adult proofread your essays before submitting. Another pair of eyes might catch spelling and grammatical errors you missed. 

Students study in Henderson Hills Baptist Church in Edmond on Aug. 26, 2020. The church opened its doors to students in virtual learning to have homework help, Wi-Fi, free lunch and other activities.

“Sometimes, students will accidentally submit the essay meant for another school, so we recommend double checking that as well,” OU admissions counselors said. 

 Although she advises having an adult read over the essay, Casey-Loveless said the student should be responsible for filling out the application. Admissions counselors usually can tell if Mom or Dad was the one behind the keyboard. 

“You a lot of times can read into the content of it and tell if it’s the voice of someone much older than a 17 to 18 year old,” she said. 

How essays lead to scholarships

At OSU, students who meet certain GPA and test-score criteria have assured admission, so reading their essays isn’t always necessary. 

However, the university reviews all essays from students whose test scores and high-school grades don’t guarantee them a spot at OSU. The essay gives those applicants a chance to explain why their GPA or ACT score might have been less than ideal. 

“The essays could really help fill in the gaps or unknowns of their academic profile,” Reigh said. 

But, there’s an incentive for all students to slay their essay. 

The very same application for admission to OSU is the same one used to decide what scholarships a student qualifies for. So, even applicants with the highest scores should strive for a quality writing submission, Reigh said. 

Oklahoma City University, Oklahoma City

OCU applicants who want competitive scholarships must fill out short-answer questions in addition to their essays. That’s another chance for students to show off their writing skills. 

“If they struggled in their academics, we’re going to look at that essay,” Casey-Loveless said. “That’s when the essay is going to speak more or their scholarship short-answer questions are going to speak more to who they are and how they can write.” 

Reporter Nuria Martinez-Keel covers K-12 and higher education throughout the state of Oklahoma. Have a story idea for Nuria? She can be reached at or on Twitter at @NuriaMKeel. Support Nuria’s work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at