What is the single biggest mistake you can make on your college application?
Submitting a narrative as your essay response to the prompt. You might as well just include the wrong school name while you are at it.
Sadly, most essays reviewed by EditRevise spend 90 percent of the content on storytelling filled with flowery, pointless metaphors and needless descriptions. To get into your dream school, it is crucial that you do NOT make the narrative mistake.
What matters most about an essay is its introspection -- commentary on the anecdotes and thoughts on what the prompt is asking.
A solid essay will be about 40 percent story and 60 percent introspection. The best way to ensure that you include the right ratio of story to introspection is by writing in the classic five-paragraph format: introduction paragraph, three supporting body paragraphs, and a conclusion paragraph. While this may seem boring and unoriginal, admissions officers read over 30 applications a day and will appreciate you making your response to the prompt well-organized and easy to find (make sure that you answer the prompt!).
Unless you are the second coming of Charles Dickens, flashy structures only hurt your essay. Organizing your essay into five paragraphs with a clear thesis statement and topic sentences will also make it easier to assess how much storytelling your writing contains compared to introspection.
The Specifics of Structure
Before starting your essay, have a clear thesis in mind. Having a succinct one-or-two-sentence answer to the prompt before starting will help you remember to tie your points back to the prompt consistently throughout your essay.
Begin your essay with a gripping hook, such as a scene from an important experience that ties directly to your thesis. Then, present your thesis in a sentence or two in a way that outlines your three points (e.g. “The most defining experience of my life has been spending a summer in Africa, because of X, Y, and Z.”)
Once your introduction is written, write a paragraph for each point stated in your thesis. Each paragraph should have two or three sentences of anecdotal evidence followed by two or three sentences of introspection that support your thesis. This is the place that we commonly see applicants stray into tangential points that don’t relate to the thesis. Always keep your thesis in mind and stay on topic!
Finally, wrap your essay up with a conclusion. Your conclusion’s length will depend on how much space you have left in your essay, but it should generally restate your thesis and rehash your main introspective points in as few words as possible.
Keeping your essay simple and readable with this simple formula will greatly increase your chances of getting into your dream school. Don't make the narrative mistake! Use structure and introspection to make your story sing!