Teachers, students point to resources for college essays


Siddharth Dhadi

Using resources such as The College Essay Guy, senior Muralikrishnan Srikanth refines his college essays on Sept. 14 during his physics class. Srikanth insists that making an early start to college essays is highly beneficial.

Siddharth Dhadi, Opinions Editor

In the midst of AP classes and extracurriculars, senior Muralikrishnan Srikanth finds himself juggling different tabs on his computer to research about colleges and put together his supplemental essays. By getting inspiration from other students’ successful college essays, Srikanth keeps writing his own college essays. 

Most schools require applicants to complete the Common App essay that allows students to reflect on major life experiences. Some schools also have supplementals specific to their college. Since colleges review thousands of applicants there are often word limits on both the Common App and the supplemental essays.

“For colleges that have a very low word count, [applicants] need to do a lot of research and narrow down what they want to write,” Srikanth said. “Especially for colleges such as Virginia Tech and UVA, the word count throws people off.” 

According to Collegevine, essays weigh 25% in colleges’ consideration of admission; however, in light of universities allowing students to apply without submitting scores for standardized tests like the SAT, essays carry a greater importance.

“When two students have similar academic profiles and test grades, the essays really come into play,” college and career specialist Khristie Greiner said. “If both the essays are also exceptional, then institutional priorities [such as] athletics, gender [balance] and racial diversity come into play.”

While students have experience with writing persuasive essays in their English classes, college essays are different; they deal with the student and often require students to write about their interests and personality.

Some websites often suggest that students should avoid choosing cliché topics such as immigrant struggles, someone you admire or a résumé of your life achievements. However, according to U.S. News, if it is really impactful and portrays qualities such as reflection, commitment or dedication in the writer, the essay’s theme does not matter.  

“Steering clear of cliche topics many seniors focus on like ‘the winning goal,’ ‘the starring show’ or ‘the community service project’ [can] help students stand out because you could instead showcase your values and  character traits,” English teacher Nicole Lehman said. “But if a student does write about [these topics], it is important to spin them in a way that will help them stand out from others.”

Even though the process of revising or even starting over essays can be frustrating, talking to a friend or reading memoirs can help ease writer’s blocks, according to Collegevine. These strategies allow students to reflect on their techniques and ideas, enabling them to effectively change the way they craft their essays.
“Every time I am stuck writing an essay, I just go and watch movies or do something else,”  Srikanth said. “Sometimes, I just start a different version of the same essay, which helps me think from a different perspective.”

While there are techniques and strategies to craft compelling essays available online, the Chantilly Writing Center (CWC) serves as a platform within school for students to receive help on college essays. The writing center meets every Charger Time and after school by appointment to allow seniors to have an extra set of eyes on their essays.

“Last year, a lot of kids came in after school to get their essays edited,” Lehman said. “The Writing Center can give seniors a chance to, perhaps, reenvision their work.”

The College and Career Center also hosts sessions to help seniors craft compelling essays. The number of sessions they hosted last year was comparatively lower than before the coronavirus pandemic, but the career center hopes to help out as many seniors as they can this year. 

“Sometimes your English teachers may be willing to read through your essay,” Srikanth said. “They might help you get rid of clichés and some of the most basic mistakes, so just ask.”