College Applications 101: How to bring your direct admissions essays to the next level


If you’re a senior, you’ve probably started putting together your college admissions essay. You follow the standard essay format, with an introduction, supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion.

You have your anecdote, stories to share, and some examples of what makes you “you.” Then, you start to wonder, Is there something missing? 

When you’re applying to direct admissions for a specific college or program, there are a few strategies to bring your essays to the next level. Admissions officers want you to answer the following questions either through your college admissions essay or throughout the supplemental essays (or a mixture of the two!). Ask yourself these questions and double check that your application materials demonstrate the answers in one way or another.


How did you decide this major or career path? 

Show, don’t tell. 

Get personal. Show us your decision-making process. If you want to go into medicine, for example, focus on the experiences that led you to this decision. Instead of spending a whole paragraph talking about the passion you have for the medical field, mention specific stories and anecdotes that reflect your passion or where you began. Think about the conversations with patients that have impacted you the most, or the hospital or health experiences you’ve observed or been a part of. 

On the other hand, if you’re thinking about going into computer science, write about the first time you realized you were fascinated by programming, or tell us about that time at your first robotics competition. You don’t need to list out all the programs or technologies you’re obsessed with learning everything about--instead, keep focused on stories and experiences that led you to applying.   

Whether you’re applying direct admission or not, by picking out specific anecdotes and stories, your essay will demonstrate exactly how you are the right fit for the major and school. 

What will you be bringing to this specific college’s community? 

Go beyond your intended major.

Few students are so dedicated to their major of study that they don’t have any other hobbies, interests, or activities. What volunteer experience, part-time job, or after school activity have you been a part of? Not every aspect of your admissions or supplemental essays has to tie back to the major you’re planning. While it doesn’t hurt to weave in as much relevant information as you can, you also want to show who you are as a person--outside of or as a complement to your intended major. 

Colleges don’t want 90 students with the same resumes sitting in their classroom. They want a rich community of diverse perspectives coming together. Every experience that you’ve had up until this point has shaped who you are and your perspective on the world. Any time that you can shine light on what makes you and your voice unique, share it.    

What draws you to this specific college or program? 

Do your research.

If you’re interested in direct admissions, you probably have a good idea of what you want to study. Either in the admissions essay or supplemental responses, challenge yourself to take your responses to the next level. Look through the different programs, internships, and other opportunities that the specific college offers. Read through some of the curriculum and required courses. Are there any that genuinely interest you? Why? Are you drawn to Professor Miller’s neuroscience research on the brain-blood barrier? Why? Pick out the details that you find intriguing. You’re demonstrating to admissions offers exactly why you and the college or program are a perfect fit. 

As you continue to polish up your application materials, take a look at the 6 essay topics to avoid in your admissions and supplemental essays.