How to Nail Your College Admissions Essay
« Back | 10.05.2017 - Jill Rogier
The blinking cursor stares at you, as if tempting you to make the first move. College admissions deadlines are inching toward you, and all that’s left to do is write the often-dreaded college essay. Worry not, clever applicant, the admissions essay doesn’t have to trigger clammy hands and cold sweats. This misunderstood piece of the college application puzzle—and one that carries significant weight for admissions committees—is actually the best opportunity you have for expressing who you are beyond letter grades, test scores, and extracurriculars.
This is your opportunity to shine in only a way you can.
ASU Prep Digital compiled the best advice from college admissions experts across the web to equip you with the tools, tips and tricks for writing an authentic and admissions-worthy college essay.
Stay true to your voice.
Time and again, college admissions experts drive this point home: above all else, your essay must be authentic. Scrap the idea of being who you think admissions directors want you to be. The only person they want you to be is you.
Be honest in your response to the essay prompt. Don’t butter up your feelings, but rather lay them bare. This takes a certain vulnerability, but that momentary discomfort of wearing your heart on your sleeve pays off in strides. Honesty, transparency, and authenticity are always more compelling than their opposites.
Use online essay prompts, like those provided by The Common Application, to get your gears turning while building your writer’s muscle.
Believe in your essay topic.
Nothing is more evident than a writer bored by their own words. By all expert accounts, your college essay should answer the question, “What do I believe in?” And since that can be an intimidatingly broad question, start small. Lead yourself to the answer during a dedicated brainstorming session. Set aside an hour of time with no digital or #IRL distractions in sight, then ask yourself questions like the following:
- What keeps me up at night?
- About which topics could I teach a class?
- What’s the first thing I want to do each day when I get home from school?
The point of this exercise is to come up with a list of the things that you believe in, love and enjoy. With this list in hand, you’re inevitably closer to finding an essay topic that’s worth writing about.
Don’t be afraid of conflict.
On the flip side of finding your passions, many college admissions counselors advise students to write about tense situations. Allow for conflict or inner turmoil to turn up the tension and enthrall your reader. According to the New York Times, “you want to express more nuanced thinking and explore your own clashing emotions.” This may seem uncomfortable at first. After all, many high-school essays ask students to summarize existing information or support one side of conflicting viewpoints. But that’s precisely what you don’t want to do in your college essay; rather, it should give college admissions personnel a scope into who you are.
Try to push yourself out of your comfort zone by thinking about your recent missteps. Elaborating on why you consider something a failure, what you learned from it, and how it helped shape you into who you are today tells a strong story about you, your character, and your resilience.
Read this New York Times article for valuable tips on writing your college essay, including a list of “10 Things to Avoid.”
Find what makes you fascinating.
“There’s something fascinating in everyone’s life,” says George Anders in his Forbes article. Students often think only a difficult upbringing or serious setback can make for an interesting person. Not so. Each of us has something unique to offer, whether it be an odd obsession with Pez dispensers, a passion for birdwatching, or another hobby that makes our hearts flutter.
Here’s an interesting way to find a fascinating story hiding in plain sight: Start by writing about how others may perceive you. Try asking people in your life to describe you or what comes to mind when they think of you. Start developing those themes in an essay, fine-tuning them steadily throughout the next few drafts. You will likely be surprised at the story that results.
According to the IvyWise College Admissions Blog, schools often include unconventional secondary prompts or short answer questions to draw out an applicant’s individuality. Try answering some of the quirky prompts IvyWise rounded up to spur your imagination and get yourself thinking outside the box. Some of our favorite prompts include:
- “You have a popular podcast. What’s the title? What’s the topic?” This prompt gets you thinking about your passions and the things you believe in. After all, you’d only want to spend time podcasting about something you love, right?
- “What do you hope will change about the place where you live?” This prompt helps familiarize admissions committees with how you perceive the world around you, which values you hold true, and what you look for in a community.
If you want to get in, the first thing to look at is the acceptance rate. This tells you how competitive the school is and how serious their requirements are.
The acceptance rate at ASU is 83%. For every 100 applicants, 83 are admitted.
This means the school is lightly selective. The school will have their expected requirements for GPA and SAT/ACT scores. If you meet their requirements, you're almost certain to get an offer of admission. But if you don't meet ASU's requirements, you'll be one of the unlucky few people who gets rejected.
Many schools specify a minimum GPA requirement, but this is often just the bare minimum to submit an application without immediately getting rejected.
The GPA requirement that really matters is the GPA you need for a real chance of getting in. For this, we look at the school's average GPA for its current students.
The average GPA at ASU is 3.49.
(Most schools use a weighted GPA out of 4.0, though some report an unweighted GPA.
With a GPA of 3.49, ASU requires you to be around average in your high school class. You'll need a mix of A's and B's, and very few C's. If you have a lower GPA, you can compensate with harder courses like AP or IB classes. This will help boost your weighted GPA and show your ability to take college classes.
Each school has different requirements for standardized testing. Most schools require the SAT or ACT, and many also require SAT subject tests.
ASU recommends that you take the SAT or ACT. This means the test might be optional, but submitting a good SAT/ACT score will boost your application chances, especially since most other students will be submitting their scores.
ASU SAT Requirements
Many schools say they have no SAT score cutoff, but the truth is that there is a hidden SAT requirement. This is based on the school's average score.
Average SAT: 1210 (Old: 1145)
The average SAT score composite at ASU is a 1210 on the 1600 SAT scale.
On the old 2400 SAT, this corresponds to an average SAT score of 1145. (According to our records, this school requires only Reading and Math, so this score is out of 1600.)
This score makes ASU Competitive for SAT test scores.
ASU SAT Score Analysis (New 1600 SAT)
The 25th percentile New SAT score is 1110, and the 75th percentile New SAT score is 1340. In other words, a 1110 on the New SAT places you below average, while a 1340 will move you up to above average.
Here's the breakdown of new SAT scores by section:
|Section||Average||25th Percentile||75th Percentile|
ASU SAT Score Analysis (Old 2400 SAT)
The 25th percentile Old SAT score is 1030, and the 75th percentile SAT score is 1270. In other words, a 1030 on the Old SAT places you below average, while a 1270 puts you well above average.
Here's the breakdown of old SAT scores by section:
|Section||Average||25th Percentile||75th Percentile|
SAT Score Choice Policy
The Score Choice policy at your school is an important part of your testing strategy.
ASU has the Score Choice policy of "Highest Sitting."
This means that you can choose which SAT tests you want to send to the school. Of all the scores they receive, your application readers will consider the SAT score from your single highest test date (the sum of math, reading, and writing).
This is important for your testing strategy. Because you can choose which tests to send in, and ASU only considers your highest score on a single test date, you can take the SAT as many times as you want, then submit your strongest score. Your application readers will only see that one score.
Therefore, if your SAT score is currently below a 1030, we strongly recommend that you consider prepping for the SAT and retaking it. You don't have much to lose, and you can potentially raise your score and significantly boost your chances of getting in.
Download our free guide on the top 5 strategies you must be using to improve your score. This guide was written by Harvard graduates and SAT perfect scorers. If you apply the strategies in this guide, you'll study smarter and make huge score improvements.
ASU ACT Requirements
Just like for the SAT, ASU likely doesn't have a hard ACT cutoff, but if you score too low, your application will get tossed in the trash.
Average ACT: 25
The average ACT score at ASU is 25. This score makes ASU Moderately Competitive for ACT scores.
The 25th percentile ACT score is 23, and the 75th percentile ACT score is 28.
ACT Score Sending Policy
If you're taking the ACT as opposed to the SAT, you have a huge advantage in how you send scores, and this dramatically affects your testing strategy.
Here it is: when you send ACT scores to colleges, you have absolute control over which tests you send. You could take 10 tests, and only send your highest one. This is unlike the SAT, where many schools require you to send all your tests ever taken.
This means that you have more chances than you think to improve your ACT score. To try to aim for the school's ACT requirement of 23 and above, you should try to take the ACT as many times as you can. When you have the final score that you're happy with, you can then send only that score to all your schools.
ACT Superscore Policy
By and large, most colleges do not superscore the ACT. (Superscore means that the school takes your best section scores from all the test dates you submit, and then combines them into the best possible composite score). Thus, most schools will just take your highest ACT score from a single sitting.
We weren't able to find the school's exact ACT policy, which most likely means that it does not Superscore. Regardless, you can choose your single best ACT score to send in to ASU, so you should prep until you reach our recommended target ACT score of 23.
Download our free guide on the top 5 strategies you must be using to improve your score. This guide was written by Harvard graduates and ACT perfect scorers. If you apply the strategies in this guide, you'll study smarter and make huge score improvements.
SAT/ACT Writing Section Requirements
Both the SAT and ACT have a Writing section that includes an essay.
ASU considers the SAT/ACT Writing section optional and may not include it as part of their admissions consideration. You don't need to worry too much about Writing for this school, but other schools you're applying to may require it.
SAT Subject Test Requirements
Schools vary in their SAT subject test requirements. Typically, selective schools tend to require them, while most schools in the country do not.
ASU has indicated that SAT subject tests are required for SOME applicants. Typically this means that applying to certain majors or colleges within the school requires SAT subject tests, and others don't. Read further to see if you'll need to submit SAT subject scores.
Typically, your SAT/ACT and GPA are far more heavily weighed than your SAT Subject Tests. If you have the choice between improving your SAT/ACT score or your SAT Subject Test scores, definitely choose to improve your SAT/ACT score.
Our Expert's Notes
We did more detailed research into this school and found the following information.
Admission is guaranteed if you meet their high school course requirements (aka the "competency requirements") and ONE of the following four categories:
-you're in the top 25% of your high school graduating class
-you have at least a 3.00 GPA in competency classes
-you scored an ACT of at least 22 (24 for nonresidents)
-or you scored an SAT reasoning of at least 1040 (1110 non residents).
(The writing section is not required for either test.)
Furthermore, admission may be granted with one deficiency in no more than two competency areas. Deficiencies cannot be in both math and lab science. Students must earn a minimum 2.00 GPA in any subject area. Most competencies may also be met by test scores or college courses. Requirements may be higher for other degree programs and the honors college.