If you’re looking to improve your college essay – and who isn’t – you’re in for a treat. In the most recent episode of our podcast GradCentric we discuss tackling college essays and the admissions process with Val Cervarich of Writing Help KC. Admissions essays are crucial part of the college planning process, especially to gain more scholarships and admissions to the best colleges. Here are some of the highlights from our discussion:

Who are you, and what is Writing Help KC?

My name is Val Cervarich, and I own Writing Help KC. Through my business I offer editing services for admissions and scholarship essays, resumes, and cover letters and I support first-time nonfiction authors who are self-publishing their books. In all of my projects, my goal is to build up clients’ confidence in their writing abilities and to bring clarity to their message.

Admissions essays are crucial to scholarships and admissions to the best colleges. What are a few best practices you would recommend when starting to write these essays?

When reading these important essays, a few things I like to see are:

  • Personality but professionalism
  • Your story rather than a list of accomplishments
  • Share some pivotal moment from your life that shaped who you are and what you’d like to pursue
  • Good organization and flow
  • A polished, proofread project

To get things on paper, you can practice responding to interview questions or type out what you’d say to a friend. Then you can make your writing more formal as you self-edit.  For self-editing, I recommend giving yourself some time between writing and reviewing. You can also read it aloud or backwards to check for errors.

When should a student reach out for professional help?

A student should reach out for professional help when they feel stuck or lack confidence in their writing. One important thing for me when I work with clients is to be a consultant and to challenge the writer. I push to get to what makes someone unique so they can highlight that. I offer suggestions or alternatives in my feedback to help students find the most creative way to approach their essay. That helps them stand out. And of course, students should also reach out for proofreading. Either a trusted friend or a service like Writing Help KC can make sure that you’re ready to submit a polished product. And reaching out at least a day or two before an admissions essay is due helps a lot!

You work with a lot of graduate students. What trends do you see in graduate student writing? What do they need the most?

When it comes to graduate writing, I tend to see more technically-focused writing. They’re an expert in their field and good at sharing their findings and facts, but they often lack a story or narrative when they need to write to a more general audience.  So taking a step back and thinking about your audience can help you make more informed revisions to meet the audience where they are.

When it comes to student’s writing, what are the biggest mistakes you find?

Everyone has their own grammar issues or writing quirks but those are typically easy to fix. The biggest mistake is not writing for your audience. It’s also important to ask questions like:

  • Are you putting yourselves in their shoes?
  • Are you being too technical? Assume your audience doesn’t understand lingo or abbreviations.
  • Are you writing in a way that captures attention?

Also, keep an eye out for a lack of sentence structure variety. If all of your sentences are short and declarative, it will read like a boring kids’ book. Make sure to include compelling and memorable stories or arguments. After all, the brain is hardwired for story, so we’re looking for a beginning, middle, and end to everything. Make sure you have a logical and compelling story to give things an emotional appeal.

Gradmetrics has a close working relationship with Val and other experts who can help you on your journey to the college of your choice. For more guidance on college essays, reach out to us. You can follow Val at @writinghelpkc on Instagram and Facebook or visit her website at www.writinghelpkc.com. You can view our full podcast episode below:

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