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“Top Ten” Essay Tips

My name is Angela Herrera and I am the Associate Director of Multicultural Recruitment. I graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences in 2003 and the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs in 2008. I REALLY love my Cornell!

As you put the finishing touches on your personal statement and your college interest essay, let me offer you my top ten tips for essays.

  1. START EARLY – there is no reason to procrastinate or wait until the last minute. Believe it or not, it is pretty challenging to write about yourself in a limited number of words, so start early (August 1st is when the essay topics were posted, so trust me, we expect that you have been working on and polishing those essays for a long time!).
  2. Remember that this is about YOU – The essay is not a biography about your grandmother or best friend, as wonderful as they may be! This is a personal, autobiographical snapshot of who you are…be sure we learn something about you at the end.
  3. Use appropriate language – As cool and hip as I am, you really don’t know who is reading your essay. Chances are several people, from faculty to admissions deans/directors, will read your essays. Use appropriate language and explanations where necessary (i.e. Ratchet has a different meaning than you think!)
  4. Remember the personal statement goes to everybody – By everybody, I mean all 50+ colleges/universities you are applying to. Please do not make your personal statement about growing up a Big Red Bear-to-be, because the other colleges will get the same essay!
  5. Be your honest, true self – We want to know you, who you are, what you are all about, and nothing reads easier than a genuine essay! As an essay reading professional, I can usually tell when someone is not being themselves. Just be yourself.
  6. Sometimes simple stories make the best essays – Students often think they have to be some sort of genius or Nobel Peace Prize winner to impress us, but it’s not true. You are only 17 years old (maybe), and we want to hear about what a 17 year old goes through, what they think about, how they see themselves in this world. You do not have to have a sad or heartbreaking story, or a miracle cure for infectious diseases…you just have to be your wonderful self. We will help you become that Nobel Peace Prize winner later!
  7. College specific essays are important – Those other essays are just as important (if not more so) than your personal statement. This is where we learn why you want to join our community. So repeat #1 and start early!
  8. Don’t quote us – connect with us – Sometimes in the college essay, we see a lot of words that look like the words we put on our website or in our brochures…again, those are our words. Don’t copy and paste various pieces of our website, synthesize what we have to offer and why those things are important or appealing to you.
  9. You cannot be a doctor or lawyer anytime soon – Do not write about studying medicine/law because you can’t. You can certainly be pre-med or pre-law, but they are not majors. You have 4 important years you have to do (and do well) before you can go to law/medical/vet/business/grad school. Tell us about the undergraduate goals, studies, aspirations you have!
  10. PROOFREAD, PROOFREAD, PROOFREAD – Did I mention that you should proofread?


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