How to maintain your VOICE in a college essay
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How to maintain your VOICE in a college essay

Admission Counselling :
  • Written by UnivAdmitHelp
  • Category: Admission Application
  • Published on 08 Dec 2020


I write only because / There is a voice within me / That will not be still.

–Sylvia Plath


When you begin writing your application essays, it is hard to do it alone. Naturally, we like to take a little help, a little guidance from a friend, peer, or family.  But how do we keep the writing true to our style? How do we maintain our own voice in writing? The Stanford GSB website has a straightforward suggestion: “when any part of the application (excluding the letters of reference) ceases to be exclusively yours in either thought or word”, that’s when appropriate feedback becomes inappropriate coaching


So what really is your voice? Authors who write for a profession too struggle with this question. An author’s voice refers to a writer’s style. The quality that makes your writing yours. The turn of phrase, the way you use words is unique to you. A quick exercise: 

  1. Describe yourself in three adjectives.
    Example: geeky, guitar-loving, go-getter. Or: quiet, curious, witty.
  2. Ask (and answer) the question: “Is this how I talk?”


The core idea/or the voice can be found through introspection and finding the core theme of your life and aspirations. By staying true to your own interests and thoughts, you can ensure that your application essay sounds like you. It might need polishing and editing, yet it will remain true to your voice. 


The first suggestion: Read the question. Read the essay prompt. Often there is a choice to be made, like for admission to the UC’s. There are 4 essays to be written from a total of 8 prompts. The Common Application has 7 prompts, you can choose one. The prompts you choose will be the first step in determining your voice. This will decide what story or original thought you are choosing to share. 

Here are the questions for Common App:

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma — anything of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Which one would you choose? This marks the first step in establishing your voice / identity.

Draft it with your own thoughts.

Write a few drafts in points or in paragraphs for each question from your own experience. Flesh out the points with relevant information. (Read more about how to build great validation points). For example, someone who has dabbled in painting, is passionate about photography and has a fleeting interest in conservation may find his/her voice in exploring wildlife preservation through advocacy based on the arts. Use your experiences and profile building activities to build upon your essay. 


Take help.

Yes, do take help from peers, friends, family, anyone with good language skills, and someone who knows you. They can help provide appropriate feedback regarding:
Do your words answer the chosen question?
Does the writing follow a logical sequence?
Is it easy, fluent reading?
Anything beyond that, someone re-writing your entire essay in their own words is tantamount to inappropriate coaching. This is where you need to watch out. This is where you might lose your individual voice. The stronger the initial idea is or more vivid the initial story is, the stronger the “voice” will be.


Revise, reiterate, rewrite.

This is all on you. Re-read your answers/essays and clean them up as well as you can. An essay can sometimes write itself if it is easy and all the thoughts are sequenced well in your mind. But, more often than not, it will require many drafts and much revision. This helps to fine-tune the writing. It also helps to develop your points in a systematic way so that you do not miss out anything important.


Moreover, the thought is the core of the essay. As discussed previously, a good write-up has a story. It is the central thought that follows a certain sequence. It is eventually your conviction that is the foundation of “voice.” The ideas, positions, stories, and emotions that you write about should be yours. The college really is looking to hear from you, about you, in your words. The purpose of the essay is to get an individualistic portrait of the candidate. The bottom line is that there will be lots of other applications vying for your spot. If you want to be heard, you can’t just raise your voice. You have to set yourself apart, not only with your profile but also your writing. 


It is easy, and tempting, to get someone else to write your essay. A reminder from GSB again: “It is improper and a violation of the terms of this application process to have someone else write your essays. Such behavior will result in denial of your application or revocation of your admission.” Here are some more things you should avoid while writing your essay!


Further Reading:

How to answer the Identity question 

The Call of the Humanities 

How to make a College List

Multidisciplinary Learning to Broaden Your Mindspace