Linda Abraham

Article Summary:

Five tips that will add some pizzazz to your college application essay writing.

Use Lively Language For Your College Application Essay Writing

"My position as an analyst at Big Firm X offered me the opportunity to handle many demanding situations."

You can’t get much blander than the preceding sentence. No metaphors. No references to the senses. Wordy. Snore.

Despite knowing that your application essays should be interesting and engaging, personal statements are full of gray prose. Here are five tips that will add some pizzazz to your writing:

1. Use sensory language. Even the references to "color" and "gray" in the previous paragraphs are visual despite referring to concepts, not something with physical presence. Like metaphors, sensory language concretizes abstractions and brings black-and-white text to life. For example, so far in this article my use of "bland" refers to taste. "Exhortations" conjures up memories of an orator or preacher giving fiery speeches pushing you to try a little harder. They all involve the senses and make writing more vivid.

2. Incorporate metaphors. They will make your experiences and writing more vibrant.

3.Choose active, descriptive verbs. You can write, "The kite went up." Or you can write, "The kite soared." The latter evokes the image of a kite climbing gracefully high into the sky. The former could refer to anything going up.

4. Avoid stuffy prose using lots of adverbs and adjectives. Does food "have a severely elevated temperature," or is it "too hot to handle," "steaming," or "burning my tongue"?

5. Use specifics and details. It can’t be said often enough. Going back to my opening example of dull writing, what was the "situation"? Why was it demanding? Who was involved? Or was it a technically demanding project? Give details.

These five key tips will help you avoid the bland, dull prose that plagues so many essays. Follow them to ensure that your essays portray your experiences in vivid, life-like color.

In addition to personally advising hundreds of applicants over the last decade, Linda Abraham is the founder and president of, the premier online resources for college and graduate school applicants. She has written and lectured on different aspects of the admissions process, hosted a successful series of online admissions events, and developed the foremost application editing and advising services on the Web. Linda has been quoted by The NY Times, The Wall St. Journal, Businessweek, Business 2.0, The Washington Times, The Sunday Times, and other fine publications.

Read all advice by Linda Abraham; Find more College and University experts

More advice on College and University
» How To Write a Letter of Recommendation
» From Wait List to Accepted List
» all College and University articles