No matter what your circumstances are, applying to college as a nontraditional student can be a stressful process. Writing the personal essay can be particularly difficult, as many students feel pressured to both explain why they've waited to go to school and make themselves stand out. Creating an essay that showcases your unique life experiences and reveals your personality through detail can win the attention of colleges.
Whether 18 or 28, college applicants often feel tempted to write the essay they think admissions personnel want to read instead of being true to themselves. In reality, showcasing your uniqueness can set you apart from the hundreds of essays your readers examine, says the Finance Authority of Maine. Resist the temptation to use overly big words or write about topics you think will be a hit with colleges. Instead, mine the time you've spent between high school and your application for topics you're passionate about -- like what you plan to study in college, significant relationships or challenges you've faced.
Explain Your Circumstances Positively
Your personal essay can provide a chance to explain your decision to continue your education, but it should also focus on your experiences and goals rather than dwelling on the past. The University of Michigan career center states that nontraditional students often spend too much time describing difficult life circumstances -- such as why they don't enjoy their current career path -- instead of positively stating why they want to go to college. Be honest about why you're returning to school, but make sure your essay's tone reflects your enthusiasm for this decision rather than the negative aspects of your life.
It's All In The Details
No matter what an applicant's past experiences are, any good college admissions essay paints a picture of its writer with clear description and structure. Just as your English teacher used to say, "show, don't tell" should be your primary goal. Avoid merely stating facts; instead, vividly portray them through the language you use. For example, if you're writing about taking a trip overseas, you'll want to describe the country's sights, sounds and smells; if you're describing your relationship with your child, you'll want to render a clear picture of his personality and interests. The clearer your writing is, the more readers will be able to see why your topic is important to you.
Get Feedback From Friends
Along with getting to know applicants, universities use essays to assess students' preparation for college-level courses, critical thinking skills and creativity. If you think your writing skills are a little rusty, ask a trusted friend or family member to read your essay. Your readers can offer feedback about what areas need more detail or explanation, correct grammar errors and typos and encourage you by sharing the parts they enjoyed. Try reading your essay aloud to see how it sounds; often, reading silently can cause you to miss mistakes or gloss over areas that need work.
- John Howard/Digital Vision/Getty Images