Keep Audience in Mind when Writing College Application Essays

By General Education Advice

Why do students so often struggle with their college application essays? While some find writing in general daunting, others get stuck mainly because they’ve forgotten to think about their audience.

All writers, no matter their purpose in writing, need to consider their audience. Who will be reading their writing? Knowing this from the start and keeping it in mind helps writers decide what to write and how to write it.

The same is true for students writing their college app essays. Who is their audience? People on a college admissions committee? As far as audiences go, this is a fairly tough crowd, in the minds of college applicants. Yet, putting a “face” to an otherwise nameless group of “admissions officers” will help students more easily find their “story” and the words with which to tell it.

Recently, when guiding a senior from Lyme-Old Lyme High School through her college app essays, I noticed a pattern in her writing. Her essays tended to open with a bang–engaging, creative, conversational. But, they quickly shifted in tone and became quite academic.

The cause, we discovered, was audience–more specifically, having the wrong audience in mind! Without realizing it, this student had had her teachers in mind when sitting down to write. Of course, her college essays read like academic papers. Once she made this mental adjustment, she soon found both her form and her voice.

Kristina Knobelsdorff, PhD

Kristina joined The Learning Consultants in 2007, shortly after completing her PhD in English at the University of Connecticut. With a decade of coaching teachers and students behind her, Kristina now heads the Department of Writing Mastery full-time. She derives great satisfaction helping students of all ages become skilled and confident writers. full bio