Dean of Admission & Financial Aid
Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa
Before setting pencil to paper (or fingers to keys), try out your essay as an oral story to family or friends. Encourage clarifying questions and watch for facial and body language to identify where your essay may need work. Constructing your essay verbally at first allows you to become comfortable with your ideas without being distracted by the mechanics of writing.
Also, focus on what's personally important instead of what's impressive, in your essay. The idea isn't to write an epic story. A behind-the-scenes glimpse into who you are, how you think, or what you stand for is far more compelling. Admission committees know you are a work in progress; otherwise, you wouldn't be applying to college.