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Formal Essay First Person Games

Do you moan and groan when you find out that your college or scholarship application requires an essay? Do you wonder why the college admissions office or scholarship office wants to torture you by having to write yet another essay? Essays are a vital part of your application and the can be fun to write. Remember, most essays are written on a very important topic – yourself.

Here are the Top 10 Tips when writing your college or scholarship essay.

1. Follow the instructions and find a topic.

Not to treat you like a first-grader, but since day one, you’ve been told to read directions and follow them. That’s true with the essay as well. For example, if an essay requirement is 500 words, then you should probably submit an essay that is about 500 words (don’t worry if it’s a little shorter or longer). An admissions office does not want (and probably will not read) your 15 page term paper on the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Before you begin, check out the essay topics for all of your applications. Is there a common thread? Could you write that one perfect essay and submit it to multiple organizations? Remember, some scholarships and colleges have a “Topic of your Choice” option. Never decline to apply for scholarships or to a college because of an essay requirement. You will miss out.

2. Look around you. The answer’s usually there.

What can you write about? The answer is usually in front of you. College and scholarship folk want to know about you, your life and experiences. Brainstorm ideas with your family and friends. Over the years I’ve read amazing essays on the simplest of topics. Who would have thought that an essay written about a frog gigging (Google it) experience would be suitable to submit for financial consideration?

3. Get the reader’s attention from the beginning.

Your English teachers tell you to start off any paper with an “attention getter”. This is very true for college and scholarship essays as well. An admissions counselor might have to read 50 essays a day. If yours doesn’t get their attention right off the bat, they might not keep reading. However, just a warning, sometimes students can go too far (See #8).

4. Show it – don’t tell it. Use strong verbs and vivid language.

Over the years, admissions counselors have come to dread what has been coined “The Big Game” essay. This is the essay about the winning (or losing) sports game of the season. Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong about writing on your sports experience. However, don’t give us the play by play of the game. We can read that in the newspaper. Instead, show us your experience. Give us that “you are there” feeling.

5. Honesty is key. Write about your feelings and experiences.

Writing about yourself can be tough.

After discussing essay topics with students at a high school, one student approached me about the essay she had begun for two selective private colleges. The topic was to discuss a challenge that you had to overcome. This student had written about the time in 7th grade she was caught using her cell phone at school.

Not a very compelling story.

After asking questions about her life, I realized that the subject she should write about was the one that was the hardest for her to put into words – living with a father who was an alcoholic. She mustered up the courage to write on this subject and created a beautiful essay. She is now a successful student at her first choice college.

The other side of honesty is plagiarism. What is plagiarism? It’s when you copy someone else’s essay and call it your own.

Don’t do it.

Trust me.

6. We want to know about you.

I think this point has been made. Essays are usually about you. Most colleges and scholarships folks cannot interview each student, so the essay is usually the only part of your application where your personality can shine through.

7. Try it on someone else.

Make sure that you write your essay in plenty of time for others to read it. Ask your English teacher to check for grammar issues. Ask a parent for their opinion (do not let them rewrite it). Ask a good friend (or a friend who will tell you the truth) to read it. Ask them “Does this sound like me?”

8. Don’t be obnoxious, off-color or obscene.

The essay is not the place to pout or make excuses. I’ve read essays that went something like this “My high school grades stunk because I had lousy teachers who bored me”. Be honest – not obnoxious. Also, your essay shouldn’t be a laundry list of accomplishments. Yes, knowing your achievements is important; however, you can submit this information separately in a student resume. Remember, going for shock-value may backfire.

9. Use personal pronouns and maybe even contractions.

My high school English teacher gave an automatic “F” for using the personal pronoun “I” in an English paper. So, guess what? I wrote all of my college and scholarship essays in the third person.

That was embarrassing.

Since most college and scholarship essays are also dubbed “Personal Statements”, the first-person voice is appropriate. Use “I”, but don’t forget to capitalize it.

10. Take the time to develop your essay. 

Are you already thinking of possible essay topics? Good. Write notes or a draft now. Don’t delay. You can “free write” whatever comes to mind and then revise it. Check for content. Check for grammar. Although essays can be more casual than formal five paragraph English compositions, remember to use proper grammar. This includes punctuation and capitalization. Essays are not text messages.


Piece of cake. Now write your essay – you have colleges to get in to and scholarships to win.

Many times, high school students are told not to use first person (“I,” “we,” “my,” “us,” and so forth) in their essays. As a college student, you should realize that this is a rule that can and should be broken—at the right time, of course.

By now, you’ve probably written a personal essay, memoir, or narrative that used first person. After all, how could you write a personal essay about yourself, for instance, without using the dreaded “I” word?

However, academic essays differ from personal essays; they are typically researched and use a formal tone. Because of these differences, when students write an academic essay, they quickly shy away from first person because of what they have been told in high school or because they believe that first person feels too informal for an intellectual, researched text. Yet while first person can definitely be overused in academic essays (which is likely why your teachers tell you not to use it), there are moments in a paper when it is not only appropriate, but it is actually effective and/or persuasive to use first person. The following are a few instances in which it is appropriate to use first person in an academic essay:

  • Including a personal anecdote: You have more than likely been told that you need a strong “hook” to draw your readers in during an introduction. Sometimes, the best hook is a personal anecdote, or a short amusing story about yourself. In this situation, it would seem unnatural not to use first-person pronouns such as “I” and “myself.” Your readers will appreciate the personal touch and will want to keep reading! (For more information about incorporating personal anecdotes into your writing, see "Employing Narrative in an Essay.")

  • Establishing your credibility (ethos): Ethos is a term stemming back to Ancient Greece that essentially means “character” in the sense of trustworthiness or credibility. A writer can establish her ethos by convincing the reader that she is trustworthy source. Oftentimes, the best way to do that is to get personal—tell the reader a little bit about yourself. (For more information about ethos, see "Ethos.")

    For instance, let’s say you are writing an essay arguing that dance is a sport. Using the occasional personal pronoun to let your audience know that you, in fact, are a classically trained dancer—and have the muscles and scars to prove it—goes a long way in establishing your credibility and proving your argument. And this use of first person will not distract or annoy your readers because it is purposeful.

  • Clarifying passive constructions: Often, when writers try to avoid using first person in essays, they end up creating confusing, passive sentences.

    For instance, let’s say I am writing an essay about different word processing technologies, and I want to make the point that I am using Microsoft Word to write this essay. If I tried to avoid first-person pronouns, my sentence might read: “Right now, this essay is being written in Microsoft Word.” While this sentence is not wrong, it is what we call passive—the subject of the sentence is being acted upon because there is no one performing the action. To most people, this sentence sounds better: “Right now, I am writing this essay in Microsoft Word.” Do you see the difference? In this case, using first person makes your writing clearer.

  • Stating your position in relation to others: Sometimes, especially in an argumentative essay, it is necessary to state your opinion on the topic. Readers want to know where you stand, and it is sometimes helpful to assert yourself by putting your own opinions into the essay. You can imagine the passive sentences (see above) that might occur if you try to state your argument without using the word “I.” The key here is to use first person sparingly. Use personal pronouns enough to get your point across clearly without inundating your readers with this language.

Now, the above list is certainly not exhaustive. The best thing to do is to use your good judgment, and you can always check with your instructor if you are unsure of his or her perspective on the issue. Ultimately, if you feel that using first person has a purpose or will have a strategic effect on your audience, then it is probably fine to use first-person pronouns. Just be sure not to overuse this language, at the risk of sounding narcissistic, self-centered, or unaware of others’ opinions on a topic.

See also:

The First Person

Use the First Person

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