When Grace Kim was in high school, she wrote a college application essay that landed her a full ride to Princeton University. Kim went on to become an admissions officer at Stanford University and today, she is a university programs specialist for Google and helps students with their college admissions process for LogicPrep.
But the college essay that opened these doors for her is not one she would ever suggest that students emulate.
"Its funny, because I think my application essay is something I would advise students not to write about now," she tells CNBC Make It. "Often times we see essays about service trips that people do abroad and mine actually was about a trip that I took to Costa Rica with my church."
Kim explains that essays about a short but rewarding service trips are often overdone by students and have become a cliche in the college admissions community.
"I tell students to avoid writing about it just because it's often times a sort of cliche," says Kim. "If there's anything else that a student can highlight about themselves outside of that experience I would recommend they write about that instead."
Rather than write something that college admissions officers have seen before, Kim says that students should write about something that is deeply personal to them.
"We always said when I was an admissions officer, we want it to be so personal to the student that you couldn't put anyone else's name on that essay and have it still be true about that other student," she says. "Make sure that whatever story you decide to tell really highlights the adjectives you want the admissions officer to know about you."
In working with high school students at tutoring and test prep company LogicPrep, Kim has found that students will often discredit their own perfectly valid experiences.
"I think students get writer's block and say 'ugh I don't know what story I'm going to tell' or 'I don't think that I've had any life experiences that are worthy of this college that I want to apply to,'" she says. "But it's not even so much that you have to have a huge experience, it's very much how the story is told."
Kim explains, "The best essays are the ones where you can very clearly tell what their values are what their personalities are like, perhaps what their sense of humor is and just what matters to them."
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