To start, let’s debunk a popular myth: “the perfect essay.” It’s not real. It can’t be, because otherwise we’d already have the essay and there would be no reason to write any more of them!
We’re not asking for the perfect essay; we’re asking for an essay that best answers our prompt as it relates to you. This should hopefully alleviate any anxiety you may be feeling, because guess what? You’re an expert on you! If you’re still apprehensive, though, let’s take a look at the steps you can take to write a strong Illinois admissions essay.
Step 1: Brainstorm.
Now that you’re ready to write, how do you start? How do you begin to compress your experiences into 400 words to best convey your passion? It all starts with brainstorming.
Think about the question at the surface: Why do you love your intended major? How do you know? What have you done to demonstrate that love? Now dig a little deeper. What experience first sparked your interest? What memory pulls you back and makes you think, “This is what I want to do all the time”? Really look to yourself and your past experiences, because those are the memories that make you who you are, and those are the words that will make you memorable.
Write all of your thoughts down on paper, see the connections you’ve made between your life and your major, and choose what stands out most. If you’re having trouble thinking of ideas, don’t be afraid to follow a tangent. You never know, even the smallest moment could be a winner.
Step 2: Plan it out.
Now that you have an idea, it’s time to structure it. Make sure you have a unified thought: You want to make a point, not just put a bunch of thoughts on paper. Pinpoint your message and start your outline.
It’s a short essay, so you need to be clear. Start with one sentence to pull the reader into the essay. If it helps, think of this intro as one of those musical numbers that begins a flashback in a movie.
Next, outline your main points. As you’re outlining these points, make sure you continue to answer the prompt. This essay isn’t just about you; it’s about the you who’s interested in a certain major. So it’s important to focus on that part of you, including any related classroom experiences, extracurriculars, job shadowing, volunteering, or part-time or summer jobs.
Finally, think of a closing sentence to tie your essay together. Although it can be similar, this shouldn’t be the same as your first sentence.
Step 3: Make it you-tiful.
After you’ve planned out your first sentence, last sentence, and main points, it’s time to write your essay! (It’s also probably time for us to remind you to write your own essay. No one knows you better than you, and counselors can tell when someone’s essay has been written by someone else.)
This isn’t your traditional introduction-three-body-paragraphs-conclusion-type essay. Remember, it’s short, sweet, and focused on you. When you begin writing, every word counts; there’s no need for background information or a rendition of your high school transcript. Stay true to you and what you’ve planned out.
Bottom line, tell your story. Write about your passion and connect it to your experiences. A personal anecdote about the time you built a robotic fish or felt empowered at a spoken-word open mic is engaging and memorable, exciting, and unique to you.
Step 4: Take one last look.
Although this step is often overlooked, it’s often where a good essay becomes great.
When you’re done writing your essay, step away for awhile and come back to it with fresh eyes. Now reread it from start to finish to ensure that your writing flows well, you’ve cut out the fluff, you’re using active verbs, and no grammatical errors exist. Then have someone else—perhaps a parent or your favorite teacher—proofread it and offer their feedback, too.
Any mistakes may put a stop in an otherwise flowing, engaging story. This is your chance to catch them. It’s also your chance to tighten things up and add any finishing touches (like the cherry on top of that ice cream sundae you totally deserve after you hit “save” one last time!).
We hope these tips help you as you’re crafting your Illinois essay. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect; it just needs to relate to you. We can’t wait to read what you come up with!