The Passive Voice Is Not Your College Essay’s Friend

The passive voice is a style of writing that emphasizes something other than what you really want the reader to focus on.  It’s common for high school students to write in the passive voice, because they’ve been taught by their English teachers for years that they should not be the subject of their writing assignments.  

But the college essay is not an essay for English class!  Its function is exactly to make the student the >> center <<  of attention!  It gives the student the opportunity to share themselves through stories that make them memorable and likeable.  So when you’re writing your college essays, your goal should be to put yourself at the center of attention as much as possible!  Help the reader see you as the primary subject of the stories you tell.  Writing in the passive voice undermines this.

In the short video above, I went through some passive sentences with a group of high school seniors during an essay workshop.  We redrafted four sentences to make them more effective, and more focused on the student as the subject of the sentence. 

See if you can find a few sentences in your own college essay drafts that you could turn around to put yourself more in the spotlight!

It takes practice to write about yourself, because for many years your English teachers have told you not to write this way!  Here’s a post with a few more ways that your college essay is different from the essays you’ve been writing for your English class.  

PRO TIP: It’s always possible to shorten your essay!  Don’t let the word limit prevent you from telling and reflecting on the whole story.  Write until you’ve said everything you need to say, and cut from there.  Here’s a post from our colleague Michelle to help you trim words from your essay, if it’s a bit too long.

Effective college essays will leave the admissions reader remembering something about you and liking you!  They should see you walking across their campus, fitting into dorm life and college clubs, and contributing to your classmates and the community as much as you benefit.  Avoid the passive voice in your college essays.  Bold, active writing with YOU at the >> center << of attention will help you accomplish this!

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