How To Use Dynamic Language on a College Application Essay

No Need to Use Long Words That No One Else Knows

Some people mistakenly think that dynamic language in a college application essay means using those big words you memorized for the SAT. Actually, the opposite is true. Unfamiliar words interrupt a reader’s thought process and can make him lose the train of thought.

What you want to do is use familiar words in a dynamic way that keeps the reader moving along at a good reading pace. Follow the rules below to increase the dynamic flow of your essays. (You aren’t expected to do all of the following on a first or second draft. Do these steps for the stage we can call “the polish.”)


Step 1

Get rid of words that are unfamiliar to most readers. For example, do NOT say: She wrapped a scarf around her florid face. Instead say: She wrapped a scarf around her ruddy face. The word “florid,” which is used less often than “ruddy,” could interrupt a reader’s thoughts.

Step 2

Get rid of forms of the verb “to be. For example, do NOT say: I am hoping to see my brother in his orchestra recital. Instead say: I hope to see my brother in his orchestra recital. Notice how much more energy appears in the words, “I hope” as opposed to the words, “I am hoping.” And, yes, sometimes following this rule will require an entire sentence be rewritten in order to get rid of a form of the verb “to be.”


Step 3

Get rid of all adverbs. For example, do NOT say: I walked quickly towards the airport exit gate. Instead say: I strode towards the airport exit gate. Go through your entire essay and eliminate the adverbs. Then choose stronger verbs that include the concept of the adverbs you eliminated.

Step 4

Use descriptive adjectives rather than generic adjectives. For example, do NOT say: She wore a nice dress. Instead say: She wore a knee-length dress made of a navy wool fabric.


Step 5

Limit your use of the pronoun, I. Yes, a college application essay is about you. Yet dynamic language calls for reducing the number of times a writer uses the personal pronoun. For example, do NOT say: I wanted to proofread the essay that I had written before I had to pick up my sister at her ballet lesson. Instead say: Before picking up my sister at her ballet lesson, I wanted to proofread my essay.

Step 6

Vary your sentence length and structure. Be careful to avoid monotonous sentence structure that can lull a reader to sleep. Use some short and some long sentences, and vary the format of sentences.

Step 7

Shorter paragraphs are easier on a reader’s eyes. And you want the college admission essay reader to actually read your essay. If you have a long block of text, see if you can break it in two. Just be sure that each paragraph can stand on its own. Sometimes a better editing choice would be to remove a sentence or two in a long paragraph. Many paragraphs of four or five sentences can have one sentence removed without losing any of the paragraph’s meaning.


And, remember, every time you make changes to your essay, you must run spell check and then read the essay aloud to check for incorrect words, missing words, extra words, or other errors that spell check might not catch.

Phyllis zimbler Miller is the authof of MRS. LIEUTENANT: A SHARON GOLD NOVEL and the co-author of the Jewish holiday book SEASONS FOR CELEBRATION. She blogs at as well as at, which gives advice on applying to colleges along with applying for internships and jobs.

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