We’ve mentioned before — a few times, actually — how much we like the Johns Hopkins admissions team’s website, Hopkins Insider. They give lots of detailed information, but with a lighthearted spirit; they’re clearly trying to demystify the college admissions process for students, and help everyone — students and parents alike — chill out a little bit. Which is why we like their candid, helpful responses about what makes an application essay stand out:

Admissions Counselor Bryan Nance:  “When I get a chance to understand who an applicant really is and how they will fit into the Hopkins community.”

Admissions Counselor Shannon Miller:  “When someone takes an everyday topic and makes it their own – don’t start your essay with something like ‘The most inspirational person in my life is my mom,’ or ‘Interact has been my most meaningful activity.’ I know you can be more creative than that!”

Admissions Counselor Dana Messinger:  “A good college essay is personal.  No matter how well written it is if I don’t feel like I know the student any better at the end, it doesn’t really stay with me.  The best essays are the ones that let me picture what the applicant is like in some facet of his or her life.”

Admissions Counselor Rachel Cowan Jacobs:  “An essay that goes beyond the surface stands out for me.  It can be challenging to write a deep essay without going into too much story-telling. I find those to be effective essays because they tell me more about the applicant and showcase his or her writing ability.”

Admissions Counselor Sarah Godwin:  “When it is something only you could have written about. For example, being on a soccer team is a fairly common experience that many people can write about,  but growing your own organic garden or telling me about your elaborate take-out menu collection and how it defines who you are, well that is an “only you could write that” kind of essay.”

Admissions Counselor Sherryl Fletcher:  “When a student is writing in an authentic voice, their own experiences stand out as unique views of who he/she is and the potential to contribute within the classroom and within the Johns Hopkins community.”

Admissions Counselor Daniel Creasy:  “It absolutely needs to be personal. I need to have a better sense of who the applicant is after reading the essay. In fact, I want applicants to think of it less as an essay and more as a personal statement. Being personal makes an essay effective, being original and creative makes an essay stand out.”

Admissions Counselor John Birney:  “The topic needs to be unusual and interesting.  I love to find out those characteristics of students which are rarely known.’