As I’ve been watching the Democratic national convention this past week, I realized how much election speeches are like college application essays.

Both are sales pitches. Both candidates and college applicants want something—badly!

Candidates want votes. You want to get admitted.

Candidates make their case through speeches.

Collegebound students make their case through college application essays.

Both these speeches and essays use the first person (I, me, us…), they both use a familiar “voice,” and they both have a singular objective.

Here are some of the other common goals that make them effective:

  1. To be likable.
    You won’t get votes or accepted if others don’t like you. It’s that simple.
  2. To prove you are confident and capable.
    You must demonstrate that you can get the job done—whether it’s running a country or excelling in your target college or university.
  3. To showcase your character.
    Voters and admissions counselors need to know what you value in order to choose you over others.
  4. To be human.
    Candidates and collegebound students are almost faceless until you get to know them. Candidates need to get past their slogans and voting record. Collegebound students need to get past their grades, test scores and list of activities.
  5. To get attention and be memorable.
    It doesn’t matter how great you are if no one cares what you have to say. No one knows that better than politicians. Collegebound students need to learn how to differentiate themselves from the competition, and do it in a way that’s not gimmicky, offensive or boastful (anyone come to mind?).

What’s the best way to meet all 5 of these goals?

Get personal and share real-life stories from your background!

Like politicians, some students have an easier time with this in their college application essays than others.

Take Hillary Clinton.

As a former First Lady, former state senator and former Secretary of State, she is more “qualified” to run this country than either her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and President Obama (Obama actually said about her in his recent speech at the convention.).

Yet she has had a difficult time getting people to connect with her, to trust her, to like her.


It’s hard for Hillary to get personal.

In her speech last night accepting the nomination, she even acknowledged this limitation:

“The truth is, through all these years of public service, the ‘service’ part has always come easier to me than the ‘public’ part,” Mrs. Clinton said. “I get it that some people just don’t know what to make of me.”

(Notice how that confession in itself made her that much more likable!)

So, I ask you: Are you a Hillary?

Are you a student who has been serious and dedicated to your school work, and spent countless hours giving back through community service and other volunteering activities? Are you smart, hard-working, ambitious and passionate about your values and goals?

Yet at the same time, do you find it challenging to open up about yourself and your feelings? If given a choice, are you more comfortable behind the spotlight? Does it feel unnatural to admit your flaws or weaknesses?


Then you might be a Hillary (I’m not talking politics here; this is all about personality types).

But did Hillary let that hold her back?

No. She acknowledges her weaknesses and is working on them.

She’s trying to be more open and share details about her personal life and background.

The smartest thing she did in her speech was share personal stories.

You can use these same tools in your college application essays to make them more effective.

If you trust your real-life stories and your personal background to power your essay, it will naturally make you more accessible and likable.

Like Hillary and other political candidates, you need to use your college application essays to connect with others.

You can be super bright, done all the right test-prep, AP classes and extracurriculars. But if you don’t learn how to reveal your personal side, it’s impossible for colleges and universities to know who you are.

Being open and vulnerable may not come naturally for you. It’s certainly doesn’t for Hillary.

But like her, you can learn how.

Below are links to my best posts to coach you to write a college application essay that is personal, and will help you achieve all five of the goals I listed above that make an essay (and campaign speech) effective: be likable, show confidence and character, be human and grab the reader’s attention.

The Secret to a Killer College Application Essay

How to Write a College Application in 3 Steps

#Selfie: 5 Ways It’s Like Your College Application Essay

Land in the Yes Pile

What Makes a College Application Essay Great?

Good luck!