For most students it is a challenge trying to figure out what to highlight in a college application essay. Should you focus more on clubs, sports, and extracurriculars, or would an impressive list of academic achievements be better?

Believe it or not, your future school is probably dealing with the same questions. Grade inflation means that it can be difficult to differentiate students by their academic achievements alone, and most good students also have a wealth of extracurricular activities that make the job even harder. As a result, colleges are increasingly looking to your essay for a better idea of who you are.

This makes it all the more important to get your essay right—but it can be daunting when it feels like every word is important. We asked our admissions experts what they usually look for, and came up with the following dos and don’ts for a great college essay.

DO:

Write for your audience. Most students apply to around eight schools, but make the mistake of using the same essay for each. Every school has a different set of values and characteristics, and you need to show admissions officers that you have them too—so tailor your response!

Take note when prompted. Some essay questions are open-ended and allow you to choose your topic, but when a school asks a specific question, make sure you answer it. Do your research and think about how you can use the topic to showcase your own experiences.

Use examples. You might say you want to run your own business one day, but statements like this are much more powerful if you can give examples of how you are progressing towards your goals. Link statements to examples wherever you can, and then further link these to your choice of program and school.

Be passionate and heartfelt. Give the admissions committee a reason to be excited about having you on their campus. Your future college wants talented students, but it is just as important to them that they are engaged—so show them what motivates you and how it will transfer to your degree.

Take your time: Very few people produce their best work under time pressure, so make sure you take breaks to give yourself a chance to refocus and gain a new perspective on your writing. You should also have someone else take a look at your work—other people can often spot problem areas or typos that you would have otherwise missed.

DON’T:

Write one long paragraph. Structure your ideas into clearly defined sections and it will pay off—an introduction, middle, and a conclusion will help admissions officers to understand your points as they read through quickly.

Over-state the facts: Making a two-week internship sound like you were the CEO of a Fortune 500 company won’t improve your standing in the eyes of the admissions committee. Be honest—they’ll appreciate it.

Try and cram too much in: If your essay feels like a list of your various classes, clubs, jobs, and accomplishments, it won’t help the admissions committee understand what you’re like as a person. Try not to exceed the requested word count, be focused, and edit yourself well.

Use complex language: Focus on plain, correct English to make your statement clear and easy to read. Overcomplicating your language might demonstrate a wide vocabulary, but it won’t help your clarity. If you’re producing an essay, this is your chance to demonstrate your writing skills and the fact that you know what’s appropriate when—a critical asset for a university student.

Remember, admissions committees receive thousands of personal statements, and they have limited time to read them, so you need to stand out. Ask yourself if your essay truly reflects you, or just sounds like anyone else you know. Be clear, let your talents shine through, and make your reason for applying to their school obvious.