Figure out why: A lot of people struggle to answer questions such as “Why medicine?” or “Why Yale?” Try thinking about it another way: when you consider not pursuing this career or attending this school, what upsets you the most about that scenario? In other words, what would you regret most deeply about failing to achieve your dreams? Answering this question often clarifies your career goals and passions.

Talk it out: If you are simply too anxious to sit down and write the application essay, record yourself as you talk to a trusted friend or mentor about your hopes and dreams. Often, the ideas are all there but the format of the application essay is just too intimidating. Remember, you only need to answer the essay question, not write great literature!

Be personal: If somebody else could have written your essay, it will be forgettable. Adding names, dates, locations, anecdotes and quotations makes you memorable.

Be specific: Give specific reasons for wanting to major in sociology, pursue a fellowship in cardiology, study marine biology with Professor Tadpole or work in finance at Sterling Investments. Avoid vague praise such as “supportive alumni network,” “incredible classes” and “renowned faculty.” If you could use the same praise for several schools, the admissions reader won’t be fooled.

Be authentic: If you try too hard to impress your readers, you will annoy them. If you aim to connect with them by speaking from the heart, you will be unforgettable.

Show, don’t tell: If you tell your readers that you are intelligent, they will think you are bragging. If you write passionately about your 6-month independent study of medieval Spanish love poetry, your intelligence will speak for itself.

Have a plan: What are you trying to accomplish? Whether it is to win a scholarship, earn admission to a school or get a job, everything you write should serve this purpose. After writing the first draft, read over your work and cut anything that does not serve your purpose. Often, writers are still warming up as they pen their introduction and losing steam as they try to draw everything together in the conclusion, so you may need to re-write the first and last paragraphs a few times until they fit the content of the essay.