College Planning

How to Write a College Application Essay

Are you trying to write your college application essay but don’t know where to start? This post will help you decide what to include in your essay and topics you should write about.

What is a college application essay?

The college application essay is your opportunity to show off to colleges your personality and how you think. Many students use the essay as a chance to stand out from the other applicants and demonstrate what they can bring to their campus and student body.

Why do you need a college application essay?

Many colleges require an essay from each applicant. The essay is also required on the Common Application, which is used by more than 800 colleges and universities. Although every college has their own admissions process, most schools and admissions officers take the college application essay into consideration in deciding which students to admit.

What are colleges looking for in your application essay?

Colleges are looking for students to show they can write well and build a logical argument with supporting ideas. For some colleges, the essay can indicate whether an applicant is a good fit. 

An expert shares that his best advice to any student writing an essay is to answer the question asked and be yourself in your own voice. 

How do you write a college application essay?

Colleges have different essay prompts, but typical questions include the “you” question, the “why us” question, and the “creative” question.

The “you” question is based on the classic interview question “tell me about yourself.” This type of essay gives you a chance to introduce yourself to colleges. Here’s a tip: Don’t use this prompt to tell everything about yourself. Instead, pick a notable experience you’ve had in your life, and expand on it.

The “why us” question works well if you’re passionate about a specific school. That’s because these essays are tailored to one college. Writing an essay for a single college is useful in another way. It gets you to think about whether the school is in fact a good choice.

The “creative” question is a way for you to demonstrate your knowledge, education, and creativity. Don’t risk being obscure when trying to be creative. Ground your essay. Use common sense.

An expert shares how students can get inspiration for their application essay in an unusual way—one that may have been furthest from their minds: Ask friends and families what memories and stories they have about them.

7 Tips for Crafting Your Best College Essay

Ready to start? Here are some tips to come up with an A+ college application essay:

  1. Although many consider starting their essay to be the hardest part, you can make things easier by brainstorming your strengths.
  2. Take notes and sketch out an outline of what you want to write about. Now that you have an outline, don’t worry about making your first draft perfect. Get your ideas down on paper. Correct mistakes as you improve your essay in later drafts.
  3. Develop a three-part essay: introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion.
  4. Take a specific angle on how your personal qualities relate to the essay question. Make sure everything you write supports that viewpoint.
  5. Be honest. Don’t write what you think admissions officers want to hear.
  6. Show the first draft to family, friends, and teachers for feedback. Ask them if the essay reflects your personality and strengths.
  7. Fix errors. Have someone else proofread your essay as well.

To see two examples of college application essays, check out college essay 1 and college essay 2.

Visit bigfuture.org for more free, comprehensive college planning resources.