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

What is a college application essay?

Many colleges require you to submit an essay, written by you, as part of your application. They may ask you to respond to a question or prompt. This application essay is your opportunity to show colleges your personality and how you think. You can use the essay to demonstrate what you can bring to a campus and to stand out from other applicants.

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. Most admissions officers take the college application essay into consideration in deciding which students to admit (of course, each college has its own process).

Colleges see the essay as a way to hear from you directly and to get a sense of who you are in your own words. It’s a great opportunity for you to personalize your application beyond the grades, scores, and other information you’ve provided, and it can make a difference at decision time.

What are colleges looking for in your application essay?

Colleges want to see that you can write well and build a logical argument with supporting ideas. Some colleges also use the essay to help them determine whether an applicant is a good fit.

According to one expert, the best advice for any student writing an essay is to answer the question that was asked and to be yourself—in your own voice.

How do you write a college application essay?

1. Just get going.

Staring down a blank page can be the hardest part of writing an essay. So try this exercise to overcome writer’s block: Take 20 minutes to jot down a few quick lists of your proudest accomplishments, worst embarrassments, life-changing moments, strongest memories, favorite people, or any other categories that appeal to you. Don’t overthink your lists. (And don’t worry if, like most people, your best ideas come after that initial 30 minutes is up.) Repeat the exercise once a day for as many days as you need. Soon you’ll discover yourself with one—or more—possible essay topics.

 

2. Give yourself an early start.

Few people write well under pressure, so give yourself at least a few weeks before the submission deadline. You don’t have to work on your essay every single day, but you do have to give yourself enough time to revise, to edit, and then to show your first draft to a friend for feedback. The sooner that first draft is underway, the better off you’ll be.

 

3. Avoid a theme that everyone else is using.

Your essay will be easier to write—and more exciting to read—if it’s based on genuine emotion and authentic experience. Don’t try to guess what you think an admissions office wants to read. So if all your friends are writing application essays about the topic of the day, that may be a good reason to stay away from it. Unless, of course, you have a unique angle that you are burning to share.

 

4. Sound like your best self.

Admissions counselors say that the best essays help them learn something about the student that they would never know from reading the rest of the application. For example, this essay may be the ideal opportunity to draw attention to an achievement, a hobby, or a life experience that’s barely mentioned on your application.

 

5. Write confidently, but not arrogantly.

Keep a confident tone even if—especially if—you’re not feeling that way. Be on the lookout for words and phrases like “maybe,” “sort of,” and “I think” that might undercut that tone. At the same time, though, make sure to follow application guidelines about format and length. If the essay has a suggested 650-word maximum, your application will stand out—not in a good way—if you turn in 250 words.

 

6. Proofread, proofread, then proofread again.

As you progress toward your final draft, run the essay through the spell-check on your computer and double-check your word count. Then set it aside and don’t read it for a few days. When you read your essay again with a cold eye, you’ll be more likely to spot typos and awkward phrasing. After that, ask a teacher, parent, or college student to give it a quick read.

 

7. Put yourself in the place of an admissions counselor.

If you were someone who had to read dozens of college essays every day, would you enjoy reading this one? Does it have a promising beginning? Is it easy to follow? Is it free from distracting typos? Does it have a logical conclusion? Does it make you want to know more about the writer? If you think so, chances are that an admission counselor will too.

 

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

  • You may be asked to write about a personal experience, an achievement, or a person who is significant to you. Go beyond the what or the who and dig into the how and the why.

  • If you write about a trip or event, describe how this experience affected you and why it’s meaningful to you.

  • If you are writing about a person in your life, be personal and specific, not just sentimental. Explain what this person did and how their actions, words, or example affected you.

 

Find out how other students successfully tackled their college application essays.

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