How to Write a Great College Admissions Essay

Updated: May 5, 2023 You’re our #1 priority.
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writing a good college admissions essay

Most of the college admissions process is a numbers game. From your test scores to your GPA, admissions officers are simply looking for the highest digits. It’s the college application essay that can set you apart. This and your personal statement can be used to impress admissions officers and show them who you really are.

But you probably already know that.

If you’re reading this article, it’s because you need help with the writing process and crafting an impactful essay.

We’ve got you covered.

In this post, we’ll cover proven tips for creating a standout college admissions essay that showcases your unique voice and personality.

Research and Planning Tips that Work

tips for college admissions essay

Starting early is the key to crafting a winning college admissions essay. It gives you enough time to brainstorm and reflect on your personal experiences and values that make you unique.

If you’re already behind and should have read this college admissions essay tip sooner, no worries. You’ll just need to work double time on your planning.

Before you even look at your college essay topic, you’ll want to spend some time researching the college’s mission statement and its values can help tailor your essay accordingly. This is true even if you’re applying to multiple colleges.

For example, the University of California Berkley holds community as one of its main values. You’d want to consider this as you start the college application process there. It’s also one of the most selective colleges, with only a 14.4 percent acceptance rate.

Knowing that the college thinks the community is key is important when answering college essay prompts like “What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?” or “What do you believe makes you a strong candidate for admission to the University of California?”

Now let’s say you’re also going to apply to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Knowing that they are focused on “… a bold course of leading change to improve society and to help solve the world’s greatest problems” would help you craft a college admissions essay that explores why being a change-maker is so important to you.”

Understand the Prompt

Essay topics. The thorn in the side of most applicants.

Most college admissions essays must be written on a certain topic, although some schools allow you to choose. If your personal essay must answer a specific question, you really need to take some time digging into that query. The same is true of any other essay requirements since many schools have strict word limits.

Think back to your audience (the members of the admissions committees.) What are they really wanting to learn through the essay prompt?

Although you never want to plagiarize, looking at college essay examples on the same or similar prompt is one way to make sure you really understand what is being asked.

Brainstorming Techniques

brainstorming your college admission essay

Before starting your first draft, take some time to brainstorm ideas and jot down notes. Consider your personal experiences, interests, and goals when choosing a topic for your essay. However, remember to stay focused on the prompt and avoid straying too far off-topic. Doing so can leave you with an overly wordy essay or one that doesn’t even answer the essay question.

It’s also important to experiment with different brainstorming techniques too. This will allow you to find what works best for you. From mind mapping to rapid ideation, the options are endless. Some people like to write multiple drafts. Others prefer to spend more time making one version of an essay interesting.

Create a Solid Outline

One of the most important tips for planning and brainstorming your college admissions essay is to create an outline.

Truthfully, no matter how many times you’re told to do it, you’ll probably want to skip this part, especially if you’re short on time. But if you can, ignore the urge to jump right into the writing process.


The process of creating an outline can help you organize your thoughts and ideas, giving you a clear structure for your essay. This can help ensure that all important points are covered, making it easier for the reader to follow your ideas.

It doesn’t have to be hard, either. Start by identifying the main idea or theme of your essay, and then create subheadings or bullet points that support it. Personal anecdotes, experiences, and achievements should be included to make your essay unique and memorable.

Use the outline as a guide to help you stay on track while writing your essay, ensuring that you cover all relevant aspects of yourself in a concise and well-structured manner.

Ultimately, taking the time to create an outline can greatly enhance the quality of your college admissions essay and increase your chances of success.

Crafting the Best College Admissions Essay: Dos and Don’ts

The college admission essay that gets the attention of an admissions officer is one that follows specific dos and don’t. Here are some of our top ones to consider.

Dos for Your Essay

college application essay
  • Show personality, especially in your opening sentence. Unlike test scores, this is where you can use your own words to showcase your unique personality and voice. Doing this throughout your entire essay will make you stand out from other applicants.
  • Use vivid detail, imagery, and storytelling. A great way to showcase your uniqueness is by using personal anecdotes and stories to bring your essay to life. By sharing experiences that have shaped you as a person, you can paint a picture of who you are beyond just your academic achievements. Remember, the goal of the admissions essay is to showcase who you are as a person, so don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through in your writing.
    You can do this by describing scenes and scenarios in sensory language. This will bring your essay to life and make it more engaging for the reader. To create a richer and more nuanced picture, you may also want to consider using metaphors, similes, and other literary devices.
  • Show, don’t tell. It is important to avoid cliches and generic descriptions that do not add any value to your essay. Instead, focus on showing rather than telling. Let the details speak for themselves and draw the reader into your experience with powerful descriptive language. By employing these techniques, you can craft an essay that truly stands out from the crowd and captures the attention of admissions officers.
  • Incorporate active voice. When writing a college admissions essay, incorporating an active voice can make it more engaging and dynamic. Active voice means that the subject of the sentence is doing the action rather than having the action done to it. By using strong verbs, you can convey action and create a sense of movement in your writing. It’s best to avoid using the passive voice as it can make sentences feel awkward or clunky.
  • Varying your sentence structure is also important to keep your writing fresh and interesting. Incorporating different lengths and types of sentences can help to maintain the reader’s interest throughout your essay. Remember, the goal is to stand out from other applicants, so utilizing these writing techniques can help to make your essay memorable and impactful.
    Secondly, focusing on a specific topic or story can help make your essay more memorable and engaging for the reader. Thirdly, using vivid and descriptive language can help paint a picture of who you are and what you have to offer to the college.
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread. It’s also important to proofread and edit your essay carefully to ensure that it is free of errors. This helps to demonstrate your attention to detail and commitment to excellence.
  • Consider consulting a professional for help. When it comes to crafting a winning college admissions essay, feedback can play a crucial role. Consider consulting a professional for help with your essay, as they can provide valuable feedback and insights. Professional college admissions consultants can offer guidance on the structure, tone, and content of your essay and help you identify areas that need improvement while providing suggestions for revisions.

Don’ts for Your Essay

writing your college application essay

Crafting a winning college admissions essay takes time and effort, but there are certain things that you should avoid doing.

  • Be cautious about listing your accomplishments or activities without providing context or personal reflection. Admissions officers want to understand what drives you and how you think, so don’t be afraid to showcase your personality and unique perspective in the essay. Emphasize what sets you apart from other applicants.
  • Avoid using clichés or overused phrases in your essay. Clichés and buzzwords can make your essay sound generic and unoriginal, potentially hindering your chances of standing out to admissions officers. It’s important to avoid using phrases like “think outside the box” or “pushing boundaries,” as they have become overused in the world of college essays.
  • Don’t be too formal. Another mistake to avoid is being too formal or stiff in your writing style. Instead, let your personality shine through in your essay. However, it’s important to strike a balance between expressing yourself and using overly complicated language or jargon that may confuse the reader.

Don’t make excuses. Above all, it’s crucial not to make excuses for any weaknesses in your academic record. Instead, focus on highlighting your strengths and achievements. By avoiding these common pitfalls, you can craft an outstanding college admissions essay that will help you stand out from the crowd.

Ignoring editing and proofreading is a no-no. Neglecting the revision process can cause your essay to appear sloppy and unprofessional. To avoid this, take the time to read through your essay carefully and make any necessary revisions. It’s also helpful to have a friend or family member read over your essay for a fresh perspective.

Additionally, it’s crucial to check for spelling and grammar errors, as well as ensure that your essay flows well and makes sense. These small details may seem insignificant, but they can make a big difference in impressing admissions officers. By taking the time to carefully edit and proofread your essay, you can ensure that it presents you in the best possible light and increases your likelihood of being accepted into college.

Not getting enough feedback is a definite don’t. Feedback is a vital aspect of crafting a winning college admissions essay. It is essential to get feedback from various sources, such as teachers, peers, and family members, to make sure that your essay effectively communicates your message. When you receive feedback on your essay, consider it carefully and make the necessary revisions in order to improve its quality.

Constructive criticism should be embraced and used as an opportunity to enhance writing skills. Ultimately, the admissions essay is about showcasing who you are as a person, so it’s essential not to shy away from letting your personality shine through in your writing. Feedback should be taken seriously and considered carefully in order to create an impressive and persuasive essay that will help you stand out to college admissions officers.

When asking for feedback, it’s important to request specific comments, such as whether the essay answers the prompt effectively or if there are any grammatical mistakes.

Get Help From College Admissions Essay Consultants


Crafting a winning college admissions essay can be daunting, but it’s an opportunity for you to showcase your unique personality, voice, and experiences. Starting early, understanding the prompt, and brainstorming techniques are critical in planning and creating your essay. You must also follow dos and don’ts that guide you toward crafting a compelling narrative.

Writing techniques can make your essay stand out by using vivid detail and imagery, incorporating an active voice, and capturing your personality. Ensure you avoid common mistakes such as overusing clichés, being too general or generic, and not editing or proofreading. Feedback from peers and family can help refine your essay further, but if you’re still struggling with your essay writing, there’s nothing wrong with seeking professional help.


How do you start a college admissions essay?

A persuasive college essay introduction needs creativity and uniqueness. Get started by understanding the prompt, creating a solid outline, and then writing in a way that is personal and unique.

What should be included in a college admissions essay?

A college essay should appropriately respond to the prompt and include information that shows your personality. It should include enough information for the admissions reviewers to understand who you are and what you have to offer as a prospective student.

How long should a college admissions essay be?

Typically, a college admissions essay should be between 500 and 650 words. This length allows for detailed insight while maintaining reader engagement.

How to format a college admissions essay?

The essay should be professionally formatted with a clear structure, using a standard 12-point font like Times New Roman, double spacing, and including an introduction, body, and conclusion. Always proofread for errors before submission.

What do college admissions look for in an essay?

Admissions officers value compelling, personal stories that show your unique personality, values, and goals. They seek essays that provide insight into the applicant’s impact on their community and show original thought.

What typically is a characteristic of a college admissions essay?

A characteristic of a college admissions essay is its personal, insightful nature. It should share unique personal experiences or perspectives, demonstrate critical thinking, and showcase the writer’s individuality.