Dysfunctional systems, hypercompetitive schools, and ridiculously low acceptance rates make the college admissions process a daunting experience for many students. Yet, the college admissions essay often plays a pivotal role in determining their future.
After all, this is your first (and sometimes only) introduction to the college admissions committees, which will decide if you get a seat at the table.
And it matters.
A survey conducted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) found that 58% of colleges attribute considerable importance to the admissions essay when making their decision.
At the same time, studies show that most young people come into college and the workplace with lackluster writing skills. Even those with decent writing skills can feel overwhelmed by the college application essay.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to mitigate this.
Here are ten tips to help you write a great college essay and impress admissions officers at your dream school.
1: Start Early
When reviewing your college application, a well-crafted college application essay can make all the difference to college admissions officers.
It serves as a platform to showcase your personality, experiences, and growth as a student and an individual. By sharing your story and unique perspective, you can demonstrate to admissions officers why you deserve a place at their institution.
The essay also provides an opportunity to highlight your writing skills, critical thinking abilities, and creativity – all essential qualities colleges look for in prospective students.
One of the biggest mistakes students make is waiting until the last minute to begin.
Benefits of starting early
Beginning the essay-writing process early gives you ample time to brainstorm, research, draft, revise, and seek feedback. In addition, starting early allows you to explore different college essay topic ideas and refine your approach. You can even review college application essay examples that have gotten students accepted to some of the most selective colleges in the country.
This often results in a more polished and thoughtful essay. Additionally, by starting ahead of time, you can avoid the stress and pressure of last-minute work, which can negatively impact the quality of your writing.
The same is true for personal statements. Admissions committees that review the answers to college essay prompts and personal statement submissions want to know who you are. And they can usually tell if you’ve rushed.
Creating a timeline for your personal essay
Establishing a timeline is one way to avoid penning a lackluster college essay right before the deadline. It can also help you stay organized and focused. Undergraduate and graduate students should break down the process into manageable stages. These might include brainstorming, outlining, drafting, revising, and proofreading.
You should also set deadlines for each stage to ensure you stay on track and allocate enough time to each part of the process. By following a clear timeline, you can maintain momentum and work efficiently towards crafting a winning college admissions essay and achieve later success.
2: Understand the Prompt
Analyzing the essay question
Application essays in higher education often involve a college essay prompt. Ordinary topics (AKA common prompts) include things like sharing your story, reflecting on a time you overcame a difficult challenge, or discussing an accomplishment.
One prompt by Stanford University reads like this:
Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or will help your roommate—and us—get to know you better.
This kind of undergraduate admissions essay definitely gets the reader’s attention and requires a unique college essay response.
Before diving into your essay, you’ll want to take the time to analyze the prompt thoroughly. Determine what the admissions committee seeks to understand about you and how the prompt aligns with your experiences and values.
Reflect on the keywords and themes present in the question, and consider how you can address them in your response.
Put yourself in the shoes of the asker. Why did they choose this college essay topic over all others, and how can you respond in a way that will show you value this choice?
Aligning your response with the prompt
Once you have a clear understanding of the prompt, make sure that your essay stays focused and relevant. Use the prompt as a guide to structure your essay and ensure that your response addresses each aspect of the question.
For example, if the prompt asks about community service over the past summer or your senior year, you wouldn’t want to waste page space covering every community service opportunity you’ve participated in your entire life.
The same is true of a prompt asking you to reflect on your best high school experiences. You wouldn’t want to get lost talking about your middle school standardized test scores or what you plan to do on the college campus once you arrive. Although this might sound silly, it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole and drift away from what an admissions officer is asking.
By aligning your essay with the prompt, you demonstrate to the admissions committee that you have carefully considered their requirements and are presenting a thoughtful and well-organized response.
3: Be Authentic
The value of authenticity in your essay
Admissions officers are looking for genuine, unique individuals who will contribute positively to their college community. Unlike test scores, a personal essay is able to show admissions counselors the real you.
It is essential to be authentic in your essay by expressing your true self and sharing your personal experiences, values, and aspirations. Authenticity allows you to connect with the reader on a deeper level and helps to set you apart from other applicants.
Strategies for showcasing your true self
How do you do that?
To convey authenticity in your essay, focus on experiences and moments that have shaped who you are today. What part of the human existence can you discuss? How has gratitude affected your life?
Use a conversational tone and avoid clichés, exaggerations, or trying to fit into a mold you think the admissions committee wants. Be honest about your accomplishments and struggles, and demonstrate self-awareness and personal growth.
By being true to yourself, you can create a genuine connection with the admissions committee and make your essay more memorable. Emphasizing your unique perspective and experiences will not only set your essay apart from the competition but also provide a compelling glimpse into your character and potential as a successful college student.
By staying authentic, honest, and self-aware, you will effectively showcase your true self and leave a lasting impression on the admissions committee.
4: Share a Compelling Story
The power of storytelling in essays
Storytelling is a powerful tool that can engage readers and make your essay more memorable. By sharing a personal narrative, you can showcase your character, values, and experiences in a way that resonates with the admissions committee. A well-told story can help college essays stand out from other applicants and leave a lasting impression on the reader.
Tips for crafting a captivating narrative
To create an engaging story, focus on a specific experience or event that has shaped your life. Use descriptive language and vivid details to help the reader visualize your story and feel the emotions you experienced. Incorporate elements of conflict and resolution to demonstrate your ability to overcome challenges and grow from your experiences. Be sure to connect the narrative to the larger theme or message of your essa and show how the story has influenced your personal development.
5: Focus on Your Strengths and Growth
Highlighting your unique strengths
In your college admissions essay, it is important to emphasize your unique strengths and attributes. Consider what sets you apart from other applicants and how you can contribute to the college community. By showcasing your talents, skills, and passions, you demonstrate your potential as a successful college student and valuable member of the college community.
Demonstrating personal growth and resilience
Admissions officers are interested in seeing how you have grown as a person and learned from your experiences. Discuss how you have overcome challenges, adapted to new situations, and developed resilience. By demonstrating personal growth, you show the reader that you are capable of thriving in a college environment and contributing positively to the campus community.
6: Show, Don’t Tell
Using vivid details and examples
One of the most effective ways to make your essay more engaging is to use vivid details and examples to illustrate your points. Instead of simply stating a fact or quality, show the reader through specific instances and experiences. This approach helps to create a more immersive experience for the reader and can make your essay more memorable.
The art of descriptive writing
To master the art of descriptive writing, focus on engaging the reader’s senses and emotions. Use precise language and strong verbs to paint a picture of your experiences, and incorporate sensory details to bring your story to life. By employing descriptive writing techniques, you can create a more compelling and engaging essay that will resonate with the admissions committee.
7: Maintain a Strong Structure
Organizing your essay effectively with an outline
A well-organized essay is easier to read and follow, making it more likely that the admissions committee will appreciate your message. Start with a clear introduction that sets the tone and presents the main theme of your essay. Divide the body of your essay into coherent paragraphs, each focusing on a specific point or aspect of your story. Finally, wrap up your essay with a strong conclusion that reinforces your main points and leaves a lasting impression.
Utilizing transitions for smooth flow
Smooth transitions between paragraphs and ideas are crucial for maintaining a strong structure and flow in your essay. Use transition words and phrases to guide the reader through your essay and create a sense of continuity. By ensuring your essay flows seamlessly from one point to the next, you can create a more polished and cohesive piece of writing.
8: Edit and Revise Thoroughly
The importance of self-editing
Once you have completed your initial draft, it is essential to revise and edit your essay to ensure it is polished and free of errors. Self-editing allows you to refine your language, improve your essay’s structure and flow, and correct any inconsistencies or inaccuracies.
Seeking feedback from others (or an expert)
In addition to self-editing, it is valuable to seek feedback from others, such as teachers, family members, or friends. These individuals can provide fresh perspectives and insights into your essay’s strengths and areas for improvement.
Be open to constructive criticism and incorporate the feedback that resonates with you while staying true to your voice and message. Multiple rounds of feedback can help refine your essay, identify any inconsistencies, and enhance its overall impact. By embracing the collaborative process of seeking input from others, you will ultimately create a more polished and compelling college admissions essay that showcases your best self to the admissions committee.
If you’re really struggling with writing your essay, you might even consider hiring help. College admission consultants are a great place to start, as they have tons of experience with getting prospective students accepted into many schools across the globe.
9: Pay Attention to Grammar and Style
Common grammatical errors to avoid
Grammar plays a crucial role in the clarity and readability of your essay. Ensure that your writing is free of common grammatical errors, such as subject-verb agreement, punctuation mistakes, and incorrect word usage. Proper grammar not only improves the overall quality of your essay but also demonstrates your attention to detail and commitment to excellence.
Tips for refining your writing style
To create a more engaging and polished essay, consider refining your writing style. Use varied sentence structures and lengths to maintain the reader’s interest and avoid repetition of words or phrases. Aim for clarity and conciseness, and eliminate any unnecessary words or fluff. Developing a strong and consistent writing style can make your essay more enjoyable to read and leave a lasting impression on the admissions committee.
10: Conclude with a Lasting Impression
Crafting a memorable conclusion
A strong conclusion is essential for leaving a lasting impression on your reader. Your conclusion should summarize your main points, restate the central theme of your essay and leave the reader with a powerful message or insight. Be sure to avoid introducing new information or ideas in the conclusion, as this can confuse the reader and weaken the overall impact of your essay.
Leaving your readers with a powerful message
To leave your reader with a powerful message, consider connecting your conclusion to the broader context of your essay. Reflect on the lessons you have learned from your experiences and how they have shaped your values and aspirations. By ending your essay on a thought-provoking note, you can demonstrate your potential for growth and success in college and beyond.
How to Write a College Admissions Essay
The first step in writing your college admissions essay is to brainstorm ideas. Reflect on your life experiences, personal growth, values, and aspirations. Consider what sets you apart from other applicants and which aspects of your life you would like to highlight. Jot down any ideas that come to mind, no matter how big or small. This process will help you identify potential topics and themes for your essay.
Create an Outline
Once you have a clear understanding of your essay’s main ideas, it’s time to create an outline. An outline will help you organize your thoughts and ensure that your essay has a logical flow. Start by identifying the main points you want to cover and then break them down into smaller sub-points. This will provide a clear structure for your essay and make it easier to write.
Craft a Strong Introduction
The introduction is a crucial element of your college admissions essay, as it sets the tone for the rest of your piece and grabs the reader’s attention. Begin your introduction with a hook—a compelling statement, anecdote, or question that piques the reader’s curiosity. Then, provide some context for your essay and briefly introduce the main ideas you will be discussing in the body paragraphs.
Importance of a Well-Developed Body
The body of your essay is where you will delve deeper into your experiences, growth, and insights. Each paragraph should focus on a specific idea or event that supports your overall theme. Use specific examples, vivid details, and descriptive language to paint a clear picture of your experiences and demonstrate your unique perspective. Be sure to maintain a strong focus throughout the body of your essay, ensuring that each paragraph connects back to your main ideas and thesis statement.
Conclude With Impact
A strong conclusion is essential for leaving a lasting impression on the reader. Your conclusion should summarize the main points of your essay, restate your central theme, and leave the reader with a powerful message or insight. Be sure to avoid introducing new information in the conclusion, as this can confuse the reader and weaken the overall impact of your essay. Instead, focus on tying together your ideas and leaving the reader with a thought-provoking takeaway that highlights your potential for growth and success in college and beyond.
By following these steps, you can craft a well-structured and engaging college admissions essay that effectively showcases your unique leadership, experiences, values, and aspirations, setting you apart from other applicants and increasing your chances of being admitted to your dream college.
In summary, crafting a winning college admissions essay involves starting early, understanding the prompt, being authentic, sharing a compelling story, focusing on your strengths and growth, showing rather than telling, maintaining a strong structure, editing and revising thoroughly, paying attention to grammar and style, and concluding with a lasting impression. By following these ten tips, you can create a powerful essay that sets you apart from other applicants and increases your chances of being admitted to your dream college.
A well-crafted college admissions essay can make all the difference in standing out in your college application. By sharing your unique perspective and experiences, you can demonstrate your potential as a successful college student and valuable member of the campus community. Investing time and effort into creating a compelling essay can significantly impact your college admissions journey, opening the door to new opportunities and experiences that will shape your future.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Most college admissions essays are between 500 and 650 words. It is essential to stay within the specified word limit, as exceeding it may lead to your essay being disregarded.
Writing about a controversial topic can be acceptable if approached thoughtfully and with sensitivity. However, it is crucial to consider your audience and ensure that your essay does not alienate or offend the reader.
While it is possible to reuse portions of your essay for multiple applications, it is essential to tailor your essay to each college’s specific prompt and requirements.
To make your essay stand out, focus on authenticity, storytelling, and showcasing your unique strengths and experiences. Develop a strong writing style, and ensure your essay is polished and error-free.
Avoid clichés, exaggerations, and overly complex language in your essay. Additionally, stay away from inappropriate or offensive topics and ensure your essay remains focused on the prompt.
Colleges are looking for authentic, well-written essays that showcase your personality, experiences, values, and potential as a successful college student. They want to see your ability to think critically, communicate effectively, and demonstrate personal growth and resilience.
Aim for a conversational and engaging tone in your essay. Be sincere and genuine in your writing while maintaining a level of professionalism and maturity appropriate for a college application.
Including humor in your essay can be an effective way to engage the reader and showcase your personality. However, it is crucial to use humor judiciously and ensure that it is appropriate for the context of your essay.
While a strong admissions essay can help demonstrate your potential as a college student, it may not fully compensate for a low GPA or test scores. However, a compelling essay can still make a difference in the admissions process and increase your chances of being considered for admission.
The format and structure of your essay play a significant role in its readability and overall impact. A well-organized essay with a clear introduction, body, and conclusion is easier to read and follow, making it more likely that the admissions committee will appreciate your message.
While hiring a professional can provide valuable guidance and support, it is essential to maintain your authentic voice and ensure that the essay remains true to your experiences and perspective. Ultimately, the decision to hire a professional depends on your individual needs and resources.
Bryce Welker is an active speaker, blogger, and regular contributor to Forbes, Inc.com, and Business.com where he shares his knowledge to help others boost their careers. Bryce is the founder of more than 20 test prep websites that help students and professionals pass their certification exams.