Recently viewed courses
Find Your Dream School
COVID-19 Update: To help students through this crisis, The Princeton Review will continue our "Enroll with Confidence" refund policies. For full details, please click here.
Enter your email to unlock an extra $25 off an SAT or ACT program!
Most selective colleges require you to submit an essay or personal statement as part of your application.
It may sound like a chore, and it will certainly take a substantial amount of work. But it's also a unique opportunity that can make a difference at decision time. Admissions committees put the most weight on your high school grades and your test scores . However, selective colleges receive applications from many worthy students with similar scores and grades—too many to admit. So they use your essay, along with your letters of recommendation and extracurricular activities , to find out what sets you apart from the other talented candidates.
Telling Your Story to Colleges
So what does set you apart?
You have a unique background, interests and personality. This is your chance to tell your story (or at least part of it). The best way to tell your story is to write a personal, thoughtful essay about something that has meaning for you. Be honest and genuine, and your unique qualities will shine through.
Admissions officers have to read an unbelievable number of college essays, most of which are forgettable. Many students try to sound smart rather than sounding like themselves. Others write about a subject that they don't care about, but that they think will impress admissions officers.
You don't need to have started your own business or have spent the summer hiking the Appalachian Trail. Colleges are simply looking for thoughtful, motivated students who will add something to the first-year class.
Tips for a Stellar College Application Essay
1. write about something that's important to you..
It could be an experience, a person, a book—anything that has had an impact on your life.
2. Don't just recount—reflect!
Anyone can write about how they won the big game or the summer they spent in Rome. When recalling these events, you need to give more than the play-by-play or itinerary. Describe what you learned from the experience and how it changed you.
Free SAT Practice Tests & Events
Evaluate and improve your SAT score.
3. Being funny is tough.
A student who can make an admissions officer laugh never gets lost in the shuffle. But beware. What you think is funny and what an adult working in a college thinks is funny are probably different. We caution against one-liners, limericks and anything off–color.
4. Start early and write several drafts.
Set it aside for a few days and read it again. Put yourself in the shoes of an admissions officer: Is the essay interesting? Do the ideas flow logically? Does it reveal something about the applicant? Is it written in the applicant’s own voice?
5. No repeats.
What you write in your application essay or personal statement should not contradict any other part of your application–nor should it repeat it. This isn't the place to list your awards or discuss your grades or test scores.
6. Answer the question being asked.
Don't reuse an answer to a similar question from another application.
7. Have at least one other person edit your essay.
A teacher or college counselor is your best resource. And before you send it off, check, check again, and then triple check to make sure your essay is free of spelling or grammar errors.
Read More: 2018-2019 Common Application Essay Prompts (and How to Answer Them)
Test Your College Knowledge
How well do you understand the college admissions process? Find out with our quiz.
Take the Quiz
Explore Colleges For You
Connect with our featured colleges to find schools that both match your interests and are looking for students like you.
Take our short quiz to learn which is the right career for you.
Get Started on Athletic Scholarships & Recruiting!
Join athletes who were discovered, recruited & often received scholarships after connecting with NCSA's 42,000 strong network of coaches.
Best 389 Colleges
165,000 students rate everything from their professors to their campus social scene.
SAT Prep Courses
1400+ course, act prep courses, free sat practice test & events, 1-800-2review, free sat prep try our self-paced plus program - for free, get a 14 day trial, what would you score on the mcat today.
Thank you! Look for the MCAT Review Guide in your inbox.
I already know my score.
1-800-2REVIEW (800-273-8439) ext. 1
1-800-2REVIEW (800-273-8439) ext. 2
- Teach or Tutor for Us
- Enrollment Terms & Conditions
- Cigna Medical Transparency in Coverage
Mon-Fri 9AM-10PM ET
Sat-Sun 9AM-8PM ET
Local Offices: Mon-Fri 9AM-6PM
Mon-Fri 9AM-9PM ET
Sat-Sun 8:30AM-5PM ET
- SAT Subject Tests
- Social Studies
Find the Right College
- College Rankings
- College Advice
- Applying to College
- Financial Aid
School & District Partnerships
- Professional Development
- Advice Articles
- Private Tutoring
- Mobile Apps
- Local Offices
- International Offices
- Work for Us
- Affiliate Program
- Partner with Us
- Advertise with Us
- International Partnerships
- Our Guarantees
- Accessibility – Canada
©2023 TPR Education IP Holdings, LLC. All Rights Reserved. The Princeton Review is not affiliated with Princeton University
TPR Education, LLC (doing business as “The Princeton Review”) is controlled by Primavera Holdings Limited, a firm owned by Chinese nationals with a principal place of business in Hong Kong, China.
- SUGGESTED TOPICS
- The Magazine
- Managing Yourself
- Managing Teams
- Work-life Balance
- The Big Idea
- Data & Visuals
- Reading Lists
- Case Selections
- HBR Learning
- Topic Feeds
- Account Settings
- Email Preferences
How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application
What does it take to land in the “accept” (instead of “reject”) pile?
How can you write an essay that helps advance you in the eyes of the admissions officers and makes a real impression? Here are some tips to get you started.
- Start early. Do not leave it until the last minute. Give yourself time when you don’t have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to work on the essay.
- Keep the focus narrow. Your essay does not have to cover a massive, earth-shattering event. Some people in their teens haven’t experienced a major life event. Some people have. Either way, it’s okay.
- Be yourself. Whether writing about a painful experience or a more simple experience, use the narrative to be vulnerable and honest about who you are. Use words you would normally use. Trust your voice and the fact that your story is interesting enough in that no one else has lived it.
- Be creative. “Show, don’t tell,” and that applies here — to an extent. The best essays typically do both. You can help your reader see and feel what you are describing by using some figurative language throughout your piece.
- Make a point. As you finish your final body paragraphs ask yourself “So what?” This will help you hone in on how to end your essay in a way that elevates it into a story about an insight or discovery you made about yourself, rather than just being about an experience you had.
Where your work meets your life. See more from Ascend here .
We’ve all heard about the dreaded “college essay,” the bane of every high school senior’s existence. This daunting element of the college application is something that can create angst for even the most accomplished students.
- AA Amy Allen is a writer, educator, and lifelong learner. Her freelance writing business, All of the Write Words , focuses on providing high school students with one-on-one feedback to guide them through the college application process and with crafting a thoughtful personal essay. A dedicated poet, Amy’s work has also been published in several journals including Pine Row Press , Months to Years, and Atlanta Review .
How to Write a College Application Essay: A Complete Guide
www.bestcolleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
Turn Your Dreams Into Reality
Take our quiz and we'll do the homework for you! Compare your school matches and apply to your top choice today.
- College application essays allow students to showcase their strengths and uniqueness.
- A well-written college essay could tip an admission decision in your favor.
- Students should spend time editing and proofreading their application essays.
- Your college application essay should focus on you and a meaningful topic.
Many colleges and universities require a college admissions essay as part of the application process. These personal statements allow students to describe their academic achievements, their strengths, and other personal aspects that can help admissions officers see them as unique individuals.
The essay also demonstrates a student's readiness for college and likelihood of success. While an applicant's GPA, SAT or ACT scores, and transcripts are important, a college application essay can offer an admissions department insights that these metrics don't reveal.
How Important Is the College Application Essay?
Many schools strongly emphasize the college application essay during admissions.
Although universities consider other elements such as GPA and recommendation letters , an outstanding personal essay for college can help you stand out from other applicants. If you have a similar GPA and test scores to those of other applicants, an essay can allow you to differentiate yourself.
According to a 2018-19 study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling , 56.4% of admissions counselors reported that their institutions placed "considerable" or "moderate" importance on the college application essay when making admission decisions.
The report also found that private schools and more selective colleges tended to put the most weight on admissions essays.
How Long Should a College Essay Be?
Most effective college essay topics tend to reflect conciseness. Students who don't know how to write a personal statement for college might lose their readers' attention if they take too long to make their point. Applicants should remember that they get only a few hundred words to leave a favorable impression.
The Common App essay , for example, allows applicants to write a maximum of 650 words and a minimum of 250 words. Most supplemental essays submitted through this application system should be around 250 words or less.
With the Coalition Application, essays should be 500-650 words long .
What Kinds of College Essay Prompts Are There?
College essay prompts typically consist of broad, open-ended questions. They intend to focus students' writing while allowing for some freedom when addressing a topic. Depending on the school, students might respond to one prompt or pick from several.
Students should pay attention to what a prompt asks and stay on topic. Failing to answer the prompt directly is a common mistake when writing a personal statement for college.
Both the Common App and Coalition for College provide several prompts. Students should read their chosen question carefully as they develop their response. Creating outlines can help applicants stay on topic.
Common App Essay Prompts, 2021-22
- Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
- Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
- Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
- Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
- Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
Coalition App Essay Prompts, 2021-22
- Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
- Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
- Has there been a time when you've had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
- What is the hardest part of being a student now? What's the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?
- Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.
What Are Some Examples of Good College Essay Topics?
Good college essay topics enable concise, transparent, honest, and meaningful writing. Because personal statements should differentiate applicants from their peers, topics should include compelling details and anecdotes.
Students should think carefully before writing about a negative experience or personal weakness. A college essay should portray the applicant positively, and dwelling on difficult or taboo topics could detract from your strengths.
You might look for college application essay examples to help you brainstorm topics. Students can also consider asking family members and peers to comment on their strengths and unique qualities. They may have insight to offer about what makes an applicant a good fit for a particular major or area of study.
Below are some examples of good college essay topics:
- A Defining Moment, Experience, or Realization: An experience that changed your perspective; a strong belief you no longer hold
- Someone Who Has Greatly Influenced You: Your most important mentor; a person who changed your life for the better
- A Key Part of Your Identity: An important aspect about you that you wish more people knew; your best characteristic
- Your Biggest Passion: A cause for which you have sacrificed; how your passion helped shape your identity
- A Problem You Solved: A significant obstacle you overcame; a solution you developed that achieved results
- A Unique Hobby: Your most enjoyable pastime; a time when your hobby taught you a valuable lesson
How to Write a Personal Statement for College: 6 Tips
A key characteristic of an excellent college application essay is writing quality. The personal statement can weigh heavily on some admission decisions. With this in mind, students can employ several strategies to make their essays stand out.
1. Pick a Meaningful Topic
Compelling college essay topics enable applicants to tell memorable and relatable stories. Students choosing subjects that hold personal meaning for them will likely write with more authenticity and enthusiasm, maintaining readers' interest.
Applicants should focus more on writing something they care about rather than what they think will impress admissions officers.
2. Keep the Focus on You
Unlike test scores or letters of recommendation, good college essay topics give students considerable control over how they express their best selves. Therefore, the essay should focus on them and not on other people.
Even personal statements that discuss an influential teacher or mentor should keep the story's focus on the applicant, such as how that person drove you to change or take action.
3. Use Specific Details and Examples
College essays ideally illustrate students' potential by outlining their achievements. These statements should include detailed descriptions and examples that portray experiences rather than future goals.
For instance, students who want to convey their leadership skills might describe specific incidents when they inspired others or helped a group achieve a tangible output.
4. Reveal Something Unique About Yourself
A student should write a college application essay that distinguishes them from other applicants. For example, writing about playing a niche instrument or winning an Olympic medal can help students stand out from other applicants. Doing so also demonstrates how your distinctive qualities will add to campus life.
5. Tell a Story
Students should use their college admissions essays to tell stories, striving for quality instead of quantity. In other words, you should avoid discussing your entire life and instead focus on one or two strong anecdotes that reveal your true self.
Applicants may write about specific hobbies or work experiences that highlight their values, skills, or proficiencies.
6. Edit and Proofread
Editing involves fine-tuning a draft to improve its organization and clarity. Proofreading typically follows editing and entails checking for errors. Once applicants have edited and proofread their essays, they'll benefit from at least one more read-through.
You should also strongly consider asking someone else to review your draft to catch additional errors and provide constructive feedback.
What Should You Avoid in Your Personal Essay for College?
Although a personal essay for college can demonstrate excellent writing and topic choice, it can still leave an unfavorable impression if it contains inappropriate or repetitive information. Here are some examples of topics to leave out of your statement.
Your Grades, Test Scores, and Academic Achievements
Successful college essays typically include information that does not appear anywhere else in the application. When reviewing other submission documents, admissions officers can learn about students' grades, previous courses, and scholarly achievements. As such, the essay should not focus on these kinds of details.
Your Life of Privilege
Steer clear of topics that highlight a privileged lifestyle. For example, framing a relatively common athletic injury as the hardest challenge you've faced may not demonstrate resilience as effectively as you'd like it to. It also suggests a lack of awareness of more serious obstacles others your age have faced.
In your eyes, Fido and Fluffy may be the most amazing creatures on the planet. But we all love our pets. You want your college essay to stand out by focusing on a topic or experience that's unique to you rather than something universal.
Cliches and Trite Quotations
A college admissions essay presents an opportunity for students to express their creativity and originality of thought. Using cliches and trite expressions makes writers appear lazy or unimaginative. Also, some sayings may be relevant to specific cultures, alienating or confusing some readers.
Your Criminal Record
Everybody admires an underdog who overcomes adversity, but illuminating past missteps with the law isn't exactly the best way to make a good first impression on college admissions officers. While you shouldn't sanitize reality for the benefit of your readers, choose a college essay topic that at the very least presents you in a positive light.
Grammar and Spelling Mistakes
Knowing how to write a college application essay includes detecting spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes. Error-free personal statements go far to illustrate applicants' excellent writing skills. Students might ask teachers, mentors, or others they trust to read their essays to catch any mistakes before submitting them.
College Application Essay Example
I planned my high school career carefully: marching band, honors courses, and three dual-credit college classes. My senior year should have been a smooth glide to graduation, with multiple electives to fill out the seven-hour day.
As a member of the Class of 2011, however, I became part of the first group of students to fall under the Texas Education Agency's new "4x4 plan." High school graduation requirements for Texas students expanded to include four years of four core subjects: mathematics, social studies, English, and science.
Under the new plan, despite careful planning, I was one year short on science. Due to the limited curriculum options of my small school, the only course on my prescribed registration list was Biology II. Enrolling in Biology II meant participating in the final project: dissecting cats.
I had avoided the course in the past for this exact reason. Being a longtime animal lover and advocate, there was simply no way I would — or could — take a scalpel to the body of a nameless shelter cat — killed in a gas chamber, its limbs stiff, fur matted with embalming fluid.
If all else failed, I was ready to sacrifice my 4.0 GPA. I was prepared to sit out for the project and take a dozen failing grades.
But first, I decided to put up a fight.
I drafted a formal letter to the principal and the biology teacher, discussing my reservations. I sent a second letter to the school's anatomy teacher. Her courses were over capacity, strictly limited to students interested in pursuing a health major in college, and the only other science option available at my grade level.
I let them know how the sudden introduction of the 4x4 plan felt like a punishment to students like me who had painstakingly planned their high school years from the start. I told them of my compassion for all living creatures, my concern with the use of cruel carbon monoxide euthanasia in Texas shelters, and the availability of modern computer programs that required no desecration of beloved companion animals.
When my senior year arrived, I had a seat in the crowded anatomy classroom — a future music major, alongside two dozen students with their eyes set on nursing, physical therapy, and medical school.
Presenting my views in a clear, respectful way prompted three adults in authority to make a positive change on my behalf. I was further informed that, in the years to follow, shelter cats would be phased out of Biology II and replaced with virtual dissection labs.
Feature Image: fotostorm / E+ / Getty Images
Explore More College Resources
Admissions experts’ top 7 college essay tips.
7 Expert Tips for the Common App Essay
Writing About COVID-19 in Your College Essay
BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
Compare Your School Options
View the most relevant schools for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to finding your college home.
- How to Write a College Essay
College admissions experts offer tips on selecting a topic as well as writing and editing the essay.
Students can go online to review essay requirements for the colleges they want to apply to, such as word limits and essay topics. Many students may start with the Common App, an application platform accepted by more than 1,000 schools. Getty Images
For college applicants, the essay is the place to showcase their writing skills and let their unique voice shine through.
"The essays are important in part because this is a student's chance to really speak directly to the admissions office," says Adam Sapp, assistant vice president and director of admissions at Pomona College in California.
Prospective college students want their essay, sometimes called a personal statement, to make a good impression and boost their chances of being accepted, but they have only several hundred words to make that happen.
This can feel like a lot of pressure.
"I think this is the part of the application process that students are sometimes most challenged by," says Niki Barron, associate dean of admission at Hamilton College in New York, "because they're looking at a blank piece of paper and they don't know where to get started."
That pressure may be amplified as many colleges have gone test optional in recent years, meaning that ACT and SAT scores will be considered if submitted but are not required. Other schools have gone test-blind and don't consider such scores at all. In the absence of test scores, some admissions experts have suggested that more attention will be paid to other parts of an application, such as the essay.
But just as each applicant is unique, so are college admissions policies and priorities.
"Being test optional hasn't changed how we use essays in our selection process, and I wouldn't say that the essay serves as a substitute for standardized test scores," Barron wrote in an email. "A student's academic preparation for our classroom experience is always front and center in our application review process."
On June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court ruled against college admissions policies that consider an applicant's race. The ruling, though, does not prohibit students from writing essays on how their race has affected them, which experts say could significantly affect how students approach this portion of their applications.
Essay-writing tips offered by experts emphasize the importance of being concise, coherent, congenial, unique, honest and accurate. An applicant should also flex some intellectual muscle and include vivid details or anecdotes.
From brainstorming essay topics to editing the final draft, here's what students need to know about crafting a strong college application essay.
Getting Started on the College Essay
How long should a college essay be, how to pick a college essay topic, writing the college essay, how the affirmative action ruling could change college essays, editing and submitting the college essay.
A good time for students to begin working on their essays is the summer before senior year, experts say, when homework and extracurricular activities aren't taking up time and mental energy.
Starting early will also give students plenty of time to work through multiple drafts of an essay before college application deadlines, which can be as early as November for students applying for early decision or early action .
Students can go online to review essay requirements for the colleges they want to apply to, such as word limits and essay topics. Many students may start with the Common App , an application platform accepted by more than 1,000 schools. Students can submit that application to multiple schools.
Another option is the Coalition Application, an application platform accepted by more than 130 schools. Students applying through this application choose from one of six essay prompts to complete and include with their application.
In addition to the main essay, some colleges ask applicants to submit one or more additional writing samples. Students are often asked to explain why they are interested in a particular school or academic field in these supplemental essays , which tend to be shorter than the main essay.
Students should budget more time for the writing process if the schools they're applying to ask for supplemental essays.
"Most selective colleges will ask for more than one piece of writing. Don't spend all your time working on one long essay and then forget to devote energy to other parts of the application," Sapp says.
Though the Common App notes that "there are no strict word limits" for its main essay, it suggests a cap of about 650 words. The Coalition Application website says its essays should be between 500 and 650 words.
"While we won't, as a rule, stop reading after 650 words, we cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention for as long as you'd hoped it would," the Common App website states.
The word count is much shorter for institution-specific supplemental essays, which are typically around 250 words.
The first and sometimes most daunting step in the essay writing process is figuring out what to write about.
There are usually several essay prompts to choose from on a college application. They tend to be broad, open-ended questions, giving students the freedom to write about a wide array of topics, Barron says.
The essay isn't a complete autobiography, notes Mimi Doe, co-founder of Top Tier Admissions, a Massachusetts-based advising company. "It's overwhelming to think of putting your whole life in one essay," she says.
Rather, experts say students should narrow their focus and write about a specific experience, hobby or quirk that reveals something personal, like how they think, what they value or what their strengths are. Students can also write about something that illustrates an aspect of their background. These are the types of essays that typically stand out to admissions officers, experts say. Even an essay on a common topic can be compelling if done right.
Students don't have to discuss a major achievement in their essay – a common misconception. Admissions officers who spoke with U.S. News cited memorable essays that focused on more ordinary topics, including fly-fishing, a student's commute to and from school and a family's dining room table.
What's most important, experts say, is that a college essay is thoughtful and tells a story that offers insight into who a student is as a person.
"Think of the college essay as a meaningful glimpse of who you are beyond your other application materials," Pierre Huguet, CEO and founder of admissions consulting firm H&C Education, wrote in an email. "After reading your essay, the reader won't fully know you – at least not entirely. Your objective is to evoke the reader's curiosity and make them eager to get to know you."
If students are having trouble brainstorming potential topics, they can ask friends or family members for help, says Stephanie Klein Wassink, founder of Winning Applications and AdmissionsCheckup, Connecticut-based college admissions advising companies. Klein Wassink says students can ask peers or family members questions such as, "What are the things you think I do well?" Or, "What are my quirks?"
The essay should tell college admissions officers something they don't already know, experts say.
Some experts encourage students to outline their essay before jumping into the actual writing, though of course everyone's writing process differs.
The first draft of an essay doesn't need to be perfect. "Just do a brain dump," Doe says. "Don't edit yourself, just lay it all out on the page."
If students are having a hard time getting started, they should focus on their opening sentence, Doe suggests. She says an essay's opening sentence, or hook, should grab the reader's attention.
Doe offered an example of a strong hook from the essay of a student she worked with:
"I first got into politics the day the cafeteria outlawed creamed corn."
"I want to know about this kid," she says. "I’m interested."
The key to a good college essay is striking a balance between being creative and not overdoing it, Huguet says. He advises students to keep it simple.
"The college essay is not a fiction writing contest," Huguet says. "Admissions committees are not evaluating you on your potential as the next writer of the Great American Novel."
He adds that students should write in the voice they use to discuss meaningful topics with someone they trust. It's also wise to avoid hyperbole, as that can lose the readers' trust, as well as extraneous adverbs and adjectives, Huguet says.
"Thinking small, when done right, means paying close attention to the little things in your life that give it meaning in unique ways," he says. "It means, on the one hand, that you don’t have to come up with a plan for world peace, but it also means thinking small enough to identify details in your life that belong only to you."
The Supreme Court's ruling on affirmative action has left some students feeling in limbo with how to approach their essays. Some are unsure whether to include racial identifiers while others feel pressure to exclude it, says Christopher Rim, CEO and founder of Command Education, an admissions consulting company.
"For instance, some of our Asian students have been concerned that referencing their culture or race in their essay could negatively impact them (even moreso than before)," Rim wrote in an email. He noted that many students he works with had already begun crafting their essays before the ruling came. "Some of our other students have felt pressure to disclose their race or share a story of discrimination or struggle because they expect those stories to be received better by admissions officers."
Some of the uneasiness stems from what feels like a contradictory message from the court, Rim says. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., said the ruling shouldn't be construed "as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise." But he added that colleges may consider race only if it's tied to an applicant’s individual experiences or qualities, such as demonstrating courage against discrimination.
Personal essays shouldn't serve as a way for universities to ask students about their race as a means to admit them on such basis, Roberts added.
Rim says he expects there to be a lot of confusion from parents and students as they navigate that line when writing their essay. He says his guidance will vary with each student depending on their specific situation.
"For a student from an immigrant family, sharing their racial and cultural background may be integral to understanding their identity and values and therefore should be included in the essay," he says. "On the other hand, a student who has never meaningfully considered ways in which their race has shaped their life experience and worldview should not push themselves to do so in their essay simply because they believe it will better their chances."
While admissions officers try to learn about students via the essay, they are also gauging writing skills, so students want to make sure they submit top-notch work.
"The best writing is rewriting," Sapp says. "You should never be giving me your first draft."
When reviewing a first essay draft, students should make sure their writing is showing, not telling, Huguet says. This means students should show their readers examples that prove they embody certain traits or beliefs, as opposed to just stating that they do. Doing so is like explaining a joke to someone who's already laughed at it, he says.
"Let’s say, for example, that the whole point of a certain applicant’s essay is to let admissions officers know that she thinks outside the box. If she feels the need to end her essay with a sentence like, 'And so, this anecdote shows that I think outside the box,' she’s either underestimating the power of her story (or the ability of her reader to understand it), or she hasn’t done a good enough job in telling it yet," Huguet says. "Let your readers come to their own conclusions. If your story is effective, they’ll come to the conclusions you want them to."
After editing their essay, students should seek outside editing help, experts recommend. While there are individuals and companies that offer paid essay help – from editing services to essay-writing boot camps – students and families may not be able to afford the associated fees. Some providers may offer scholarships or other financial aid for their services.
The availability and level of feedback from free essay advising services vary. Some college prep companies offer brief consultations at no charge. Free essay workshops may also be available through local high schools, public libraries or community organizations. Khan Academy, a free online education platform, also offers a series of videos and other content to guide students through the essay writing process.
Colleges themselves may also have resources, Barron notes, pointing to pages on Hamilton's website that offer writing tips as well as examples of successful admissions essays. Likewise, Hamilton also holds virtual panel discussions on writing admissions essays.
Students have other options when it comes to essay help. They can ask peers, teachers, school counselors and family members for help polishing an essay. Huguet says it's typically wise to prioritize quality over quantity when it comes to seeking feedback on essays. Too many perspectives can become counterproductive, he says.
"While it can be valuable to have different perspectives, it's best to seek out individuals who are experts in the writing process," he says. "Instructors or professors can be helpful, particularly if they possess subject expertise and can provide guidance on refining arguments, structure and overall coherence."
Proofreaders should not change the tone of the essay. "Don't let anyone edit out your voice," Doe cautions.
And while proofreading is fair game, having someone else write your essay is not.
When an essay is ready to go, students will generally submit it online along with the rest of their application. On the Common App, for example, students copy and paste their essay into a text box.
Sapp says even though students often stress about the essay in particular, it's not the only thing college admissions officers look at. "The essay is the window, but the application is the house," he says. "So let's not forget that an application is built of many pieces."
Searching for a college? Get our complete rankings of Best Colleges.
What to Do After Selecting a College
- How to Complete a College Application
- Use the Common App to Apply to College
- College Application Essay Grammar Tips
- See College Essay Examples
Tags: education , colleges , college admissions , college applications , students
2024 Best Colleges
Search for your perfect fit with the U.S. News rankings of colleges and universities.
College Admissions: Get a Step Ahead!
Ask an Alum: Making the Most Out of College
You May Also Like
11 colleges with the lowest admit rates.
Ilana Kowarski and Cole Claybourn Dec. 1, 2023
What to Wear to a College Interview
LaMont Jones, Jr. Nov. 29, 2023
College Rankings of the Big Ten Schools
Cole Claybourn Nov. 29, 2023
Are Private Student Loans Worth It?
Erika Giovanetti Nov. 29, 2023
Huge Rise in International Students
Anayat Durrani Nov. 28, 2023
Surveys for 2024 Best Graduate Schools
U.S. News Staff Nov. 27, 2023
35 Colleges With the Highest SAT Scores
Sarah Wood Nov. 22, 2023
Differences Between B.A. and B.F.A.
Andrew Warner Nov. 21, 2023
15 Colleges With the Most Undergraduates
Sarah Wood Nov. 21, 2023
Colleges With Cheap Out-of-State Tuition
Cole Claybourn and Travis Mitchell Nov. 21, 2023
Don't have an Account?
- International Student
- Essay Writing Center
- Sample Essays
Sample College Admission Essays
Applying to college can be very exciting, but also require a lot of dedication, research, and hard work. One key piece of your application that should be given plenty of time and attention is the college admission essay. Before you write your first draft read our sample essays to get a few tips on writing your perfect admission essay.
This section contains five examples of good college essays.
College Essay Sample One
College essay sample two, college essay sample three, college essay sample four, college essay sample five.
State University and I possess a common vision. I, like State University, constantly work to explore the limits of nature by exceeding expectations. Long an amateur scientist, it was this drive that brought me to the University of Texas for its Student Science Training Program in 2013. Up to that point science had been my private past time, one I had yet to explore on anyone else’s terms. My time at UT, however, changed that. Participating for the first time in a full-length research experiment at that level, I felt more alive, more engaged, than I ever had before. Learning the complex dynamics between electromagnetic induction and optics in an attempt to solve one of the holy grails of physics, gravitational-waves, I could not have been more pleased. Thus vindicated, my desire to further formalize my love of science brings me to State University. Thanks to this experience, I know now better than ever that State University is my future, because through it I seek another, permanent, opportunity to follow my passion for science and engineering.
In addition to just science, I am drawn to State University for other reasons. I strive to work with the diverse group of people that State University wholeheartedly accommodates – and who also share my mindset. They, like me, are there because State University respects the value of diversity. I know from personal experience that in order to achieve the trust, honesty, and success that State University values, new people are needed to create a respectful environment for these values. I feel that my background as an American Sikh will provide an innovative perspective in the university’s search for knowledge while helping it to develop a basis for future success. And that, truly, is the greatest success I can imagine.
This emphasis on diversity can also be found in the variety of specialized departments found at State University. On top of its growing cultural and ethnic diversity, State University is becoming a master at creating a niche for every student. However, this does not isolate students by forcing them to work with only those individuals who follow their specific discipline. Instead, it is the seamless interaction between facilities that allows each department, from engineering to programming, to create a real learning environment that profoundly mimics the real world. Thus, State University is not just the perfect place for me, it is the only place for me. Indeed, having the intellectual keenness to absorb every ounce of knowledge presented through my time in the IB program, I know that I can contribute to State University as it continues to cultivate a scholarly climate that encourages intellectual curiosity.
At the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at State University, I will be able to do just that. In a department where education and research are intermixed, I can continue to follow the path that towards scientific excellence. Long-mesmerized by hobbies like my work with the FIRST Robotics team, I believe State University would be the best choice to continue to nurture my love for electrical and computer engineering. I have only scratched the surface in this ever evolving field but know that the technological potential is limitless. Likewise, I feel that my time at State University would make my potential similarly limitless.
This is a picture-perfect response to a university-specific essay prompt. What makes it particularly effective is not just its cohesive structure and elegant style but also the level of details the author uses in the response. By directly identifying the specific aspects of the university that are attractive to the writer, the writer is able to clearly and effectively show not only his commitment to his studies but – perhaps more importantly – the level of thought he put into his decision to apply. Review committees know what generic responses look like so specificity sells.
For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of science. Where others see the engineering, experimentation, and presentation of science as a chore, I only see excitement. Even as a child I constantly sought it out, first on television with Bill Nye and The Mythbusters, then later in person in every museum exhibit I could find. Science in all its forms fascinated me, but science projects in particular were a category all to themselves. To me, science projects were a special joy that only grew with time. In fact, it was this continued fascination for hands-on science that brought me years later to the sauna that is the University of Alabama in mid-June. Participating in the Student Science Training Program and working in their lab made me feel like a kid in a candy store. Just the thought of participating in a project at this level of scientific rigor made me forget that this was supposed to be my summer break and I spent the first day eagerly examining every piece of equipment.
Even at first, when the whole research group sat there doing rote calculations and others felt like they were staring down the barrel of defeated purpose, I remained enthusiastic. Time and time again I reminded myself of that famous phrase "great effort leads to great rewards," and sure enough, soon my aspirations began to be met. This shift in attitude also coincided with a shift in location: from the computer desk to the laser lab. It was finally time to get my hands dirty.
Now things began to get really interesting. During the experimentation phase of the project, I spent the majority of my waking hours in the lab – and I enjoyed every minute of it. From debriefing with my coordinator in the morning to checking and rechecking results well into the afternoon, I was on cloud nine all day, every day. I even loved the electric feeling of anxiety as I waited for the results. Most of all, though, I loved the pursuit of science itself. Before I knew it, I was well into the seventh week and had completed my first long-term research experiment.
In the end, although the days were long and hard, my work that summer filled me with pride. That pride has confirmed and reinvigorated my love for science. I felt more alive, more engaged, in that lab than I have anywhere else, and I am committed to returning. I have always dreamed of science but since that summer, since my experiment, I have dreamed only of the future. To me, medical science is the future and through it I seek another, permanent, opportunity to follow my passion. After all, to follow your passion is, literally, a dream come true.
In addition to its use of clear, demonstrative language, there is one thing that makes this an effective essay: focus. Indeed, notice that, although the question is broad, the answer is narrow. This is crucial. It can be easy to wax poetic on a topic and, in the process, take on too much. Instead, by highlighting one specific aspect of his personality, the author is able to give the reader a taste of his who he is without overwhelming him or simply reproducing his résumé. This emphasis gives the reader the opportunity to learn who the writer is on his terms and makes it a truly compelling application essay.
The winter of my seventh grade year, my alcoholic mother entered a psychiatric unit for an attempted suicide. Mom survived, but I would never forget visiting her at the ward or the complete confusion I felt about her attempt to end her life. Today I realize that this experience greatly influenced my professional ambition as well as my personal identity. While early on my professional ambitions were aimed towards the mental health field, later experiences have redirected me towards a career in academia.
I come from a small, economically depressed town in Northern Wisconson. Many people in this former mining town do not graduate high school and for them college is an idealistic concept, not a reality. Neither of my parents attended college. Feelings of being trapped in a stagnant environment permeated my mind, and yet I knew I had to graduate high school; I had to get out. Although most of my friends and family did not understand my ambitions, I knew I wanted to make a difference and used their doubt as motivation to press through. Four days after I graduated high school, I joined the U.S. Army.
The 4 years I spent in the Army cultivated a deep-seated passion for serving society. While in the Army, I had the great honor to serve with several men and women who, like me, fought to make a difference in the world. During my tour of duty, I witnessed several shipmates suffer from various mental aliments. Driven by a commitment to serve and a desire to understand the foundations of psychological illness, I decided to return to school to study psychology.
In order to pay for school and continue being active in the community, I enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard as a Medic. Due to the increased deployment schedule and demands placed on all branches of the military after September 11, my attendance in school has necessarily come second to my commitment to the military. There are various semesters where, due to this demand, I attended school less than full time. Despite taking a long time and the difficulty in carving separate time for school with such occupational requirements, I remained persistent aiming towards attending school as my schedule would allow. My military commitment ends this July and will no longer complicate my academic pursuits.
In college, as I became more politically engaged, my interest began to gravitate more towards political science. The interest in serving and understanding people has never changed, yet I realized I could make a greater difference doing something for which I have a deeper passion, political science. Pursuing dual degrees in both Psychology and Political Science, I was provided an opportunity to complete a thesis in Psychology with Dr. Sheryl Carol a Professor in Social Psychology at the University of Texas (UT) This fall I will complete an additional thesis as a McNair Scholar with Dr. Ken Chambers, Associate Professor in Latin American studies in the UT Political Science Department.
As an undergraduate, I was privileged to gain extensive research experience working in a research lab with Dr. Carol. During the three years I worked in her lab, I aided in designing a study, writing an Institutional Review Board (IRB) application, running participants through both pilot and regular studies, coding data, and analyzing said data, with these experiences culminating in my honors thesis. This thesis, entitled Self-Esteem and Need-to-Belong as predictors of implicit stereotypic explanatory bias, focuses on the relationship between levels (high and low) of self-esteem and an individual’s need to belong in a group, and how they predict whether an individual will tend to explain stereotype-inconsistent behavior. Participating in such a large study from start to finish has validated my interest in academic research as a profession.
This fall I will embark on writing an additional honors thesis in political science. While the precise topic of my thesis is undecided, I am particularly interested in Mexico and its development towards a more democratic government. Minoring in Spanish, I have read various pieces of literature from Mexico and have come to respect Mexico and Latin American culture and society. I look forward to conducting this research as it will have a more qualitative tilt than my thesis in psychology, therefore granting an additional understanding of research methodology.
My present decision to switch from social psychology to political science is further related to a study abroad course sponsored by the European Union with Dr. Samuel Mitchell, an Associate Professor in the Political Science Department at UT. Professor Mitchell obtained a grant to take a class of students to Belgium in order to study the EU. This course revealed a direct correlation between what I had studied in the classroom with the real world. After spending several weeks studying the EU, its history and present movement towards integration, the class flew to Brussels where we met with officials and proceeded to learn firsthand how the EU functioned.
My interest in attending the University of Rochester in particular, relates to my first semester at OU and the opportunity to take an introductory course in statistics with the now retired Dr. Larry Miller. Through the combination of a genuine appreciation and knack for statistics and with his encouragement, I proceeded to take his advanced statistics class as well as the first graduate level statistics course at OU. I continued my statistical training by completing the second graduate statistics course on model comparisons with Dr. Roger Johnson, a Professor in the Psychology Department. The model comparison course was not only the most challenging course I have taken as an undergraduate, but the most important. As the sole undergraduate in the course and only college algebra under my belt, I felt quite intimidated. Yet, the rigors of the class compelled me to expand my thinking and learn to overcome any insecurities and deficits in my education. The effort paid off as I earned not only an ‘A’ in the course, but also won the T.O.P.S. (Top Outstanding Psychology Student) award in statistics. This award is given to the top undergraduate student with a demonstrated history of success in statistics.
My statistical training in psychology orientates me toward a more quantitative graduate experience. Due to the University of Rochester’s reputation for an extensive use of statistics in political science research, I would make a good addition to your fall class. While attending the University of Rochester, I would like to study international relations or comparative politics while in graduate school. I find the research of Dr.’s Hein Goemans and Gretchen Helmke intriguing and would like the opportunity to learn more about it through the Graduate Visitation program.
Participation in the University of Rochester’s Graduate School Visitation Program would allow me to learn more about the Department of Political Science to further see if my interests align with those in the department. Additionally, my attendance would allow the Political Science department to make a more accurate determination on how well I would fit in to the program than from solely my graduate school application. Attending the University of Rochester with its focus on quantitative training, would not only allow me to utilize the skills and knowledge I gained as an undergraduate, but also would expand this foundation to better prepare me to conduct research in a manner I find fascinating.
From attending S.E.R.E. (Survival/POW training) in the military and making it through a model comparisons course as an undergraduate, I have rarely shied away from a challenge. I thrive on difficult tasks as I enjoy systematically developing solutions to problems. Attending the University of Rochester would more than likely prove a challenge, but there is no doubt in my mind that I would not only succeed but enable me to offer a unique set of experiences to fellow members of the incoming graduate class.
My handwriting didn’t become jittery until the third round. The number of competitors in the Midwest Spelling Bee had dropped from 100 to the thirty-some who remained after two waves of preliminaries, a group I was awed to be in. The third round would likely be the last one carried out with pencil and paper. A sole word stood between me and the oral competition to follow. My nerves soared at the thought that a mere handful of syllables from the pronouncer’s mouth would offer me a chance to compete in the apex of orthography: the regional bee finals. Yet, when I heard the word “Wagner,” the degree of my confusion was only rivaled by that of my disappointment upon elimination.
My approach to academic success in middle school consisted of rote memorization and stodgy study habits. Fortunately for my sanity and social life, I have since discovered that learning derived from experience can introduce an invaluable layer of reality to otherwise useless knowledge. My hinge moment came near the end of eighth grade when I was stumped by “Wagner” and its ensuing definition: “a German composer, theatre director, polemicist, and conductor who is primarily known for his operas.” To my credit, the phonetic vocalization of Wagner is something like “BAHG-nur,” with the ever ambiguous bee/vee sound. But, an error is an error, and my misspelling of the word earned me a disheartening dismissal from the Midwest Spelling Bee. I immediately resolved to learn about the man whose name was responsible for cheapening my years of poring over vocabulary lists and etymology guides. Upon learning that Richard Wagner was one of the most prolific opera composers in history, I had to investigate. Along my inquisitive quest, I encountered two newfound passions: opera music and the pursuit of stimulating information.
I am an unabashed classical music aficionado. My enthusiasm came gradually over years of imposed piano lessons that eventually became voluntary as my interest in the activity piqued. I came to sense the profound communion with notes on a page arising from tinkering out the same rhythms and melodies that were manuscripts by musical geniuses centuries ago. However, because I could not perform it, I never thought to explore opera. Without my keen interest in Wagner, I may have never encountered the awe-inspiring blend of visual and musical mastery that constitutes his interpretation of the genre. Opera swiftly captured my eye and ear for insightful art. For instance, in his landmark opera, Tristan und Isolde, Wagner unleashed a then-revolutionary tonal system which paved the way for twentieth century classical music. As I unearthed the beauty of opera, my awareness of all the remarkable, groundbreaking themes of Wagner’s productions became embodied by the word “Wagner.” In this striking moment, I could not help but feel the value of connecting my learning to purposeful interaction.
Fueled by my frustration with the outcome of the bee, I searched for the source of my failure. In uncovering the works of Wagner, I gleaned a sense of the vast droves of information that can lie behind a seemingly simple word. I suddenly became aware of my incapacity to seek out the surprising insights that the world might have been waiting to reveal. Thanks to a reevaluation triggered by a failure, I garnered a new appreciation for experiential learning. Since my underwhelming performance nearly four years ago, I have become well versed in the mysterious, gritty art of inquiry. Rather than perceiving my environment to be a sterile list of terms with a neat pronunciation guide to boot, I am now eager to take in the uncommon wisdoms of everything from the innovative operatic tropes of Wagner to the fickle nature of bees—both the pollinating insects and their manmade homonyms.
The exclusiveness portrayed in Mean Girls led me to expect that high school would consist of like-minded cliques. Rather, in high school I found that a single commonality can unite a seemingly random sampling of people. Through marching band, this idea was embodied in a desire to perform music. UChicago’s community is similarly bonded by a serious passion for learning which satisfies my desire to become a thoughtful citizen of tomorrow.
The hierarchy of authority in marching band is one I have come to love, and not only because I achieved the top student position in it as a drum major. In that role, I watched younger members hone their skills in an effort to contribute to the collective performance. The value of a uniform training followed by opportunities to lead is exemplified by the ambitious and talented student leaders produced. At UChicago, The Core serves a comparable purpose in preparing students for exhaustive academic exploration. I am enticed by the intensive inquiry and groundbreaking research that students partake in. Yet, I appreciate the benefit of undergoing the rigorous Core first. UChicago emphasizes experiential learning, even in the College, which appeals to my desire to collaborate with other brilliant learners. When I visited campus, two specific encounters struck me. Initially, the Institute of Politics attracted me with its hands-on approach to policy issues through programs like Student Civic Engagement projects. Even more alluring was the Politics & Policy class I sat in on. Following a lecture on bureaucracy that may have droned over the heads of less inspired students, I was surrounded by a hubbub of engaged thinkers convening through discussion. UChicago’s intellectual atmosphere is animated by the common thirst for knowledge that characterizes every student.
Through marching band, I discovered a passion for influencing others. My dream is that by drawing from UChicago’s empowering community, my drive will transfer to pertinent global issues like human rights in the Middle East. UChicago is my ideal learning environment, for as Wayne Booth stated while he was Dean of the College, UChicago empowers tomorrow’s intellectual leaders to “see through the guff.” During high school, I have grown from an uncertain ninth grader into the capable leader I am today, leaving me optimistic for how I may develop in the next four years.
A travel through my room reveals almost everything about me. The walls are splashed with two tones of eye-burning pink, fairies dance across the vibrant wallpaper sprinkled with sparkles, a white-washed dresser covered in knick-knacks, and an overflowing toy box fit perfectly in this Technicolor dream room.
In one corner of my room, a paint-by-numbers portrait that my grandfather created in a World War II hospital silently tells its story. My grandfather, an Italian barber, raised six children in Bayonne, NJ with my grandmother. My grandparents worked hard to deliver the most American of promises – that your kids will have a better standard of living than you. In that regard, my mother, who put herself through college to become an engineer, made good, affording to give me my own room, a luxury she never knew.
The next corner of my room contains a nondescript desk and laptop, the same as anyone’s room. Who would guess that this desk is also the launching pad of myYearbook.com, a 1.6 million member social networking site that I created? Layers of spec sheets, Post-Its, and emails form a sea of productivity that I find comforting. Scribbled telephone numbers and names remind me of deals I did and didn’t do, reporters who did and didn’t write on me, and technology worries I never stop trying to resolve. Half-drunk coke cans tell the tale of a dozen all-nighters, and someone who is at her most creative at night.
The desk is not all business though. My calculus and economics texts bookend my laptop, and a bouquet of dead flowers from my boyfriend rest in peace on my shelf, revealing a morbid sentimentality. Although the flowers have long died and the water completely evaporated, the card and its words “Jeg synes a du er fantastik og du er det beste ting i mit verden,” are the only reason the flowers never made it to the garbage. In Danish, the sentence translates to, “I think you are fantastic, and you are the best thing in my world.” Ever since I started dating him, I have been learning more and more about his Danish culture, and I plan to go to Denmark twice this year.
The third corner holds my well-worn, folded-up gymnastics floor beam and barely used grips. Unlike many gymnasts though, I prefer not to wear the grips on bars because they make it harder to feel the bar. I started gymnastics when I was five, and since then my hands have earned their calluses, and I am proud of them. You won’t find me moisturizing my hands except to keep them from splitting on the bars.
In the last corner hangs a painting I bought while organizing an online Tsunami Aid Art Project. It was my first significant project online and helped give me a sense of the power of the Internet to connect people. As part of the artist community WetCanvas.com, myself and two other members organized a tsunami-related art project with all proceeds donated to charity. We raised $10,000 in funds, and had about 100 pieces of work donated from artists in nine countries.
Sadly, I know this will not always be my room. The pink fairies will give way to adult- sized possessions and responsibilities. The knick-knacks will break, and the sanctuary of my childhood will soon seem so childish. But, for now, I will embrace the pink, the fairies, and the simplicity of life in my mom’s house. I will look forward to the possibilities of creating another space, as uniquely my own as this one, and as uniquely a part of my past as this room will always be.
Get the international student newsletter.
Celebrating 150 years of Harvard Summer School. Learn about our history.
12 Strategies to Writing the Perfect College Essay
College admission committees sift through thousands of college essays each year. Here’s how to make yours stand out.
When it comes to deciding who they will admit into their programs, colleges consider many criteria, including high school grades, extracurricular activities, and ACT and SAT scores. But in recent years, more colleges are no longer considering test scores.
Instead, many (including Harvard through 2026) are opting for “test-blind” admission policies that give more weight to other elements in a college application. This policy change is seen as fairer to students who don’t have the means or access to testing, or who suffer from test anxiety.
So, what does this mean for you?
Simply that your college essay, traditionally a requirement of any college application, is more important than ever.
A college essay is your unique opportunity to introduce yourself to admissions committees who must comb through thousands of applications each year. It is your chance to stand out as someone worthy of a seat in that classroom.
A well-written and thoughtful essay—reflecting who you are and what you believe—can go a long way to separating your application from the slew of forgettable ones that admissions officers read. Indeed, officers may rely on them even more now that many colleges are not considering test scores.
Below we’ll discuss a few strategies you can use to help your essay stand out from the pack. We’ll touch on how to start your essay, what you should write for your college essay, and elements that make for a great college essay.
More than any other consideration, you should choose a topic or point of view that is consistent with who you truly are.
Readers can sense when writers are inauthentic.
Inauthenticity could mean the use of overly flowery language that no one would ever use in conversation, or it could mean choosing an inconsequential topic that reveals very little about who you are.
Use your own voice, sense of humor, and a natural way of speaking.
Whatever subject you choose, make sure it’s something that’s genuinely important to you and not a subject you’ve chosen just to impress. You can write about a specific experience, hobby, or personality quirk that illustrates your strengths, but also feel free to write about your weaknesses.
Honesty about traits, situations, or a childhood background that you are working to improve may resonate with the reader more strongly than a glib victory speech.
Grab the Reader From the Start
You’ll be competing with so many other applicants for an admission officer’s attention.
Therefore, start your essay with an opening sentence or paragraph that immediately seizes the imagination. This might be a bold statement, a thoughtful quote, a question you pose, or a descriptive scene.
Starting your essay in a powerful way with a clear thesis statement can often help you along in the writing process. If your task is to tell a good story, a bold beginning can be a natural prelude to getting there, serving as a roadmap, engaging the reader from the start, and presenting the purpose of your writing.
Focus on Deeper Themes
Some essay writers think they will impress committees by loading an essay with facts, figures, and descriptions of activities, like wins in sports or descriptions of volunteer work. But that’s not the point.
College admissions officers are interested in learning more about who you are as a person and what makes you tick.
They want to know what has brought you to this stage in life. They want to read about realizations you may have come to through adversity as well as your successes, not just about how many games you won while on the soccer team or how many people you served at a soup kitchen.
Let the reader know how winning the soccer game helped you develop as a person, friend, family member, or leader. Make a connection with your soup kitchen volunteerism and how it may have inspired your educational journey and future aspirations. What did you discover about yourself?
Show Don’t Tell
As you expand on whatever theme you’ve decided to explore in your essay, remember to show, don’t tell.
The most engaging writing “shows” by setting scenes and providing anecdotes, rather than just providing a list of accomplishments and activities.
Reciting a list of activities is also boring. An admissions officer will want to know about the arc of your emotional journey too.
Try Doing Something Different
If you want your essay to stand out, think about approaching your subject from an entirely new perspective. While many students might choose to write about their wins, for instance, what if you wrote an essay about what you learned from all your losses?
If you are an especially talented writer, you might play with the element of surprise by crafting an essay that leaves the response to a question to the very last sentence.
You may want to stay away from well-worn themes entirely, like a sports-related obstacle or success, volunteer stories, immigration stories, moving, a summary of personal achievements or overcoming obstacles.
However, such themes are popular for a reason. They represent the totality of most people’s lives coming out of high school. Therefore, it may be less important to stay away from these topics than to take a fresh approach.
Explore Harvard Summer School’s College Programs for High School Students
Write With the Reader in Mind
Writing for the reader means building a clear and logical argument in which one thought flows naturally from another.
Use transitions between paragraphs.
Think about any information you may have left out that the reader may need to know. Are there ideas you have included that do not help illustrate your theme?
Be sure you can answer questions such as: Does what you have written make sense? Is the essay organized? Does the opening grab the reader? Is there a strong ending? Have you given enough background information? Is it wordy?
Write Several Drafts
Set your essay aside for a few days and come back to it after you’ve had some time to forget what you’ve written. Often, you’ll discover you have a whole new perspective that enhances your ability to make revisions.
Start writing months before your essay is due to give yourself enough time to write multiple drafts. A good time to start could be as early as the summer before your senior year when homework and extracurricular activities take up less time.
Read It Aloud
Writer’s tip : Reading your essay aloud can instantly uncover passages that sound clumsy, long-winded, or false.
If you’ve mentioned an activity, story, or anecdote in some other part of your application, don’t repeat it again in your essay.
Your essay should tell college admissions officers something new. Whatever you write in your essay should be in philosophical alignment with the rest of your application.
Also, be sure you’ve answered whatever question or prompt may have been posed to you at the outset.
Ask Others to Read Your Essay
Be sure the people you ask to read your essay represent different demographic groups—a teacher, a parent, even a younger sister or brother.
Ask each reader what they took from the essay and listen closely to what they have to say. If anyone expresses confusion, revise until the confusion is cleared up.
Pay Attention to Form
Although there are often no strict word limits for college essays, most essays are shorter rather than longer. Common App, which students can use to submit to multiple colleges, suggests that essays stay at about 650 words.
“While we won’t as a rule stop reading after 650 words, we cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention for as long as you’d hoped it would,” the Common App website states.
In reviewing other technical aspects of your essay, be sure that the font is readable, that the margins are properly spaced, that any dialogue is set off properly, and that there is enough spacing at the top. Your essay should look clean and inviting to readers.
End Your Essay With a “Kicker”
In journalism, a kicker is the last punchy line, paragraph, or section that brings everything together.
It provides a lasting impression that leaves the reader satisfied and impressed by the points you have artfully woven throughout your piece.
So, here’s our kicker: Be concise and coherent, engage in honest self-reflection, and include vivid details and anecdotes that deftly illustrate your point.
While writing a fantastic essay may not guarantee you get selected, it can tip the balance in your favor if admissions officers are considering a candidate with a similar GPA and background.
Write, revise, revise again, and good luck!
Experience life on a college campus. Spend your summer at Harvard.
Explore Harvard Summer School’s College Programs for High School Students.
About the Author
Pamela Reynolds is a Boston-area feature writer and editor whose work appears in numerous publications. She is the author of “Revamp: A Memoir of Travel and Obsessive Renovation.”
How Involved Should Parents and Guardians Be in High School Student College Applications and Admissions?
There are several ways parents can lend support to their children during the college application process. Here's how to get the ball rolling.
Harvard Division of Continuing Education
The Division of Continuing Education (DCE) at Harvard University is dedicated to bringing rigorous academics and innovative teaching capabilities to those seeking to improve their lives through education. We make Harvard education accessible to lifelong learners from high school to retirement.
Tips for Writing an Effective Application Essay
How to Write an Effective Essay
Writing an essay for college admission gives you a chance to use your authentic voice and show your personality. It's an excellent opportunity to personalize your application beyond your academic credentials, and a well-written essay can have a positive influence come decision time.
Want to know how to draft an essay for your college application ? Here are some tips to keep in mind when writing.
Tips for Essay Writing
A typical college application essay, also known as a personal statement, is 400-600 words. Although that may seem short, writing about yourself can be challenging. It's not something you want to rush or put off at the last moment. Think of it as a critical piece of the application process. Follow these tips to write an impactful essay that can work in your favor.
1. Start Early.
Few people write well under pressure. Try to complete your first draft a few weeks before you have to turn it in. Many advisers recommend starting as early as the summer before your senior year in high school. That way, you have ample time to think about the prompt and craft the best personal statement possible.
You don't have to work on your essay every day, but you'll want to give yourself time to revise and edit. You may discover that you want to change your topic or think of a better way to frame it. Either way, the sooner you start, the better.
2. Understand the Prompt and Instructions.
Before you begin the writing process, take time to understand what the college wants from you. The worst thing you can do is skim through the instructions and submit a piece that doesn't even fit the bare minimum requirements or address the essay topic. Look at the prompt, consider the required word count, and note any unique details each school wants.
3. Create a Strong Opener.
Students seeking help for their application essays often have trouble getting things started. It's a challenging writing process. Finding the right words to start can be the hardest part.
Spending more time working on your opener is always a good idea. The opening sentence sets the stage for the rest of your piece. The introductory paragraph is what piques the interest of the reader, and it can immediately set your essay apart from the others.
4. Stay on Topic.
One of the most important things to remember is to keep to the essay topic. If you're applying to 10 or more colleges, it's easy to veer off course with so many application essays.
A common mistake many students make is trying to fit previously written essays into the mold of another college's requirements. This seems like a time-saving way to avoid writing new pieces entirely, but it often backfires. The result is usually a final piece that's generic, unfocused, or confusing. Always write a new essay for every application, no matter how long it takes.
5. Think About Your Response.
Don't try to guess what the admissions officials want to read. Your essay will be easier to write─and more exciting to read─if you’re genuinely enthusiastic about your subject. Here’s an example: If all your friends are writing application essays about covid-19, it may be a good idea to avoid that topic, unless during the pandemic you had a vivid, life-changing experience you're burning to share. Whatever topic you choose, avoid canned responses. Be creative.
6. Focus on You.
Essay prompts typically give you plenty of latitude, but panel members expect you to focus on a subject that is personal (although not overly intimate) and particular to you. Admissions counselors say the best essays help them learn something about the candidate that they would never know from reading the rest of the application.
7. Stay True to Your Voice.
Use your usual vocabulary. Avoid fancy language you wouldn't use in real life. Imagine yourself reading this essay aloud to a classroom full of people who have never met you. Keep a confident tone. Be wary of words and phrases that undercut that tone.
8. Be Specific and Factual.
Capitalize on real-life experiences. Your essay may give you the time and space to explain why a particular achievement meant so much to you. But resist the urge to exaggerate and embellish. Admissions counselors read thousands of essays each year. They can easily spot a fake.
9. Edit and Proofread.
When you finish the final draft, run it through the spell checker on your computer. Then don’t read your essay for a few days. You'll be more apt to spot typos and awkward grammar when you reread it. After that, ask a teacher, parent, or college student (preferably an English or communications major) to give it a quick read. While you're at it, double-check your word count.
Writing essays for college admission can be daunting, but it doesn't have to be. A well-crafted essay could be the deciding factor─in your favor. Keep these tips in mind, and you'll have no problem creating memorable pieces for every application.
What is the format of a college application essay?
Generally, essays for college admission follow a simple format that includes an opening paragraph, a lengthier body section, and a closing paragraph. You don't need to include a title, which will only take up extra space. Keep in mind that the exact format can vary from one college application to the next. Read the instructions and prompt for more guidance.
Most online applications will include a text box for your essay. If you're attaching it as a document, however, be sure to use a standard, 12-point font and use 1.5-spaced or double-spaced lines, unless the application specifies different font and spacing.
How do you start an essay?
The goal here is to use an attention grabber. Think of it as a way to reel the reader in and interest an admissions officer in what you have to say. There's no trick on how to start a college application essay. The best way you can approach this task is to flex your creative muscles and think outside the box.
You can start with openers such as relevant quotes, exciting anecdotes, or questions. Either way, the first sentence should be unique and intrigue the reader.
What should an essay include?
Every application essay you write should include details about yourself and past experiences. It's another opportunity to make yourself look like a fantastic applicant. Leverage your experiences. Tell a riveting story that fulfills the prompt.
What shouldn’t be included in an essay?
When writing a college application essay, it's usually best to avoid overly personal details and controversial topics. Although these topics might make for an intriguing essay, they can be tricky to express well. If you’re unsure if a topic is appropriate for your essay, check with your school counselor. An essay for college admission shouldn't include a list of achievements or academic accolades either. Your essay isn’t meant to be a rehashing of information the admissions panel can find elsewhere in your application.
How can you make your essay personal and interesting?
The best way to make your essay interesting is to write about something genuinely important to you. That could be an experience that changed your life or a valuable lesson that had an enormous impact on you. Whatever the case, speak from the heart, and be honest.
Is it OK to discuss mental health in an essay?
Mental health struggles can create challenges you must overcome during your education and could be an opportunity for you to show how you’ve handled challenges and overcome obstacles. If you’re considering writing your essay for college admission on this topic, consider talking to your school counselor or with an English teacher on how to frame the essay.
Pay Your Deposit
Have you been admitted and need to lock in your decision? Click the link below to pay your deposit now!
How to Write a College Admission Essay
Jul 12, 2021
Do’s & Don’ts of Writing a College Admission Essay
After three years of high school, you would probably be glad to never write an essay again. If you plan on going to college, however, you should know that essay writing is one of the more important things you need to get out of your high school experience. Simply put, you can't get through college without it.
If you are wondering how to get into college, you should know that a great college essay is one of the most important parts of your application. Yes, it's a lot of work, but it's not all bad news. A college admissions essay or personal statement gives you the chance to tell your story. The decision the admissions office must make is about more than just your grades and your extracurricular activities. They want to know about your interests, your values, and your character. They have to decide whether you are a good fit for their school and its community.
You must have other things on your mind besides your essay with college on the horizon. We have inside information to help you with those matters, too. You could be working on your college application checklist, wonder how to apply for fafsa , or when college applications are due . Or you may be nervous about your last year of high school—which is why we offer advice for high school seniors : keep your head up!
So, for now, need to know how to write a college admission essay, personal essay, common app essay, or whatever you need to write to get in? These tips will get you most of the way there—you’ll just have to come up with the exact words.
How do you write a college admission essay?
The hardest part is the first part. Starting early is key to writing a college essay, so you should get started the summer before your senior year.
Worry about the college essay length and word limit later. If you can get your essay finished during this summer, you’ll have plenty of time to adjust it or rewrite it, as well as to get started on other college admission essays, as well. Plus you’ll be in a position to apply for early decision deadlines by the winter, which is always a good idea.
Find a topic and answer the question
College application essays tend to be a source of hesitation more than inspiration. Most colleges, as well as the Common Application, will have the topics for their essays available online.
Look them up, and then start looking anywhere and everywhere for ideas. You can also look forward to college essay examples online, just to get you started. It’s always good to pull ideas from your own experiences. Think about what you’ve accomplished and what you feel defines you.
Think about parts of your background that have shaped your life. Ultimately, every application essay you write will be about you, as it should be the easiest thing to write about, and it will give admissions officers an idea of who you are.
If you’re stumped, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can start with the closest sources, like friends and family, and don’t forget about your teachers, either. If you’ve written essays for them before, they’ll know your strengths and weaknesses and can steer you towards essay topics they know will work for you.
Create a strategy
It may be tempting to dive in and write, like pulling off a bandage. The smarter move, however, is to strategize. Be sure you have a main idea you want to get across and that it’s present throughout the essay.
What is the point of your story; what one thing do you want to make sure the reader gets from the piece? So, how long is a college essay? Most college admission or college application essays are required to be pretty short, anywhere from 200 to 900 words. You want to make the best use of that limited number of words, so you should map out what you want your essay to look like in some form. That may be a traditional outline, or it may be just a matter of breaking the essay into pieces and working on it one section at a time.
U.S. News & World Report says, “If the student is having a hard time getting started, they should focus on their opening sentence … an essay's opening sentence, or hook, should grab the reader's attention.” You should also plan to write multiple drafts. Going with your instincts is good, especially because you are the subject of the essay, but you owe it to yourself to evaluate your drafts and rewrite them, even if it’s just to prove to yourself the first round was best. Build time into your plan for that process.
What should be included in a college essay?
Answer the question.
This sounds obvious, but it can be easy to forget. Because personal essays are about you, you may find yourself on a roll re-living your memories. Your personal reflections are the key to keeping the reader invested, but don’t let them carry you away.
Stay focused on the essay prompt—for example, an essay question about an experience outside the classroom that shaped who you are. Make what you write about what you learned from the experience, not the exact details or context of the story.
Remember, this is more of a written job interview than a first date in paragraph form.
Focus on the topic
Everything is significant when it comes to telling your own story. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what you’ve seen, and this is not a time where a reader is judging your list of achievements.
The most crucial factor of your college admissions essay is that you’re writing about what’s truly important to you. Have confidence in your own choices—what music is special to you, the authors you most value, the extracurricular activities you participate in.
Your enthusiasm for wood carving, slam poetry, Coen Brothers movies, or whatever, is what will jump off the page. You can’t make up that passion, and you shouldn’t try.
Edit and proofread your essay
You need to check, double-check, sit for a while and check again to make sure your college admissions essay is as polished as possible. Basic grammar is really, really, important; it won’t get you into a school on its own, but without it, you could cost yourself a spot. You can ask other people to proofread your work. It always helps to have another pair of eyes to spot mistakes you may have missed.
Making sure you have the right punctuation in the right place and using active voice over passive is vital. That said, make sure your good grammar doesn’t keep the essay from sounding like you.
Don’t push to use fancier language or longer sentences than you normally would. Use the simplest word you need to get the point across—every time. Sell yourself as you really are, so that reading your writing and having a conversation with you both feel like meeting the same person.
What should you not do in a college essay?
Not only do we mean not exaggerating stories about yourself. We mean don’t fudge the details. If you don’t have a black belt in Muay Thai kickboxing, don’t say you do in your essay.
As compelling as someone else’s life story may be, it’s not for you to use. You can quote someone in your writing, and if there are quotes that are meaningful to you, you should. But don’t go overboard.
Everything you write should be true, with evidence to back it up, and the vast majority of what you write should be your own words. Do you know how easy it is to find out the truth about other people from their social media profiles? A college admissions officer or the school's admission office can fact-check you just as easily.
You’d be right to think that after working their way through a big pile of essays, the people reading yours could use a good laugh. That said, humor is tough in this kind of essay.
You know next to nothing about who will read it, let alone their senses of humor. As the Princeton Review warns, “What you think is funny and what an adult working in a college thinks is funny are probably different.” Even if you are highly confident in your humor, joking too much in this situation may give the wrong impression.
You don’t want a college to think you are too focused on education and that you can’t have fun. But they also need to know you will be taking your education seriously. One simple joke at the start or end of your essay is more than enough. Beyond that, keep things clean and businesslike.
Focus on relevant activities
Remember that your reader will have your transcripts and the rest of your application to tell them what your grades are as well as the list of clubs, sports teams, musical groups and volunteer organizations you belong to. Try very hard not to dump your entire life story or all your finer points into the essay.
Focus on singular moments or activities—pick the ones that stand out. And be specific. According to College Board , “Don’t simply state a fact to get an idea across, such as ‘I like to surround myself with people with a variety of backgrounds and interests.’
Do include specific details, examples, reasons and so on to develop your ideas.” Pick what’s best and most important about you and leave the rest out of the essay.
At the same time, don’t go against what you’ve written on the rest of your application. Keep the details straight, and if there’s something you want to reveal in the essay, just be sure it’s about your thoughts and feelings, not an important fact you left out elsewhere.
How do I make my college essay stand out?
Give them a different perspective.
Stand out from any common application essay. We mentioned above that college admissions officers or the admissions counselor appreciates anything that will break up the boring application process and reading hundreds of these essays. While an inappropriate joke isn’t the best way to do it, it’s still worth doing.
So once you’ve got the basics of what you want to say set in your mind, try delivering them from a different angle. Collegebasics.com suggests that, rather than answering an essay prompt directly, you answer it in the negative: tell the reader what you’re not going to do with the essay before telling them what you will do.
If the question asks what your ambitions for the future are, instead answer with what you don’t aspire to, and what that says about you.
Collegebasics.com goes on to suggest that you can make an admissions essay interesting by writing it like a piece of fiction or an autobiography.
“Try starting with a question. Challenge the reader by speaking directly to him/her. (Or) put the reader in media res, that is, in the middle of things. Place the reader in the middle of something happening or in the middle of a conversation.”
So, for example, if you want to tell the story of a piano recital, start with “So there I was, in front of a thousand people, and my hands were shaking so much I could barely touch the keys.”
Then fill in how you got to that point and what it says about you. If what you write is logical, easy to follow, and phrased correctly, you can afford to experiment with your delivery. Your reader will appreciate your mixing things up.
Proofread your essay
It should go without saying, but too many people make the mistake. So we’re saying it twice. Always read what you’ve written carefully, and multiple times.
It is very easy to miss simple mistakes while you’re during the writing process, so be sure to stop for a while so you can look at your essay with fresh eyes. But don’t just look for grammatical errors or misspellings.
Read your essay out loud so you can hear how it sounds. If sentences are too long, don’t make sense, or just don’t sound interesting enough, cut them, rephrase them or take them out.
Editing is just as important as writing, and it is the only proven way to get the best product. Along with reading your essay out loud, try reading it backwards, starting with the last section first.
As Lori Greene of Collegeexpress.com explains, “This may sound a bit silly, but when reading in sequential order, your brain tends to piece together missing information, or fill in the blanks, for you.
Reading each sentence on its own and backwards can help you realize not only typos and mistakes in grammar, but that you may have forgotten an article here and there, such as ‘a’ or ‘the.’”
Seek professional (or at least qualified) help
The problem with spending so much time on what can be a relatively short essay is that you look at it so much it starts to lose its meaning for you. So for the same reason you should read your work out loud or backwards, you have to get another pair of eyes and ears working on it, as well.
A fresh perspective can make all the difference and keep you from settling for something terrible. A good friend, parent, or better yet, a teacher can read what you’ve written and give you a reality check.
Encourage them to be constructive—it’s okay if they tell you what you’ve come up with is no good, as long as they can offer some feedback to help make it better. Ask them to judge whether the writing really sounds like you are talking.
And don’t let them get away with saying your essay is just “good,” either. Don’t leave them alone until they’ve told you at least one thing you can improve, or at least specific aspects they liked.
For more information on how to apply for college and make your application look as good as possible, visit northcentralcollege.edu/apply .
Jacob Imm is a communications specialist in the North Central College Office of Marketing and Communications. He has 10 years of collegiate communications experience and has worked with hundreds of college students. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University.
More North Central News & Stories
Get Free Profile Evaluation
Step-by-step guide on how to write a college essay.
Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University
Learning how to write a college essay is crucial for the application process. Follow along to learn how to write a college admission essay. how to write a college essay’
Writing a stellar college admission essay is essential for adding personal charm to your application and showcasing unique qualities beyond test scores and transcripts. Consider its length and structure when crafting an impactful essay.
This can significantly increase your chances of admission, especially when competing with applicants of similar credentials. Your college essays should illustrate your personality, commitment to learning, and eagerness to contribute to the college community.
Furthermore, it provides an opportunity to demonstrate soft skills such as compassion, leadership, and creativity, leaving a lasting impression on admissions officers.
How to Choose a Topic for an Essay?
Writing an essay can be difficult, especially if you don’t know what to write about. To help you choose a topic , there are a few things to keep in mind.
Select a captivating topic that appeals to both you and the reader. Remember, your essay serves as a persuasive case for your admission, so it should address the key questions: why you're a strong candidate and the contributions you'll make to the campus and community.Write about something that compels you to be introspective and genuine.
A great essay unveils a personal revelation you've never shared before, revealing an authentic side of yourself.
Craft a narrative that reflects ongoing personal growth and learning; life is a continuing journey without a clear ending. The best college essays don't conclude but leave the reader wanting more.
Opt for a time-relevant theme. While you can touch on earlier life moments, it's essential to demonstrate how current events shape you. For example, the pandemic and social justice movements have profoundly impacted today's world. Ignoring these topics may convey a lack of awareness and sensitivity, which can deter admissions officers.
How to Structure a College Admissions Essay
A college admissions essay does not necessarily have to follow the standard English essay format: five paragraphs, including an introduction and conclusion. However, specific requirements differ between each college . Below we’ll outline how a college admissions essay should typically be structured.
College admissions essays usually do not require a title. Some students, however, choose to include a title because it’s the first thing the admissions committee will read, and it’s another chance to capture interest, demonstrate personality, and reframe their essay as a whole.
A title is purely optional. If you choose to incorporate a title, here are some tips :
- Make sure your title is evocative , something that could be humorous, a play on words, or retell a moment of your life. Ensuring your title is interesting can be an effective way to draw in your reader and make them excited to read your essay.
- Avoid using vague language in your title to keep the reader engaged. If you can’t think of a gripping title, consider submitting your essay without one.
Number of Paragraphs
Unless otherwise noted from the college application requirements, the number of paragraphs is up to you.
Some essays can be four paragraphs, while others use eight.
However, your essay, like every other one you have written (and will write in college), will require an introduction and a conclusion . It must adhere to the word limit, which will be discussed below.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all template that you can follow when writing your college admission essay. You are allowed, however, to use basic structures when writing your essay that can work for any prompt.
You should also pay attention to any college application essay formatting guidelines your school provides.
13 Tips to Write a College Admission Essay
Here are 13 tips for writing college essays to help you get admitted ! These insider tips will help give you the competitive edge you need to write a stellar essay!
1. Read the Instructions Carefully
While this may seem redundant, remember that you must read the instructions carefully. If you do not follow the guidelines, it tells the admissions officer you will likely disregard instructions in your classes once admitted. Always read the instructions carefully and make notes so you are prepared to create your first draft.
2. Start With a Compelling Introduction
Writing is hard, but great writing is achievable if you follow the right path. Any journalist will tell you that the best way to get the readers’ attention is to have a great introduction. Admissions take a short time to review your essay, so start with a vivid introduction to engage them.
3. Use Your Inner Voice
Authenticity is greatly valued in post-secondary institutions, as it shows your quality of thinking. Avoid shaping your essay around popular phrases or ideas that have been used many times before; try to base it on your genuine beliefs.
Connect it to your skills, ambitions, and existing knowledge on the matter and how it will help you in your future endeavors.
4. Avoid Clichés
Contrary to popular belief, the killer of an otherwise excellent essay is the famous quote. We get it; Winston Churchill is an excellent source of inspiration! However, you must understand the sheer volume of essays and repetitive themes that admissions committees are reading. Instead, consider your reader's perspective.
Ask yourself, what’s something the admissions committee has never seen before? You’re halfway there already because they have never met you! Your unique experiences and qualities make you stand out, so lean into your own words rather than someone else’s.
5. Be Authentic, Not Generic
You’ve probably read a newspaper article at some point. You will notice that the writer fades their voice behind the facts, leaving you without any information on the author.
When writing your college admissions essay, you should do the exact opposite. You do not want to be one of the thousands of applicants who fail to make an impression.
Instead, you want the admissions officer to say: “This is an actual person who wrote this, someone with feeling and depth.” Being vulnerable and putting your personality into your essay is a great way to achieve this; be honest, personable, and stay true to your authentic voice. (Also, avoid cliches like famous quotes!)
6. Give Good Examples to Support Your Ideas
Ultimately, your college essay is a chance for admissions committees to understand the inner workings of your mind. While showcasing your soft skills, it can be challenging to sound credible. That’s why you need to support your story with anecdotal evidence.
The idea here is to avoid simply stating how great you are. Instead, include details of your story and examples to develop your ideas. In other words: show, don’t tell! For instance, rather than stating, “I’m an excellent leader,” tell a story about a time you demonstrated leadership and express what you learned.
7. Select a Prompt That Works in Your Favor
The Common Application, and a few schools, will give you a list of prompts to help you tell your story.
These prompts are useful starting points and invite students to think about challenges they’ve overcome or experiences that have made them grateful. It’s an opportunity to display your growth, strength, and what makes a candidate who they are.
8. Tell Your Story
Remember that your college admissions essay isn’t any ordinary paper, it’s a story. Be mindful of readability and construct your essay to maintain interest throughout the entire essay. Think of the classic methods of storytelling: your essay should have an intro, a body, a climax, and a clear conclusion without needing to explain over.
Most importantly, every good story has a message. For example, in the classic story of Cinderella, the main takeaway is that kindness (demonstrated through Cinderella’s actions) will be rewarded while selfishness (demonstrated through the evil stepmother and siblings) will not.
What’s your takeaway? What’s important to you, and why?
9. Be Exciting – Don’t Be Boring
Trying to act like an intellectual know-it-all is exhausting and a huge turn-off for college admissions. You need to be unique to get noticed. Write like you are a strong-minded individual. Use beautiful, descriptive language mixed with your typical casual language. Then, put emotion into your words to make your essay come alive!
10. Don’t Be Repetitive
Your admissions essay is the place to express yourself, not repeat the points of your resume that the admissions committee has already seen. Instead of repeating yourself, go deeper.
Consider what makes you a great candidate beyond your grades. Are you a leader? Are you passionate about the school? Whatever it is, show it!
11. Use Proper Formatting
When it comes to how to format your essay , readability is key. Use a reasonable font, one that is easily legible and professional-looking. Instead of cramming your main ideas in the first paragraph, balance your essay points.
Use soothing margins and declare the essay prompt and your answer in the introduction. Be consistent with spacing, indentation, and excellent spelling and punctuation. Also, be sure to follow citation rules as per the essay requirements (MLA, Chicago style, APA, etc.)
12. Edit. Then Edit Again
Of course, it’s important to edit your essay repeatedly. You can also have a friend, parent, or teacher help you before submitting your final version. Small grammar or spelling mistakes can be the difference between acceptance into a highly competitive program, so fire up the spell check!
13. Take Advantage of Resources
Though developing a strong college essay can be a long and tedious process, you don’t have to go through it alone. There is a wide range of online admission resources that you can access through various universities and nonprofit organizations.
Examples of College Essays for Ivy League Schools
Here are two examples of college essays to help you write your essay. Do not use our samples as your essay; it is only meant to serve as inspiration.
For more samples of essays, click here for 30 sample college essays that worked!
Essay Example 1
“A Path Towards Environmental Stewardship: My Journey to Columbia University
The delicate balance of our planet's ecosystems has always fascinated me. Growing up, my father's research on global warming ignited my curiosity and awakened a passion within me to make a positive impact on the planet's future. Now, as I stand at the precipice of my college journey, I am certain that pursuing an Environmental Science major is the path I must tread.
My interest in environmental science began at home, witnessing my father's tireless efforts to understand and combat the pressing issue of global warming. As a geoscientist, his dedication to research and his unwavering commitment to finding sustainable solutions inspired me greatly. Through conversations with him, I developed a deep understanding of the urgency to protect our planet and a burning desire to be part of the solution.
My high school education exposed me to the power of scientific inquiry. Courses in biology, chemistry, and physics helped me appreciate the intricate mechanisms that sustain life on Earth. As I delved deeper into environmental science, I realized that my passion lies not only in the study of ecosystems but also in understanding the human impact on our planet. It became clear to me that, armed with scientific knowledge, I could effect meaningful change by promoting sustainability and inspiring others to adopt eco-conscious practices.
Columbia University has long been at the forefront of environmental science research and education. The university's commitment to creating sustainable solutions and addressing global environmental challenges resonates deeply with my aspirations. Columbia's interdisciplinary approach, combining the sciences, policy, and social impact, aligns perfectly with my desire to explore the multifaceted nature of environmental issues. I am eager to learn from esteemed faculty members, engage in cutting-edge research, and collaborate with passionate peers who share my vision.
Beyond its academic excellence, Columbia University offers a vibrant community that thrives on diversity, inclusivity, and intellectual curiosity. I am drawn to the opportunity to engage in meaningful discussions and debates with fellow students who come from various backgrounds and cultures. I believe that this diverse tapestry of perspectives will broaden my understanding of environmental challenges and enrich my overall college experience.
At Columbia, I envision myself not only as a student but also as an advocate for environmental stewardship. I am excited to take advantage of the university's extensive resources and extracurricular opportunities to actively contribute to the cause. Whether it is organizing awareness campaigns, participating in research initiatives, or collaborating with local communities, I am determined to make a tangible difference. I believe that Columbia University's platform will empower me to transform my passion for the environment into actionable solutions.
As I embark on my college journey, I am confident that pursuing an Environmental Science major at Columbia University is the perfect step towards realizing my aspirations. The opportunity to learn from distinguished faculty, immerse myself in a diverse and intellectually stimulating community, and contribute to solving environmental challenges fills me with anticipation. With my father's inspiration guiding my path, I am ready to embrace the educational and personal growth opportunities that Columbia offers, transforming my passion into a lifelong commitment to environmental stewardship. Together, we can create a sustainable future for generations to come.”
Why this essay works: The writer clearly highlights their passion, and immediately delves into the initial discovery of their interest. He takes the reader on a journey through time, beginning with witnessing his fathers impactful work and continuing through his high school education.
The writer also does an excellent job of including school-specific knowledge. He clearly highlights why he is interested in attending Columbia and notes how he will contribute to Columbia’s student culture.
Finally, the applicant ends on a high note by affirming his interest in Columbia University and looking toward the future. Your essay should highlight where you intend to go after your degree to let the admissions committee know how serious you are about completing your education to the best of your ability.
Essay Example 2
“Why do these academic areas appeal to you?”
“Following my call to public service which started when I first heard Barack Obama speak, I plan to run for office in the future, and the areas of ethics, politics, and economics plus political science will provide the quintessential lens through which I can prepare for becoming an elected official.
In today’s page of our proverbial history book, it’s critically important to study the voices of the unheard throughout history, as well as the laws that have enabled such structural violence - in order to ensure that it never happens again. To that end, I’m currently reading “A Black Woman’s History of the United States.”
Beyond the borders of these United States, global affairs appeals to me because of the varied ways in which education is approached around the world. During high school, I interviewed 15 students from different areas worldwide - UK, India, and Vietnam - to learn about global educational differences. My conclusion? The rate-limiting factor for education is a hyperfocus on traditional Socratic rote memorization and testing rather than real-world application. In our digital world laden with mobile applications, perhaps the solution is technological implementation. Only time and further research opportunities (at Yale) will tell…”
Why this essay works : The writer uses a personal story to answer the prompt and relates it to their interests. They also use effective storytelling to guide the reader through their journey of developing their interest in public service without overdoing it.
Access 185+ More Sample College Essays Here
College Admission Essay Creation FAQs
Still have questions? Here are some answers to FAQs.
1. Can I Use the Same Essay for Different Schools?
Yes. You must first research each school’s essay questions or prompts. Most schools use a common list of prompts, but others have their application requirements. It would not hurt to tweak your essay for colleges based on the topics provided. For example, the length of college essays typically varies between schools.
2. Why Shouldn't I Write About My Awards Or Accomplishments?
Your academic achievements and credentials will appear in different parts of your applications, so relying on them in your essay would be redundant. Remember, your essay must add insight to your application and reveal your thoughts, motivations, and who you are as a person.
3. When Should I Start Planning My College Essay? When Should I Write My College Essay?
It is advised students should use the summer before their senior year to reflect on their experiences and determine what they would like to share with the admission committee. Ideally, you should complete the first draft of your essay by the start of school in September, which will allow you to focus on your senior year.
4. What Makes A Good College Essay?
A good college essay makes an impact on the reader. Your essay should demonstrate your unique personal experience, values, and perspective. Avoid cliches; the only way to write a memorable college essay is to maintain originality and authenticity.
You can also use formatting tools to make your essay stand out, such as beginning the essay with a question or using descriptive language to paint a picture of a significant person, place, or thing. Just make sure whatever method you choose is compliant with the college application essay format rules outlined by your target schools
5. What Do Colleges Look For in Essays?
Your college essays aim to show who you are beyond your academic achievements. Colleges are looking for what makes you a great candidate and how you’ll add to their community, but mainly they want to get to know you! That’s why it’s important to be authentic and avoid listing achievements they’ve already seen.
6. What Should I Avoid When I Write My College Essays?
When writing college essays, there are many things you should avoid , such as:
- Irrelevant information
- Poor grammar
Tailor each essay to the specific college, avoid controversial topics, and be cautious with humor. Aim for a balanced, authentic writing style.
7. How Long Should a College Application Essay Be?
Colleges often specify a word count for admission essays. If not specified, you can inquire about the limit. It's generally good practice to stay within the word count. Slightly exceeding (one to three words) may be acceptable, but be cautious.
Now that you know how to write a college essay, it will be a breeze. Colleges want to know the person applying for their school, and the essay is the best way to humanize you!
Access 190+ sample college essays here
Get A Free Consultation
You may also like.
Best Ivy League Schools for Finance
The Best Software Engineering Schools: Your Guide
If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.
If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.
Course: college admissions > unit 4, writing a strong college admissions essay.
- Avoiding common admissions essay mistakes
- Brainstorming tips for your college essay
- How formal should the tone of your college essay be?
- Taking your college essay to the next level
- Sample essay 1 with admissions feedback
- Sample essay 2 with admissions feedback
- Student story: Admissions essay about a formative experience
- Student story: Admissions essay about personal identity
- Student story: Admissions essay about community impact
- Student story: Admissions essay about a past mistake
- Student story: Admissions essay about a meaningful poem
- Writing tips and techniques for your college essay
Want to join the conversation?
- Upvote Button navigates to signup page
- Downvote Button navigates to signup page
- Flag Button navigates to signup page