How to Write a College Application Essay

You may ask yourself how colleges decide who to admit to their programs. And the answer to this question might not be what you have in mind.

Here is the thing: colleges consider many things, including SAT and CAT scores, extracurricular activities, and high school grades, when deciding who they will admit.

However, some colleges have not been focusing on test scores recently, which might surprise some. Instead, lots of colleges are choosing “test-blind” admission policies, which focus more on other parts of your college application. The upside to this change in policy is that it’s viewed as fairer for students who lack the resources or opportunity to take tests or for those who struggle with test anxiety.

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So, what does this mean for you?

It means that your college essay, which has always been a requirement for any college application, holds more weight than ever.

Your college essay is your chance to introduce yourself to admissions committees, who sift through thousands of applications yearly. It’s your opportunity to shine and prove that you belong in their classrooms.

A well-crafted and thoughtful essay reflecting your true self and beliefs can set your application apart from the rest that admissions officers read. With many colleges now disregarding test scores, your essay may carry even more importance.

In the following sections, we’ll explore strategies to help your essay stand out. We’ll discuss how to begin your essay, what to include, and the key elements for an outstanding college essay.

Be Genuine

Above all else, it’s crucial to select a topic or viewpoint that aligns with your true self.

Readers can easily detect insincerity in writing.

Insincerity might manifest through overly elaborate language that doesn’t match natural speech or selecting a trivial topic that doesn’t reveal much about you.

Use your voice, inject humor if it comes naturally, and write authentically.

Choose a topic that genuinely matters to you rather than one you think will impress. Whether it’s a personal experience, a hobby, or a unique aspect of your personality, ensure it resonates with you deeply.

Don’t hesitate to discuss your weaknesses alongside your strengths. Being honest about areas for improvement or challenges you’ve faced can often connect more strongly with readers than merely boasting about achievements.

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Start Strong

With numerous applicants vying for an admission officer’s attention, it’s essential to make a solid first impression when considering how to start your essay.

Begin your essay with an opening sentence or paragraph that immediately captivates the reader’s imagination. This could be a striking statement, a meaningful quote, a thought-provoking question, or a vivid description.

A powerful start and a clear thesis statement can set the tone for your essay and guide you through the writing process. Whether you aim to craft a compelling narrative or present a persuasive argument, a bold beginning serves as a roadmap, drawing the reader in from the outset and outlining the purpose of your writing.

Your Focus Should Be on Meaningful Themes

Some writers believe that loading their essays with lots of facts, numbers, and success stories—like winning games or doing volunteer work—will impress the people who read their applications. But that’s not really what matters.

College admissions officers want to know more about who you are and what’s important to you.

They’re interested in understanding what experiences have shaped you and brought you to where you are now. They want to read about the challenges you’ve faced, the lessons you’ve learned, and how you’ve grown—not just about how many goals you scored in soccer or how many people you helped at a soup kitchen.

So, when you talk about your experiences, think about how they’ve changed you as a person, friend, family member, or leader. Explain how winning that soccer game made you feel or how volunteering at the soup kitchen made you think differently about your future. What did you learn about yourself along the way?

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Break the Mold

Consider approaching your topic from a completely new angle to make your essay truly memorable. Many students highlight their successes, but why not delve into the lessons learned from your setbacks and failures?

For those with a knack for storytelling, you could inject an element of surprise by withholding the answer to a question until the very end of your essay. While it’s tempting to avoid common themes like triumphs in sports, volunteer experiences, or personal achievements, they remain popular for a good reason—they reflect the diverse journeys of high school students. Rather than steering clear of these topics entirely, focus on infusing them with a fresh perspective and unique insights. This approach will set your essay apart and leave a lasting impression on admissions officers.

Write for Your Reader

When you write with your reader in mind, you craft a clear and cohesive argument where each idea flows seamlessly into the next.

Utilize transitions between paragraphs to guide your reader smoothly through your essay.

Consider any missing information that your reader might need. Are there ideas included that don’t effectively support your main theme?

Ensure your essay makes sense and is well-organized. Does your opening captivate the reader’s attention? Is there a compelling conclusion? Have you provided sufficient background information without being overly wordy? These are all questions to consider as you polish your essay for your reader’s enjoyment and understanding.

Avoid Repetition

Ensure you don’t reiterate any activities, stories, or anecdotes from other parts of your application in your essay. Your essay should offer new insights to college admissions officers. Everything you write should align with the overall theme of your application. Additionally, ensure you fully address any questions or prompts provided at the beginning.

Seek Feedback

Ask individuals from various demographic backgrounds—such as teachers, parents, or siblings—to read your essay. Listen carefully to their feedback and revise your essay to address any confusion they express.

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Pay Attention to Structure

While there may not be strict word limits for college essays, it’s generally best to keep them concise. The Common App suggests aiming for around 650 words.

Ensure that your essay is visually appealing by using readable font, proper spacing, and correct formatting for dialogue. A well-presented essay is more likely to engage readers.

End Your Essay with a Kicker

In journalism, a “kicker” is the final punchy line, paragraph, or section that brings everything together, leaving a lasting impression on the reader.

So, here’s our advice: Be concise, engage in honest self-reflection, and include vivid details and anecdotes to illustrate your point effectively.

While a fantastic essay won’t guarantee acceptance, it can tip the scales in your favor. Remember, writing is a process, so revise and refine your work.

And if you need help crafting your application essays, don’t hesitate to reach out! We offer assistance to students seeking guidance in their application journey. Good luck!

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