The essay is a major part of your college application. It’s not only about listing personal information or accomplishments but also about showing colleges the things about yourself that your grades and resume can’t explain. College admissions officials want to get a sense of who you are and what you would contribute to their school—this is an opportunity to add your voice to the entire application. The number of essays required will range depending on the university. If you are using the Common App, there will be one main essay submitted to all the universities, but many universities will have supplemental essays in addition.
Getting Started on Your College Essay
Write an outline to plan your essay, and if there is a prompt, make sure that the essay follows what is asked. Let the first draft flow – it doesn’t have to be perfect! Create intrigue in the opening paragraph – the opening sentence should make you want to keep reading. Use specific and vivid details to show the reader what happened in your story, rather than just telling. Make sure to stay focused on the point of your story, and provide a clear, complete response.
Craft A College Application Essay that Stands Out
College essays are your opportunity to stand out from other applicants. You should feel free to express yourself and show colleges who you really are as a person and as a student. Don’t simply put facts on paper. Tell a personal story, talk about somebody important to you and why, or describe an experience that changed you. Whatever you choose to write about, just make sure you believe in it. Colleges want to read about the real you.
Proofread Your Essay!
Make sure to proofread your essays carefully. A computer’s spell check doesn’t catch everything, and small errors can be a big deal. Read your essay(s) aloud to yourself. Ask several people (teachers, mentors, parents, coaches) to read the essay, and provide feedback. Another person is more likely to notice errors, and they can also identify areas of improvement. Embrace constructive criticism. You should be writing several drafts of this essay.
- Be clear and concise — do not go over the word limit
- Be honest — do not embellish your achievements and experiences
- Be an individual — distinguish yourself from the thousands of other students applying
- Be accurate — be mindful of grammar and punctuation errors
- Revise, revise, revise — you should complete several drafts of the essay
- Be casual — do not use informal language like slang
- Use clichés — avoid vague and meaningless language
- Plagiarize — don’t take words or ideas from someone else
- Focus entirely on the college — the essay is about you, not the college.
- Forgetting to change the name of the college listed in your essay if you are sending it to multiple schools
- Copying former essays
- Using big words for the sake of using them – good writers use the best words, not the biggest
- Writing more or less than is required – follow the directions
- Solely reciting information that can be found on your resume or application
- Focusing on the great aspects of a particular college – the focus should be on the student
More Advice on Writing a Winning College Essay
Big Future’s “8 Tips for Crafting Your Best College Essay“
NACAC’s “Top Ten Tips for Writing a College Essay“
Big Future’s video on “Tips for Writing an Effective College Application Essay“