If you want to go to college or university, you must write a college admissions essay. Writing your essay for your college application is an overwhelming project. Your essay is your opportunity to show colleges who you are—something many students get stressed out by. But don't let that stress paralyze you.
In this article, I'm sharing five tips for how to write a standout college admissions essay. These tips come straight from a college admissions counselor with over ten years of experience in the field. Let's dive in.
Tip #1: Start With Reflection
Before you start writing, you need to do some reflection. Who are you at this point in your life? Why do you want to go to college? What are you hoping to achieve in college?
These are big questions for a teenager and for many students, the college admission essay is the first time that they are expected to write about themselves in this way. Before you start thinking about a story or topic to write about, spend some time thinking about yourself and how you want to share the story of you in your applications.
Tip #2: Draw the Reader In
Admission offices receive ever-increasing numbers of applications each year and have a short time to review all of them. That means that they will probably read your application quickly. If your essay’s opening doesn’t draw them in, they might not feel compelled to read everything you’ve written.
Opening with a narrative anecdote or glimpse into a moment in time is a common way to structure your essay to achieve this goal, but not the only way. If you have a great sense of humor, start out with something funny! If you are known for your creativity, don’t feel boxed in by any typical essay structure.
Tip #3: Be Specific and Authentic
For most college admission essays, you have less than 650 words to share a story with the admission office. You don’t have a lot of space to tell a long story or share everything about yourself. Focus in on a specific moment in time, experience, or value to give your reader insight into who you are.
Being specific can also help you avoid writing a generic essay that many applicants could have written. Your admission reader wants to learn more about who you are in your own words, so ask yourself (or a friend), "Does this sound like me?"
Tip #4: Consider What You Want Your Reader to Know About You
Once you’ve written a draft of your essay, check back in with the earlier reflection you did. Think about what you want the reader to learn about you through the story you have told. Does the essay show what you hoped it would? Does it give your reader insight into who you are and who you might be in their community? Are you explaining why you’ve told a particular story or are you hoping that your reader will sense what you’re trying to say?
Tip #5: Start Early and Revise Often
The best time to write your college essay is the summer before your senior year. You’ll have more time to do the reflection necessary to write a great essay before your senior classes and extracurriculars ramp up and you’ll have time to revisit it before submitting.
You may end up writing multiple versions of the same story or you might find that your original idea doesn’t accomplish what you want it to and discover a totally new topic that is more effective. That's okay and part of the process!
Once you’ve completed your topic, make sure that you thoroughly proofread your writing. Awkward language, incorrect punctuation, spelling errors, and other mistakes will distract your reader from the story you’ve worked so hard on crafting.
Your college essay should hook your reader and make him or her want to know more about you. Your essay should be personal, engaging, and free of grammar and spelling errors. As you (or your student) prepare your college application, keep these tips in mind to ensure your essay grabs the attention of the admissions committee.