Your college essay has the potential to make or break your application. It’s your chance to put yourself in context, express your ideals and qualities, and differentiate yourself from other students.
There are a few crucial components to a successful essay:
• A distinct and personal subject
• A well-structured, intriguing story
• A creative, straightforward writing style
• Evidence of introspection and reflection
Allow adequate time for thinking, writing, rewriting, and feedback in order to do this.
We bring you through every step of the college admissions essay writing process in this detailed tutorial.
Why do you require a unique essay?
While the majority of your application includes your academic achievements, your college admissions essay is your chance to tell the university about yourself and why you’d be a good fit.
Your college admissions essay is worth roughly 25% of the total weight of your application, and it could be worth even more if some universities make the SAT and ACT tests optional. The college admissions essay may be the determining element in your application, especially for competitive colleges when the majority of students have outstanding grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities.
In an essay, what do colleges look for?
To gain a more complete picture of you than your test scores and grades, admissions staff want to learn about your background, personality, and values. What universities check for in an essay are the following:
• Values and qualities demonstrated
• Authenticity and vulnerability
• Insight and self-reflection
• Writing skills that are creative, clear, and succinct
Begin planning early.
To make the application process easier, start organizing your college application schedule in the summer of your junior year. This will give you plenty of time to think about your essay, write it, revise it, and get feedback.
While each student’s timetable may vary, plan to spend at least 1–3 weeks brainstorming and producing your first draft, and at least 2–4 weeks rewriting numerous revisions. Remember to give ample time between each writing and editing stage for breaks.
Make a tracker sheet for your essays.
If you’re applying to several schools, you’ll need to write multiple essays for each one. To help you see and organize the information, we recommend utilizing an essay tracker spreadsheet:
• Due dates and the quantity of essays required
• You can write one essay for multiple prompts if they are comparable.
Using our free Google Sheets template, you may create your own essay tracker.
Template for a college essay tracker
Pick a unique topic.
Starting to think about college essay ideas the summer before your senior year is ideal. Remember that a unique topic makes it easier to compose a standout essay.
If you’re writing on a typical essay topic like a sports injury or volunteer work abroad, consider how you might make it distinctive and personal. To set your essay apart from others, you’ll need to show profound insight and write it in an innovative manner.
What characteristics distinguish a good topic?
• Personal and meaningful to you
• Unexpected or with an unusual angle
• Distinguishes itself from the rest of your application
Questions for consideration
Before deciding on a topic, you should have a thorough brainstorming session. To begin started, consider the following questions:
• What are your five most important values? What examples from your life reflect these values?
• What words would your family and friends use to describe you?
• What difficulties or setbacks have you experienced and overcame? What did you take away from them?
• What distinguishes you from your classmates?
• What are some items that represent your identity, community, relationships, passions, or objectives?
• Who do you look up to the most? Why?
• Who are the three most influential individuals in your life? What effect did they have on you?
How do you choose your topic?
Here are two approaches to finding a topic that reflects your values:
• Begin with your strengths: Identify positive aspects of oneself first, then come up with stories that highlight these attributes.
• Begin with a story: Make a list of notable life events, and then assign a value to each one.
Plan out your essay.
After you’ve decided on a topic, write an essay outline to assist you stay focused while you’re writing. A college applications essay has no predetermined structure, unlike a five-paragraph academic essay. You can use storytelling approaches to shape your essay if you want to be more imaginative.
Your essay might be structured in two ways: as a collection of vignettes or as a single story.
Structure of Vignettes
The vignette, or montage, structure connects multiple stories that are linked by a common topic. Each narrative should highlight one of your values or qualities and end with a thought or outlook for the future.
This structure allows the admissions officer a view into your personality, background, and identity, as well as how your characteristics manifest themselves in various aspects of your life.
An example of a vignette essay outline
My experiences in a museum with a “five senses” show
• Tour leader presents my museum and the exhibit “Making Sense of My Heritage”
o Eyewitness account of racial discrimination
o Lesson: Documenting reality with my writing
o Backstory: Passion for Broadway musicals
o Lesson: Recognizing my own voice
o Backstory: Family dinner table odors
o Lesson: Value your home and family
o Theme: Dishwashing
o Lesson: Finding tranquility in a hectic schedule
o Ava’s Biking Adventure
o Lesson: Taking pride in a work well done
The Tour closes with the tour guide inviting guests to return for the “fall College Collection,” which emphasizes my search for identity and learning.
A single-story building
A chronological narrative is used in the single story, or narrative, structure to depict a student’s character development over time. Some narrative essays focus on specific moments in a short event, while others tell the story of a lengthier journey that lasts months or years.
If you have overcome a huge struggle or want to demonstrate personal growth, single tale essays are helpful.
An example of a narrative essay outline
Topic: Sports injuries help me grow as a student and person.
• Injury to a football player
• Obstacle: Friends are far away, teachers are clueless, and football is no longer an option for me.
• Watershed moment: I began to enjoy Ms. Brady’s history class; I met Christina and her pals.
• My reactions: reading poetry; discovering a common interest in poetry with Christina; spending more time studying and socializing with people who are not like me.
• Insight: They taught me compassion and opened my eyes to a different way of life; despite the fact that I’m still unable to play football, I’m beginning a new game.
Create a list of creative ideas or story arcs.
Try to create an unexpected story arc or novel ideas, regardless of the framework of your essay, especially if you’re writing about a popular topic.
To appear intriguing, never exaggerate or create information about oneself. Try to make connections in your life that aren’t based on clichéd narratives and lessons.
A unique perspective
Making an all-state team is a tremendous accomplishment.
Counting the cost of saying “no” to other interests in order to make an all-state squad
Finding common ground, forgiving, and making a friend out of an enemy
Make a friend out of an enemy by confronting your own destructive thoughts and actions.
A choir tour provides an opportunity to go to different places around the world.
A chance to help lead younger kids on a choir tour
Volunteering has taught me how to serve others and care about my community.
Volunteering has taught me to be wary of fake resume-building.
Choosing the moral high ground by reporting a friend for drug use
Turning a friend up for drug use and realizing how hypocritical it is to keep your secrets hidden
Begin with a memorable greeting.
Every year, admissions officers examine hundreds of essays and spend only a few minutes with each one. Your beginning, or hook, must grab the reader’s interest and urge them to read more in order to convey your point.
Avoid using a famous phrase, a cliché, or a direct allusion to the topic (“While I set down to write this essay…”).
While conversation or a relevant remark from a close family member or friend might be used occasionally, make sure it encompasses your essay’s overarching idea.
Using the two strategies below, come up with an original and creative way to begin your essay.
Option 1: Begin with a captivating hook.
Begin your essay with a surprising statement to catch the reader’s interest and compel them to read it carefully. A strange beginning subverts the reader’s expectations and raises questions that can only be solved by continuing to read.
The Rose Arimoto Museum welcomes you. You are about to join the collection “Making Sense of My Heritage.” Allow me to lead you through a few of the displays, which are carefully selected memories of Rose’s sensory experiences.
Option 2: Begin with strong imagery.
Create a vivid, detailed image that immerse your reader into your recollection right away. You can begin in the middle of a significant scene or describe an object that embodies the idea of your essay.
Like I get out of bed, the pain runs up my leg and through my foot, as it has every morning since “the game.” A defensive linebacker tackled me that night, his 212 pounds falling squarely on my ankle. I could hear the sound before I could feel it.
Write as an artist would.
You can be innovative with your style and tone in a college application essay. Use fascinating words to enliven your story and make it stand out while you create your essay.
Don’t tell, show
In writing, “tell” simply means “to declare a fact,” as in “I am a basketball player.” In writing, “show” refers to using specific facts, instances, and vivid imagery to assist the reader visualize your memory: “My heart races as I prepare to shoot a three-pointer in two seconds and one second!”
To recall the most memorable features of a certain image or scenario, consider every detail.
• Which photographs stand out the most?
• Are there any specific noises, scents, or tastes that come to mind when you think about this memory?
• What emotion or bodily sensation were you experiencing at the time?
As we settle around the table, the sweet fragrance of candied yams, fun see, and Spam musubi wafts around the room. For our Thanksgiving feast, my Pau Pau prepares a fragrant mash-up of American, Chinese, and Japanese cuisine. My favorite is cha siu bau, which has a delicate, pillowy white skin that hides a delicious braised BBQ pork filling inside. Only a family prayer lies between me and the opportunity to relish these delectable morsels, whose familiar savory scents soothe me.
To elicit an emotional response, be vulnerable.
You don’t have to reveal a great secret or a horrific story to elicit an emotional response, but you should dig deep to explain your own feelings, thoughts, and experiences. Vulnerability demonstrates maturity and humility. However, don’t go overboard in order to earn compassion.
My spirit was broken by my broken ankle. As I stumbled around the halls at school, my pals steered away of me. My teachers attempted to strike a careful balance between allowing me space while yet offering me assistance. I was as perplexed as they were about how to cope with themselves.
Use the right tone and manner.
Follow these recommendations to ensure your essay has the proper style and tone:
• Write in a conversational yet respectful tone: less formal than academic writing, but more formal than texting with friends.
• Emphasize your point of view by employing “I” statements.
• To preserve a genuine voice, write within your vocabulary range.
• Keep the tempo up by writing clearly and in the active voice.
• Use proper grammar (unless you have valid stylistic reasons for breaking them).
Make a powerful conclusion.
To create a great final impression on the reader, you should end your college essay with a deep insight or unique conclusion. Avoid the following in your college admissions essay:
• Recapping what you’ve already written
## Expressing your desire to attend the school
• Mentioning character attributes that should have been demonstrated in the essay, such as “I work hard.”
Here are two methods for writing a strong conclusion.
Option 1: Sandwich construction with a full circle
The essay’s full circle, or sandwich, structure ends with a picture, idea, or tale that was referenced in the opening. This method provides a powerful sense of closure to the reader.
The essay in the example below closes by returning to the writer’s opening metaphor of a “museum.”
Thank you for your time and consideration. Our tour is now complete. I hope you will join us for the College Experience collection next fall, which will showcase Rose’s ongoing search for identity and learning.
Option 2: Sharing your knowledge
You might utilize the conclusion to demonstrate the knowledge you obtained as a result of your experiences. Suspense is created by revealing your key message at the conclusion, which keeps the takeaway in the forefront of your reader’s mind.
I still limp through the corridors at school, but it doesn’t bother me as much anymore. My friends no longer avoid me, and I have a lot more of them now. My teachers, encouraged by my renewed passion in learning, consistently encourage me to learn more and do my best. Football is still on hold, but I finally feel like I’m playing a meaningful game.
My spirit was broken by my broken ankle. My naivety was then broken.
Rewrite and get comments
Check the substance, style, and punctuation of your essay before submitting it. Request comments from only two or three people.
It’s common to go through numerous rounds of revision, but take a break between each level of editing.
Check out our college essay samples to learn what works and what doesn’t in an essay, as well as what modifications you can do to make yours better.
Keep the word count in mind.
The word count for each essay is usually specified by the institution, and you should stay within 10% of the higher limit.
To demonstrate that you can write concisely and follow directions, stay within the word count restriction. However, don’t write too little, as this could indicate that you’re hesitant or unable to create a well-thought-out essay.
Check your grammar, style, and content.
• First, look at the big picture of message, flow, and clarity.
• Next, look for flaws with style and tone.
• Finally, concentrate on correcting grammar and punctuation.
Get input from 2–3 people who are familiar with college essays, know you well, and have good writing skills.
• Check your material, phrasing, and tone with teachers and guidance counselors.
• Authenticity can be verified by friends and relatives.
• An essay coach or editor is knowledgeable in college applications essays and can provide objective advice.
The checklist below will assist you in ensuring that your essay meets all of the requirements.
Checklist for college admissions essays
0 out of 12
• I’ve arranged my essay prompts and made a schedule for composing essays.
• I’ve done a thorough brainstorming session for essay ideas.
• I’ve chosen a topic that is personally relevant to me and stands out from the rest of my application.
• To guide my framework, I’ve produced an outline.
• I’ve created an exciting hook or vivid picture in the start to attract the reader’s attention.
• I’ve written my essay in a style that demonstrates rather than tells.
• In my essay, I demonstrated positive characteristics and ideals.
• In my essay, I displayed self-reflection and awareness.
• I used the proper style and tone.
• I’ve ended with a thought or a creative conclusion.
• I went over my essay again, double-checking the general message, flow, clarity, and language.
• I stuck to the word count, staying within 10% of the maximum word count.