Updated: Aug 25
Writing a college essay, more if you're applying to multiple prestigious programs and universities, can be the most stressful and taxing part of applying for college. There is a lot riding on your ability to convey your thoughts, and a well written and well-constructed college essay can be the difference between attending the school of your dreams and attending your backup school. As daunting as the task may seem, however, it’s an integral part of the college application process and, really, the only part of the process that you can fully control.
Though college admission boards place the most weight on grades (G.P.A.), test scores, extracurricular activities, and recommendation letters, the college essay is your chance to show the college who you are and how you think. Sometimes, a powerful college essay can be the one thing that tips the scales in your favor, even if your grades weren’t the best in your class. For that reason, college essays are absolutely vital. It may seem a little overwhelming, but there are several things you can do to ensure the best possible essay.
1. Don’t Procrastinate
You’ve probably put off an essay for English class until the last minute and gotten away with it, but that won’t fly here. Colleges are looking for how you think and how you write; if you wait until the last minute you won’t produce your best work. Don’t sell yourself short. Allow yourself the time to craft a truly powerful essay.
Many students make the mistake of not thinking about what they’re going to write about before beginning the process. They simply read the question and start writing. Take some time, a few days even, to consider the question and come up with a lot different ways to write on the topic. Your first thoughts might not be your best, but a great idea could be just around the corner. This will also help you avoid clichéd writing. Speaking of which…
3. Don’t Use Clichés
College admission boards read thousands and thousands of essays a year, most of which are virtually indistinguishable from each other. For example, a lot of colleges will ask you to write about someone who has influenced you. How many essays about influential fathers and grandmothers do you think they’re reading? The answer is “a lot”. Really dig deep and try to be as original as possible.
4. Write, Rewrite, and Edit
Here’s a secret no one tells you about writing: there’s a huge difference between what you’re reading and what the author first wrote down. Once you’ve decided on your topic, write about it freely, with the knowledge that what you’re writing is far from what you’ll be submitting. This will help you solidify your ideas and your thoughts, which you can rework later. After several drafts, you’ll have a better piece, one that shows university admission boards what you can accomplish academically. Also be sure to double and triple check for typos and grammatical errors before you submit your essay.
5. Get Notes from Teachers
Before finalizing your college essay, let a teacher you trust and admire read through it and give you comments. Their years in education have given them deep insights into the college admissions process and their input can help you push your final draft nearer to perfection.
6. Write Passionately
Like I said earlier, college essays are your chance to show the admissions board who you are. Let them know who you are by showing your passion. Be interesting and exciting in your answers and, most important, be yourself. Keep in mind though, passion doesn’t always mean intensity. You can show passion by citing resources and quoting statistics; this will show the admissions board you’ve researched your topic and know how to speak on a subject without resorting to ranting and raving.
7. Make Sure You Answer the Question
Sometimes an essay prompt will be something like, “Pick a big moment and your life; describe and explain how it impacted you.” Some students might decide to write about how they scored the winning touchdown in the Big Game, giving just a description of the rush of being on the field and how they felt after winning. But that doesn’t fully answer the question, does it? Make sure you’re addressing every part of the question—even a fantastically written essay will count against you if you fail to address the entire prompt.
As nerve wracking as the college essay portion of the application might be, it doesn’t need to be difficult. Not everyone is a great writer, and colleges understand this. You don’t need to be a great writer to write great college essays, however. Following these simple steps will go a long way towards helping you craft a great college essay.