Why Your English Paper Doesn't Make a Strong College Essay

President, Wow Writing Workshop

Year after year, students send us college application essays to review that were written for an English class. Most of the essays earned A’s . . . but not a single one was ready to submit with a college application.

For example, one boy wrote a beautiful piece recounting many fabulous trips overseas, offering vivid descriptions of buildings and places and emphasizing how much he loved traveling. The sentences flowed; the spelling was perfect; the essay had a beginning, middle, and end. This boy knew how to write. Yet, while the essay was excellent by high school standards, it lacked reflection and needed more focus to catch the attention of an admission officer.

A college application essay is not an English paper—if they wanted an English paper, they could’ve asked for one. Rather, it is an opportunity to show admission officers who you are, how you will fit in, and that you can write well enough to succeed at their school.

Forget about rubrics and grades. Ditch the five-paragraph essay format. Just write something genuine, something reflective, something that will make the person reading your essay smile and want to know more about you.

The student who wrote about his worldly travels for English class turned his broad story into a more insightful piece about a single night out in Spain when he realized how much culture and community mean to him. Getting there took time and reflection. It was all worth it when he landed a coveted spot at his first-choice college, one of the most competitive public institutions in the nation.

Think of that college essay you write in English class as a draft, just as this student did. He wrote it for his teacher, a person who already knew quite a bit about him. He later revised it for the admission counselor. Don’t assume the college essay you give to your teacher is finished and will cut it for college.

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