Split blue image, woman with tablet, man at laptop, words Ask the Experts

What's the Best Advice for Writing a College Essay?

There's a lot of advice on how to write the college application essay, but you need to be careful who you listen to. Find out the best (and worst) tips here!

Kim LiftonDino Pruccoli
Director of International Admission
DePaul University
Writing is a process that takes time. Allow people you trust to be part of that journey, but remember that writing, ultimately, is a lonely craft. The essay is about you. You need to write it, and if you are successful, you will arrive at your destination by yourself. Here are a few rules of thumb to follow.

  • Your essay is not a message to your friends. You must write in full, grammatically correct sentences that consist of real words. Here is the test: If your school counselor doesn't understand what you have written, your language is probably not appropriate for an institute of higher learning. If you have any doubt about what is appropriate, take a look at the college’s websites and brochures. Let their language be your benchmark for what's acceptable.
  • Don’t be too proud to ask for help. Even the best writers acknowledge that they're not the best editors of their own material. Writing tends to blind you for your own grammatical and spelling mistakes. More than that, other editors can point out inconsistencies in your logic. If they can't follow your arguments, the reviewers will probably lose you as well—exactly what you do not want to happen.
  • Keep it simple. Complex sentences are traps, and it’s easy to misuse words automatically suggested by a thesaurus. Don't get intoxicated by the exuberance of your own verbosity either. Reviewers know that big words often hide small ideas.
  • Let it age. Do your writing early (i.e., well before any deadlines), leave it alone, and go back to it after a few days. When you do, read it aloud. That will help you spot awkward sentences. If it doesn't sound right, it does not read right.
  • Stick to the topic at hand. If the college asks you to answer a question, then be sure there’s actually an answer in your writing!

Kim LiftonKim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop
There’s a lot of advice out there when it comes to writing the college essay. We’ve read and heard it all—and if you’re a high school junior or senior planning your own essay writing process, you’ve probably heard it too! But you should be careful about what you believe:  

  • Some folks share templates for writing standout college essays. (Email templates can be useful, but essay templates don’t work!)
  • Others promise that if you answer a bunch of specific questions, you’ll be guaranteed great essays. (Nope—you should never use an essay writing service.)
  • There are countless books on the market filled with sample college essays that apparently got students just like you admitted into the nation’s most selective schools. (This type of claim is out of context; even the most amazing essay never got a student into college on its own!)
  • Some people might tell you there are only a few types of college admission essays; if you master those, you’ll be golden. (Come on…really?)

Trust me—there’s only one type of college essay admission officers want to read. And that’s your story written in your own words and in your own voice. If you’ve watched Wow Writing Workshop’s YouTube videos or student webinars, you know we understand a lot about the college essay and like to share our knowledge with parents and students. We operate on three principles that can make writing any essay a whole lot easier: process, plan, and schedule. Is it fancy? Not really. But it works—every time. As you start thinking about your own college essay, remember:  

  • Follow a process.
  • Plan ahead.
  • Keep to a schedule. 

And beware of the gimmicks and promises surrounding the college admission essay. We hope you’ll ignore them, because there really are no shortcuts. 

Want to learn more? Download a free copy of Kim’s e-book: How to Write an Effective College Application Essay: The Inside Scoop for Students.

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