Writing your college essay can seem daunting, but in reality, it can be really easy and painless! What you need to remember is that your admission essay can help show who you really are, not just the grades and test scores you've earned in high school. Here's some great advice that I followed when I struggled to write my admission essay last fall. By following these 15 tips, I was able to craft a unique, standout essay in the end!
1. Make sure you answer the prompt
This may seem obvious and not really mind blowing, but believe me, it’s important. If you go off on a tangent and don’t answer the prompt, it doesn’t really matter how good your essay is—the college will make note of the fact that you deviated. Answering the prompt isn’t that hard, but your response to the question needs to be clear. Don’t make anyone search for it.
2. Pick the prompt that speaks to you the most
If you have choices, you may want to pick the prompt that looks the easiest, but that’s not what you should do. You need to pick the prompt that resonates with you the most. If you genuinely enjoy and care about the subject of your essay, it’s going to be much easier to write than if you don’t care and you’re just writing it to get it over with. Colleges will pick up on the fact that you’re passionate about what you’re writing about (or not).
3. Have a “golden thread”
When I was writing my college essays, my English teacher told me I always had to have a “golden thread.” What this means is that your central idea, theme, or thesis should be evident throughout your entire essay; you shouldn’t just state it at the beginning and then again at the end. Try to weave your main point throughout your essay—it becomes more cohesive that way.
4. Consider your audience
When you’re writing your college essay, you need to take your audience into consideration. You’re not writing this for a friend or family member, so your language and tone need to reflect that. Don’t use slang, and try to sound as polished as you can. College admission committees are going to be looking at this, so you want to put your best foot forward!
5. Proofread, proofread, proofread
You should always, always, always proofread your work at least twice before you send it in. Whether you do this by reading it out loud, reading it quietly to yourself, or having your computer read it to you, you can’t skip this step. You don’t want to send in an essay full of grammar and spelling mistakes. The website Grammarly is excellent for checking grammar if you feel like you need a second eye but no one else is available; I’ve used that site for multiple pieces of work and it’s always been great.
6. Have someone else proofread as well
While you should look over your essay yourself, you should also have another person look it over. I would recommend asking at least two different teachers to check it, and one of those should be your English/language arts teacher. Sometimes there are things that make sense to you but not to others, so having someone else proofread is an excellent way to catch those bits before you send your essays to colleges.
7. Feel free to change your outline—or don't have one at all
A lot of students use an outline to help them with their college essay, but not all do. (I know I didn’t.) If you do use an outline, know that it’s totally okay to alter it as you go along. Your outline should never be set in stone and untouchable. It should evolve and change as you write your essay, so don’t worry if you end up going in a slightly (or completely) different direction than you originally intended—as long as you're still answering the essay prompt!
8. Don’t just summarize
You should always analyze the information you’ve given and relate it back to your thesis. This way, your argument and essay are more cohesive. Instead of just stating “this made me happy,” explain why and give specific details or examples. Include why it’s important to your thesis/main idea.
9. Don’t be generic
When you’re writing your admission essay, don’t make it a generic, run-of-the-mill paper that could be sent to any old college. Committees don't want to read generic essays, so make them want to read yours. Don’t bore them—write an essay that’s engaging, intriguing, and unique. Not only will you hold their interest, but they’ll remember your essay when they're making their final decisions.
10. Don’t make it an essay—make it a story
While your college essay is most likely going to look like the generic five-paragraph essay with an introduction and conclusion, that doesn’t mean you have to make it sound like an essay. Make it interesting, fun, and exciting to read. Don’t just write a few stuffy paragraphs and call it good. You need to work at it and make it the best it can be!
11. Make sure you keep the word limit in mind
The limit for the Common Application essay is 650 words. Keep this in mind as you’re writing, and periodically check your word count. This will keep you from going way over the word count then having to delete stuff later. Cutting parts out is the worst because it can be hard to decide what to get rid of.
12. Use good vocabulary
Don’t make your writing sound like a second grader could have written it. Try using more sophisticated words: Instead of “very good,” try “excellent.” “Intelligent” could replace “very smart.” Not only will this make you sound like a higher-level writer, but it’ll cut back on your word count so you have more room to get your point across. At the same time, avoid using a thesaurus to find alternative words no one would ever use to sound smarter. (“Humid prepossessing Homo Sapiens with full-sized aortic pumps” takes up a lot of space.)
13. Be honest when answering your prompt
Don’t lie about things that you supposedly did or never did when it comes to your college essay. If you can’t answer a prompt without lying, then you need to pick a different one. Honesty is the best policy, and you’d be surprised how easy it is for colleges to find out if you aren’t telling the truth.
14. Make it more succinct if you can
Don’t make a sentence extensive if you can make it succinct. Get to your point, and don’t add in pointless information just to try and reach the word count. You may need more words later, then you’ll have to cut parts out of your essay, which you probably won’t want to do as I mentioned before. Try to be precise and concise with your writing from the start!
15. Just relax!
Your college admission essay is going to turn out fantastic, especially if you follow these tips. Put your best foot forward, submit your best work, and you’ll be just fine. This essay is just one piece of your application, so you’ll be okay. Don’t stress and try to force it. If the words won’t come, take a break! That being said, don’t put it off until the last minute either. Then you run the risk of submitting a subpar essay—something that definitely won't impress your colleges.
Still feeling stuck? Find even more helpful writing tips in our Application Essay Clinic.