5 Steps to Writing Your College Essay

Having trouble writing your college application essay? We've all been there. Follow these five steps to simplify this important task.

The college essay is one of the most integral parts of the Common Application process. It’s the manifestation of all those years of hard work, extracurricular activities, and determination. In about 4,000 or so characters, you have to express yourself, convey your passions, and effectually pitch yourself and your intellect to strangers.

As someone who’s been through the grueling process of college applications, I honestly feel that the college essay is made out to be more complex than it actually is. Essay handbooks and booklets can only offer you so much in the way of practical advice because, in reality, the college essay is a simple piece of writing if you manage and organize your thoughts coherently. Like any other task, it requires a lot of critical evaluation. Here are a few important steps I picked up from my experience that can help you write your college essay with ease and clarity.

1. Think about the topic

Before you begin your essay, ensure you fully understand the scope of the topic. Try making short notes before you begin. Many times, the idea and the interpretation of the question can be what set your essay apart. You’re given a list of topics to choose from, and I would strongly advise you to make notes and important pointers for all of them so you know which prompt you would eventually like to expound on. Base your choice on the prompt that brings out your creativity and writing skills in the best possible way.

Related: How to Read a College Application Essay Prompt

2. Know what to focus on

This is probably one of the most vital questions to consider as you begin your college essay. It’s essential to showcase your strengths. At the same time, you can accept your weaknesses for what they are so that you sound more genuine. Ensure that you highlight your determination to the school you wish to apply to. Share a personal story that brings out your character and personality best and has contributed to your development. If you have a special story to share, come up with a good way to encompass all the emotions you associate with that particular experience. Always remember to be socially and morally conscious when you write as well. Admission counselors are more interested in who you are as an individual outside the four walls of your classroom!

3. Demonstrate your interests

Your passions often lie in the variety of extracurricular activities you took up throughout high school. Before you begin writing, take time to think about all the activities, competitions, and work experiences you attained over the past three or four years so you can refer to specific experiences in your essay that showcase your areas of interest or academic pursuits. Be sure to bring out the full extent of your achievements while reflecting on the experiences and the essential skills you gained. I would recommend paying special attention to transferrable skills that could benefit you in adapting to college life and your professional career. The best way to prevent yourself from gloating or simply cataloging your achievements is to zero in on a particular experience and the relevant insight you gained in the process. Pick the achievements or talents that matter most to you and will help justify your resolve for pursuing a specific path.

Related: Top College Essay Tips From Admission Insiders

4. Make the most of your time

Given the sheer number of responsibilities students have during senior year, it’s often difficult to earmark the sufficient time needed to successfully complete every college and supplementary essay. It’s important to start early, especially if you have many essays to write. Not only will it keep your stress at bay, but the quality of your work and your clarity of thought is more than likely to improve with time on your side. Try splitting up your tasks so you leave enough time for editing and reviewing your college essay. It often takes a lot of time and thought to come up with relevant points and arguments. From personal experience, I would suggest spending a lot of time on planning before you write your college essay, as this stage takes up the most of your mental and creative capital.

5. Make sure to proofread

We often dismiss this tip, despite the number of times we’re advised to follow it. After you’ve completed your essay, it’s essential to allocate time to proofread your work. Grammatical errors and spelling mistakes should be avoided at all costs. Before you submit your essay, try doing a thorough fact check too, especially if you cited specific facts, figures, or quotes. Try running your work by your peers, friends, or parents so you can get more perspectives on the ways your essay could be interpreted. Many times, certain statements can have different connotations to different people. Some of your points could even have logical fallacies that wouldn’t have crossed your mind at first glance. Getting second opinions can be advantageous since multiple revisions can help you identify ways to improve. Personally, I remember going through many drafts before I was satisfied with the final version of my college essay.

Related: 6 Simple but Effective Tips for Writing Your College Admission Essay

At the end of the journey, take a look back and be proud of the progress you’ve made. Perhaps if you’ve been procrastinating by reading tips and tricks to cracking the college essay, you can reward yourself once you finally implement them. Have fun with it, because when else will you ever get such a puzzling, unique opportunity to write about yourself like this again?

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About Shivani Ekkanath

Shivani Ekkanath

As a person applying to college this year, I want to chronicle this crazy and unpredictable yet rewarding and fascinating journey so the experience feels less daunting for other students. I'm currently preparing to study Political Science for my undergraduate degree while trying my best to win a battle with the pressures of the IB diploma. I'm a lover of music, debating, reading about current affairs, dancing, baking (not too well), and writing. I'm also an an aspiring journalist and hope to attend Columbia University one day and work for the New York Times or Wall Street Journal.


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