How to Write a Great College Application Essay
You’ve completed all the application forms, taken all the tests, and now it’s finally time to impress your university’s admission officers with a great college application essay.
A college application essay is usually around 500 words, and those words can mean the difference between acceptance and rejection. You will spend many days researching and crafting your essay, but admissions officers will only have a few minutes to actually read it, so you need to get their attention.
However, if you are the type of person who likes to start with the don’ts, check out our blog post on How Not to Write a University Application Essay.
1. Read the instructions carefully
They say starting the essay is the hardest part. You may think it’s redundant to mention that you need to read the instructions carefully, but with all the excitement and stress that characterizes this period of your life, it needs to be highlighted.
If you don’t follow the application essay guidelines, the admissions officer may assume that you won’t be able to follow the directions of the university’s program. Page and word limits are mentioned for a reason and you must be able to organize your submission by following the rules.
After you’ve read through the instructions a few times and gathered your notes, you can start creating an outline to organize your essay and decide what message you want to send. Now you're ready to write your first draft.
2. Start with a compelling introduction
Great writing is hard to achieve, but it’s possible if you’re smart about it. Anyone who works in journalism will tell you that you can catch any reader’s attention as long as you deliver a great introduction.
The admissions officers will only spend a brief amount of time reviewing your essay, so you need to start with a vivid paragraph that will keep them engaged. The introduction has to reveal to the reader what your essay is about and catch their attention. You could open with an anecdote or an interesting story that will show some of the best parts of your personality and character, offering an insight that will help the admission officers get to know who you are.
3. Use your inner voice
Universities are looking for authenticity and quality of thinking, so don’t try to shape your essay around phrases or ideas that people have used many times before, but base it on your genuine beliefs.
The application essay is your opportunity to impress an admissions officer with your determination and existing knowledge of your chosen subject. Make sure it reflects all of your skills and ambitions, and show how your chosen program will help you achieve future goals.
4. Avoid clichés
While you research your application essay, you will be encouraged to check out some examples of great essays and get inspired. While this is a great exercise, many students allow themselves to be influenced too much by the examples, and use lots of clichés in their desire to impress the admission officers.
Remember that there are thousands of others students applying to your desired university, and you need to distinguish yourself. Re-read your essay, delete all the sentences that sound like a cliché, and try to find a more original angle.
Admissions officers go through thousands of applications a year, so it’s only logical that they will notice those that bring a unique personality to life. Let them discover that!
5. Give good examples to support your ideas
A college application essay is basically a glimpse into how your mind works and how you view the world. If you want your essay to be credible, you need to make sure everything you write supports that viewpoint. Spend some time figuring out how the essay question relates to your personal qualities and then write from a specific angle.
That means that every time you want to express an idea, you don’t simply state a fact, but you also include specific details and examples to develop your ideas. You can do that by offering examples from your personal experiences and writing about what truly motivates you and how you developed a certain belief.
6. Stick to a clear essay plan
Creativity is an aspect very much appreciated in writing, but don’t assume that a creative essay is not also an organized one. Obviously, you don't want to write a bunch of words without meaning, so make sure you write about just one subject at a time.
You will have a maximum number of words, so the secret is not to try to cover everything in your essay. Create a plan before you actually start writing, organize your essay in three parts (introduction, body and conclusion), and decide on the main ideas you want to express.
7. Ask someone to proofread your work
You want to create a great college application, so you will probably read it over and over again in order to make sure there are no typos and spelling and grammar errors. But after a while, you might need a fresh perspective. It's best to ask someone who hasn't seen it yet to take a look, as they're likely to see mistakes you won't catch.
If you ask a teacher or parent to proofread your essay, they will be able not only to catch mistakes, but also to check if the writing sounds like you. After reading so many examples and following all those instructions, it’s hard to tell if what you just wrote is a statement of who you really are or not. Enlist the help of others to make sure that your essay is immaculate.
Now start writing and craft an extraordinary essay!
This article was originally published in January 2016 . It was last updated in June 2022