How to Write a College Application Essay

Don't dread the college essay! While it might feel like a daunting task, penning your college essay allows you to show college admission officers your personality and passion outside of your good grades and extracurricular activities.

If you are feeling stuck on what to write, try these four tips to craft the best version of you on paper.

1. Start by Brainstorming

Starting is always the hardest part, especially when you don't know where your essay is headed.

Before you start your essay, begin by writing down different topic ideas that interest you and list important or transformative experiences you have had. Read examples of other successful college application essays before you start writing to help you understand formats and topics that work. By planning what you want to say before you start writing, you will save time and frustration.

Play around with a few different topics. Try to think of a distinct moment that can be broadened into a longer story, while also best demonstrating who you are. Picking a good topic is key to writing a good essay. Here are a few quick prompts to help you think of a topic:

  • Consider a time you took a risk or were unsuccessful in completing a goal. What did you learn from your experience, and what impact did that experience have on your life or in choosing the college major you want to pursue?
  • What do you want admissions officers to know about you that is hard to communicate through your application, such as a unique talent, background or interest?
  • What was an event, either formal or informal, that defined your transition from childhood to adulthood?

2. Just Write

Many students hesitate to write the essay because they are too focused on getting every word perfect. The good news is no one will read your first draft, so let the words flow. You want to get all of your ideas down without thinking about grammar, punctuation or vocabulary.

Don't stop to edit when you first start. After you get all of your ideas down, then it will be the time to go back through making revisions. A good college essay will require a lot of rewriting, but those edits can wait until you get your first draft done. You want to insert your creativity and passion into the essay without stopping frequently to rework a section. This might mean you have to first write your essay by hand or turn off correction notifications on your computer's writing application.

3. Be Genuine

One of the biggest mistakes students make when writing an essay is trying to impress admissions officers. The problem with writing only what you think they want to hear is that it makes the essay flat and generic. College admissions officers read hundreds, sometimes thousands, of essays each year. Yours needs to stand out.

So, be genuine and your unique voice will resonate. You don't always have to write about the "best" vacation, school performance or volunteer trip. Instead, try talking about how an ordinary, or even challenging experience, has had an extraordinary impact on your life and career choice.

4. Don't Wait Until the Last Minute

If you write your college essay the day before it is due, it is not going to be your best work. You need to give yourself enough time - a few weeks, even months - to write and rewrite several drafts, allowing parents and teachers to make edits and comments along the way. Don't be afraid to delete and redraft sentences or even entire paragraphs if they are ruining the essay's flow.

You have a unique story and your college essay is the perfect place to share it. Admissions officers can already see your GPA, extracurricular activities and volunteer hours on your application. Use your essay as an opportunity to take them a step further into who you are.