How to write an admission essay
Admission essay and personal statement are critical skills required in college. You already know how to write an academic essay: you start with an introduction, throw in a thesis statement, find about three paragraphs’ worth of evidence, and wrap it all up with a tidy conclusion…
Now forget all that, because a successful college
application essay is totally different.
Here’s the thing: your college application essay needs to
breathe life into your application. It should capture your genuine personality,
explaining who you are beyond a series of grades, test scores, and after-school
activities. But that’s not nearly as scary as it seems, because you get to
choose what to share and how to share it.
Impress the Team
Take a minute and think about the college or university
admission officers who will be reading your essay. How will your essay convey
your background and what makes you unique? If you had the opportunity to stand
in front of an admission committee to share a significant story or important
information about yourself, what would you say? The college application essay
is your chance to share your personality, goals, influences, challenges,
triumphs, life experiences, or lessons learned. Not to mention why you’re a
good fit for the college or university—and why it’s a good fit for you. These
are the stories behind the list of activities and leadership roles on your
One of the most common struggles students encounter is
resisting the urge to squeeze everything they’ve seen, done, and heard into
their essay. But your application essay isn’t your life story in 650 words.
Instead, pick one moment in time and focus on telling the story behind it.
Admission officers realize that writing doesn’t come easily
to everyone, but with some time and planning, anyone can write a college
application essay that stands out. One way to do that is to work step-by-step,
piece-by-piece. The end result should be a carefully designed, insightful essay
that makes you proud. Take advantage of being able to share something with an
audience who knows nothing about you and is excited to learn what you have to
offer. Brag. Write the story no one else can tell.
1. Get to know you’re prompt
Ease yourself into the essay-writing process. Take time to
understand the question or prompt being asked.
The single most important part of your essay preparation may
be simply making sure you truly understand the question or essay prompt. When
you are finished writing, you need to make sure that your essay still adheres
to the prompt.
College essay questions often suggest one or two main ideas
or topics of focus. These can vary from personal to trivial, but all seek to
challenge you and spark your creativity and insight.
Read the essay questions and/or prompts. Read them again.
Then read them one more time.
Take some time to think about what is being asked and let it
really sink in before you let the ideas flow.
Before you can even start brainstorming, define what it is
you’re trying to accomplish. Is this essay prompt asking you to inform? Defend?
Support? Expand upon?
If it doesn’t already, relate the question back yourself by
asking, “How does this—or how could this—apply to me?”
Avoid sorting through your existing English class essays to
see if the topics fit the bill. These pieces rarely showcase who you are as an
Get your creative juices flowing by brainstorming all the
possible ideas you can think of to address your college essay question.
Believe it or not, the brainstorming stage may be more
tedious than writing the actual application essay. The purpose is to flesh out
all of your possible ideas so when you begin writing, you know and understand
where you are going with the topic.
Reflect. You have years to draw from, so set aside time to
mentally collect relevant experiences or events that serve as strong, specific
examples. This is also time for self-reflection. “What are my strengths?” “How
would my friends describe me?” “What sets me apart from other applicants?”
Write any and all ideas down. There’s no technique that
works best, but you’ll be thankful when you are able to come back to ideas you
otherwise might have forgotten.
Narrow down the options. Choose three concepts you think fit
the college application essay prompt best and weigh the potential of each.
Which idea can you develop further and not lose the reader? Which captures more
of who you really are?
Choose your story to tell. From the thoughts you’ve narrowed
down, pick one. You should have enough supporting details to rely on this as an
excellent demonstration of your abilities, achievements, perseverance, or
3. Create an outline
Map out what you’re going to write by making an outline.
Architects use a blue print. A webpage is comprised of code.
Cooks rely on recipes. What do they have in common? They have a plan. The rules
for writing a good essay are no different. After you brainstorm, you’ll know
what you want to say, but you must decide how you’re going to say it. Create an
outline that breaks down the essay into sections.
All good stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Shape your story so that it has an introduction, body, and conclusion. Following
this natural progression will make your essay coherent and easy to read.
Strategize. How are you going to open your essay? With an
anecdote? A question? Dialogue? Use of humor? Try to identify what the tone of
your essay is going to be based on your ideas.
Stick to your writing style and voice. It’s particularly
important when writing a piece about yourself that you write naturally. Put the
words in your own voice. By planning the layout of your essay ahead of time,
you’ll avoid changing your writing style mid-story.
Related: College Application Essays: A Step-by-Step Example
4. Write the essay
Once you are satisfied with your essay in outline format,
By now you know exactly what you will write about and how
you want to tell the story. So hop on a computer and get to it. Try to just let
yourself bang out a rough draft without going back to change anything. Then go
back and revise, revise, revise. Before you know it, you will have told the
story you outlined—and reached the necessary word count—and you will be happy
you spent all that time preparing!
Keep your essay’s focus narrow and personal. Don’t lose your
reader. Start with your main idea, and follow it from beginning to end.
Be specific. Avoid using clichéd, predictable, or generic phrases
by developing your main idea with vivid and detailed facts, events, quotations,
examples, and reasons.
Be yourself. Admission officers read plenty of application
essays and know the difference between a student’s original story and a
recycled academic essay, or—worse—a piece written by your mom or dad or even
plagiarized. Bring something new to the table, not just what you think they
want to hear. Use humor if appropriate.
Be concise. Don’t use 50 words if five will do. Try to only
include the information that is absolutely necessary.
The last step is editing and proofreading your finished
You have worked so hard up until this point, and while you
might be relieved, remember: your essay is only as good as your editing. A
single grammatical error or typo could indicate carelessness—not a trait you
want to convey to a college admission officer.
Give yourself some time. Let your essay sit for a while (at
least an hour or two) before you proofread it. Approaching the essay with a
fresh perspective gives your mind a chance to focus on the actual words, rather
than seeing what you think you wrote.
Don’t rely solely on the computer spelling and grammar
check. Computers cannot detect the context in which you are using words, so be
sure to review carefully. Don’t abbreviate or use acronyms or slang. They might
be fine in a text message, but not in your college essay.
Professional proofreading service
Have another person (or several!) read your essay, whether
it’s a teacher, guidance counselor, parent, or trusted friend. You know what
you meant to say, but is it clear to someone else reading your work? Have these
people review your application essay to make sure your message is on target and
clear to any audience.
Read your essay backwards. This may sound a bit silly, but
when reading in sequential order, your brain has a tendency to piece together
missing information, or fill in the blanks, for you. Reading each sentence on
its own and backwards can help you realize not only typos and mistakes in
grammar, but that you may have forgotten an article here and there, such as “a”
Read your essay out loud. This forces you to read each word
individually and increases your chances of finding a typo. Reading aloud will
also help you ensure your punctuation is correct, and it’s often easier to hear
awkward sentences than see them.
Check for consistency. Avoid switching back and forth from
different tenses. Also, if you refer to a particular college in the essay, make
sure it is the correct name and is consistent throughout the piece. You don’t
want to reference two different schools in the same paper!
6. Tie up loose ends
Celebrate finishing what you started.
Writing the college essay takes time and effort, and you should feel accomplished. When you submit your essay, remember to include your name, contact information, and ID number if your college provided one, especially if you send it to a general admission email account. Nothing is worse than trying to match an application essay with no name (or, worse, an email address such as firstname.lastname@example.org) to a file. Make sure to keep copies of what you sent to which schools and when—and follow up on them! Be certain the college or university you are applying to received your essay. You don’t want all that hard work to go to waste!
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How to write an admission essay