Not only is the college essay a place to showcase writing skills, it’s one of the only parts of a college application where a student’s voice can shine through.
So how do you write a good college essay? The process starts with finding the best possible topic, which means understanding what the prompt is asking for and taking the time to brainstorm a variety of options. Next, you’ll determine how to create an interesting essay that shows off your unique perspective and write multiple drafts in order to hone your structure and language.
Tips offered by experts emphasize the importance of being concise, coherent, congenial, honest and accurate. An applicant should also flex some intellectual muscle and include vivid details or anecdotes.
Pose a question the reader wants answered.
This doesn’t mean you should literally pose a question in your essay, but you should certainly keep the reader wondering, “How is that going to turn out?” “What does she mean by that?” “How is this all going to tie back together?”
Writing good college essays involves a lot of work: you need dozens of hours to get just one personal statement properly polished, and that’s before you even start to consider any supplemental essays.
The first and sometimes most daunting step in the essay writing process is figuring out what to write about. Rather, experts say students should narrow their focus and write about a specific experience, hobby or quirk that reveals something personal, like how they think, what they value or what their strengths are.
Before you get started, you should know exactly what essays you need to write. Having this information allows you to plan the best approach to each essay and helps you cut down on work by determining whether you can use an essay for more than one prompt.
Don’t focus exclusively on the past.
Admissions look for essays where student highlights their growth and introspection, so your essay should focus on you learning and growing as a person.
There are tons of ways to come up with ideas for your essay topic: I’ve outlined three below. I recommend trying all of them and compiling a list of possible topics, then narrowing it down to the very best one or, if you’re writing multiple essays, ones.
From brainstorming essay topics to editing the final draft, here’s what students need to know about crafting a strong college essay.
Students don’t have to discuss a major achievement in their essay, a common misconception. Admissions officers who spoke with U.S. News cited memorable essays that focused on more ordinary topics, including fly-fishing, a student’s commute to and from school and a family’s dining room table.
Keep in mind as you brainstorm that there’s no best college essay topic, just the best topic for you. Don’t feel obligated to write about something because you think you should—those types of essays tend to be boring and uninspired.
When recounting an event or experience, make sure to include how it made you feel, how it changed the way you think, and whether it had an impact on your priorities and/or values. Readers connect more when you reveal a vulnerability than when you tout a strength.
What experience, talent, interest or other quirk do you have that you might want to share with colleges? In other words, what makes you you? Possible topics include hobbies, extracurriculars, intellectual interests, jobs, significant one-time events, pieces of family history, or anything else that has shaped your perspective on life.
Experiment with the unexpected
If it makes sense within the context of your essay, give your story a twist or reveal something unexpected, i.e. something readers wouldn’t have necessarily thought you’d do, think, or care about.
When reviewing a first essay draft, students should make sure their writing is showing, not telling. This means students should show their readers examples that prove they embody certain traits or beliefs, as opposed to just stating that they do.
Remember back in step one, when we talked about making a chart to keep track of all the different essays you need to write? Well, now you need to go back to that list and determine which essays you still need to write. Keep in mind your deadlines and don’t forget that some schools may require more than one essay or ask for short paragraphs in addition to the main personal statement.
Avoid explicitly stating the point of your essay. It’s far less effective when you spell it out for someone. Delete every single “That’s when I realized,” “I learned,” and “The most important lesson was…”
Editing and Submitting the College Essay.
While admissions officers try to learn about students via the essay, they are also gauging writing skills, so students want to make sure they submit top-notch work.