14 Tips for College Admission Essays

The college admission essay can bring a lot of anxiety for students as they are applying to college. Students put a lot of pressure on themselves. While the college admission essay can play a big role in the college admission decision, students typically focus on the wrong aspects of the essay. As someone who has read and made decisions on thousands of college applications, I’m going to share 14  tips that can help you craft the best college admission essay for you.

1. Make it personal

You have been writing five paragraph essays that start with an introduction and thesis statement for years. However, your admission essay is not an academic paper. Instead, it is your personal statement. You are free to write it however you want. It does not need to be academic because it is about you.

2. Write the essay yourself

Every year there are students who submit college admission essays that they did not write. How do I know? Usually an admission professional or reader can tell an essay is written by someone else. Plus, I have had parents call me when I was an admission director and say things like, “I know you receive my child’s essay because I wrote it myself.” Parents might have good intentions and want to help their students in the admission process. Or, students might pay money to have a “professional writer” write their essay. Whatever the reason, most admission readers and committees can spot essays that are not written by the applicant. If there is any concern the essay was not written by the student, the student could automatically be denied and will not be considered for admission. In addition, if the college ever figures out that someone else wrote the essay, even after you are admitted, the admission decision can be rescinded. Don’t risk it! Write your own essay.

3. Grab the reader’s attention early

Admission professionals and readers will read hundreds or thousands of college admission essays every year. Essays that start off slow may lose the reader’s attention. Students should consider doing something very early in the essay that will grab the reader’s attention and make them want to continue reading. This can be done by making a bold statement or speaking directly to the reader.

4. Be unique

Don’t tell the same story others will tell. When reading college admission essays, the stories will start to blend together for the readers, especially if the stories are similar. When brainstorming topics for your admission essays, ask yourself if someone else could send in the same type of story. If many students can tell the same story, they probably will. Make an impression on the reader! Some of the best college admission essays are the ones that stay with the admission reader long after the admission decision has gone out!

5. Be yourself

Don’t try to be the person you think the admission committee is more likely to admit. These types of essays are usually easy to recognize and do not come off as authentic. Instead, write the essay in your voice and show your personality. The college admission essay may be the only personal introduction the admission committee will have to get to know you.

6. Show, don’t tell

It is easy to tell a reader something about yourself. However, it is important to show the reader. For example, if you want the admission committee to know making a difference in your community is important, don’t just say it. Give an example of something you have been doing to make a difference. Anyone can say something is important, but it will mean so much more by showing the reader it is important to you.

7. Be specific

You might want to share your whole life story, but don’t. There is no way you can share your life story in only 650 words. Focus on a specific event or theme and stay there. Focusing on one main idea can still tell your story and introduce the reader to who you are.

8. Big words are not important

Put the thesaurus away. There is no need to use big words to show off the vocabulary you learned from your SAT prep. This is a personal essay and should sound personal. If you are a “big word” kind of person and you use these words on a regular basis, use them in your essay. However, if it is not a word you would use when speaking to your friends or teachers, there is no need to use it. Replacing “common” words with words found in the thesaurus does not always make you sound smarter. Instead, it can sometimes make an essay not flow as well. It is okay to write the admission essay using the words and tones you use on a regular basis.

9. Answer the questions

Don’t get so caught up in sharing a story that you forget to answer all of the questions. Many college admission essay prompts are layered and have multiple questions. Don’t just answer the first part of the prompt. Make sure you answer all of the questions.

10. Be concise

The Common Application essay requires at least 250 word, but no more than 650 words. Just because you can use 650 words does not mean you need to use 650 words. If you can answer the questions in a unique way in 300 words, there is no need to add “fluff” to your essay. Admission readers will only be able to spend a few minutes reading your essay. Therefore, make your impression without adding extra words or stories that don’t need to be in the essay.

11. Don’t repeat your application

Your essay should answer the questions in the essay prompt. There is no need to talk about how great of a student you are and list all of your grades and academic awards. You don’t have to share all of your student, community, and volunteer activities. All of this information was already presented in your application. It is okay to talk about a specific activity if that is the subject of your essay. But, don’t turn the admission essay into a resume of all of your accomplishments.

12. Proofread

Before sending anything, proofread your essay to make sure it does not have any errors and flows naturally. You might want to consider checking your grammar and spelling using tools such as Grammarly* because it might pick up on errors you or your computer did not catch. You might have sent in a unique essay, but if you have many errors, it might not help your case when the admission committee is making decisions.

13. Have someone else review your essay

Sometimes we are too close to our work. When you are too close to your work, it is possible to miss something that others do not. While proofreaders might catch something you missed or give you an idea you think will help your essay, don’t let them rewrite the essay. The essay should remain in your voice.

14. Start early

Don’t wait until the last minute to start writing your essay. Take your time. Give yourself enough time to brainstorm ideas, write, edit, and get feedback from others. Waiting until the due date can make you rush the essay and miss something that could make a difference in the admission decision.


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