Writing a College Essay

Writing a successful essay for your college application is crucial. It could be what gets you off a waiting list or gives you a competitive edge over other applicants.

The college essay shows your writing skills, but the main purpose is to get insight into who you are and what you can bring to the campus.  Admission counselors are looking to learn something about the student that they would never know from reading the rest of the application. It is a great opportunity to showcase your personality, the way you think, and what your hopes for the future are.

If you are a student who is starting to work on an essay, or if you want to review the one you already have before submitting it, here are a few tips to help you.


Avoid the theme that everyone else is using. Instead, think about what makes you stand out from other applicants.

Take a moment to think about your proudest accomplishment, worst embarrassment, a challenge you had to overcome, an experience that changed the way you think about something… make a list and choose the topic that best showcases why you would be great for their college.

Don’t think that you have to have an extraordinary life or event to have something worth sharing, the best essays are often about everyday events, but what makes them extraordinary is the way YOU see it or the way YOU experienced it. Be creative!


  • JUST START WRITING: The first paragraph is usually the hardest one to write, but it is also the one that can set your essay apart from the others. Focus on what you want to say more than the way it is written or the way it sounds, you will polish it later. You need a strong opening paragraph, a hook, something that entices the reader to continue reading. Share an interesting fact, ask a question, recall a conversation, or dramatized a scene…those are all great ways to spark interest. Make sure that it is related to the topic in your essay. Keep in mind that the admission counselor reads dozens of essays every day. How does yours stand out? 
  • STAY ON TOPIC: A common mistake in college essays is that the student wants to showcase too many things. For example: Being bicultural, studying abroad, excelling in math class, being great at tennis, being an ambassador for a brand… all in one 650-word essay. The problem is that when they do this, they often jump from one topic to another without making a connection. It is easier to focus on one topic, but if you want to share several experiences make sure to look for something that links them and use that as your main topic. For example, the topic could be that you are good at overcoming challenges, and to prove it you can talk about how much you missed your family when you were studying abroad, all those extra hours in tutoring to understand a calculus, how hard you trained to rank 1 in your high school tennis team, etc.
  • EDIT: When writing the first draft focus on putting all the ideas in your document. After you are done with your first draft, go back and move your paragraphs around and position them in a way that your essay has a better flow. At the same time, you can read each paragraph and improve the way it is written making sure it has a greater impact on the reader. By now your paragraphs are in the correct place and are written fairly well, go back one more time and make sure to polish each paragraph.
  • PROOFREAD: Once you are done writing and editing, close the document and come back to it in a couple of days. Read it out loud, change a word here and there if you believe it can sound better, correct any grammar mistakes you might find, and double-check your word count! Read it again, if you believe it is ready ask a counselor, teacher or family member to read it and give their feedback.