Next to your test scores, extracurricular activities, and GPA, writing your college essay is one of the most significant parts of your application. Many students rush through this exercise as another task that needs to be accomplished but taking the time to create a thoughtful essay is something that can make or break a final decision about whether you are accepted to a school or not.

If your transcript is a little weak, a well-written essay may compensate for lower grades and act as a tipping point that helps you to gain entrance. It’s not a guarantee, of course, but when it is done right, it can offer you a distinct advantage over applicants who are not as conscientious.

Keep in mind, though, that if you have stellar grades but a poorly written essay, your accomplishments could be overlooked, and your application might easily be placed in the rejection pile.

College admissions officers have to read through hundreds of essays each year. Don’t squander the opportunity to make yours stand out. This is your chance to sell yourself and show the admissions committee who you really are and what makes you tick. It also affords you the opportunity to prove your writing and grammar skills too.

In this article, we will discuss what goes into a great college essay and how to set about creating one that is memorable and compelling.

What Is a College Essay?

Also called an application essay or personal statement, the college essay is a writing sample that highlights your fundamental communication skills. However, it also serves as a snapshot of who you are. It shines a light on your personal qualities, talents, and abilities and puts a face to the name on the application.

Grades, test scores, and awards only go so far when it comes to telling the story of you. In your essay, you have a shot at setting yourself apart from hundreds of other prospective students by sharing your passion and motivation with a captive audience, so make it count. 

When and How to Start Your College Essay

If writing is not your strong point, you will want to give yourself plenty of time to complete your essay. It’s not something that you should bang out in one afternoon. Instead, plan to work on it weeks ahead of your application deadline.

Make sure you review all of the requirements carefully. Find out the maximum or minimum word count and how the admissions office wants it formatted. Check to see if you can choose your own topic or if you need to follow specific essay prompts.

Once you are familiar with all the guidelines, it’s time to start brainstorming ideas for your essay. Take some time to mull over your experiences, relationships, and perspectives and write down some potential topics to write about.

If you are completely stuck and can’t think of a good topic, here are a few ideas to consider:

● What clubs or organizations have you been a part of?

● Do you play any sports?

● What kind of community service or volunteer work have you done?

● Have you done a lot of traveling? Where have you been, and what was it like?

● What are some accomplishments or abilities unique to you? Do you have remarkable guitar skills or speak several languages? Have you created a profitable blog or small business? These are notable things to write about.

A few topics to avoid:

● Never write about hot-button issues like politics or religion. This is not the time to share your opinions or viewpoints on polarizing issues.

● Avoid writing about death, sickness, and tragedy unless there is a happy ending.

● Don’t talk about your romantic relationships

● Stay away from talking about addiction, substance abuse, and illegal activities

● Don’t try to be too funny. A little dose of humor here and there is ok but don’t make the entire essay a comedy.

When you have three or four subjects you have settled on, create a brief outline for each topic with some of the main points and critical details to see if you have enough information to craft a whole essay. By narrowing it down this way, the final decision on what to write about will come easier.

Writing Your First Draft

It’s time to write your first draft. You don’t need to worry about perfection yet, as you will be rewriting the essay later. For now, get the words out of your head and onto paper.

Everyone has a different process for writing. You should do what is most comfortable for you. Some people prefer to write an entire rough draft from start to finish while others work on it bit by bit, jumping around as they go along. There is no “right approach” so long as you start. Here are a few tips that might help:

Work on a Compelling Introduction

As was stated earlier, college admissions officials have hundreds of essays to pore over each year, and many of them are horribly dull. Make yours stand out by writing an engaging introduction that pulls the reader in.

Don’t Worry About Length

When you are writing your first draft, don’t worry about the word count yet. Just focus on writing every detail you can recall about your topic at first. It’s far better to have too many words and whittle down your essay than to not have enough content to work with. If you find yourself struggling to make it long enough, that is a good indicator that maybe you need to choose a different topic.

Don’t Let Yourself Get Overwhelmed

As long as you have given yourself enough time, there is no reason to be overwhelmed. Even if you can only write a sentence or two at a time without getting frustrated, that’s ok. Take frequent breaks and go at a comfortable pace.

Avoid Falling Into the Trap of Perfectionism

As we mentioned above, you don’t need to aim for perfection on your first pass. Even the best writers in the world don’t do it perfectly. It will take many revisions and edits to create the ideal essay, and it might change many times during the process. Don’t worry about misplaced commas, spelling, and other grammatical errors. There will be plenty of chances to fix things later on.

Work on Your Final Draft

From your rough draft, begin to craft a final draft by proofreading for errors and polishing each sentence carefully. You can use an online tool like Grammarly to help you check for grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes. Incorporate each of the changes until you are satisfied that you have a draft you are comfortable letting someone else read.

This is not your final essay; this polished draft is what you will use to gain some human input. Ask your school counselor, teacher, or parent to read through your draft and give you feedback. It helps so much to have another perspective. Incorporate their tips and any corrections they offer into your final essay.

After you are satisfied with the final draft, conduct two or three more proofreading sessions to make sure it is entirely error-free. Online editing software often misses things on the first pass, so you might want to run it through your tool of choice a few times to get it just right. Remember that schools are looking not only for an engaging essay, but they want to gauge your ability to write, making sure you are ready for the challenge that college-level courses will bring. 

Once you have your final draft completed, you can submit the essay with your college application.

A word about reusing your essay for multiple college applications:

The idea of writing new content for each college you apply to might be daunting. The good news is that in some cases, reusing one you have previously written is ok, provided you keep in mind a couple of points:

•Even when reusing an essay for another application, you will want to be sure it is personalized for the requirements of that specific college. Make sure the length is correct and tailor the content to that particular school or location.

•Sometimes a college will provide a completely different writing prompt. In that case, you will need to start from scratch, although it should be a bit easier now that you have one under your belt.

Final Thoughts

Your college essay gives you an opening to show the admissions committee what you are made of. It provides a tangible way to display what makes you a unique individual and why you would make a good match for their institution.

The more information admissions officials can determine about you, the easier it will be for them to see you as part of the overall student body at their school. Although it is only one part of the application process, it is one of the most valuable and should be taken on with as much motivation and skill as you can master.


How to Prepare for College

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