College Essays


            The essay is the living, breathing part of your application to a college.  In the essay, you can speak in your own voice and personalize your application.  Here is your opportunity to show something about yourself that does not come across elsewhere in your application.


  1. Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure.  How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
  3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.  What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  4. Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content.  What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
  5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal, or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.


  • The easiest topic to write about is yourself.
  • Do not be afraid to write about something you think is a little different.
  • Organize your thoughts, develop a framework so it will have a smooth and logical progression from one idea to the next, and consider your purpose in writing, what you want to convey, and the tone that is most appropriate for the topic.


  • Keep your focus narrow and personal.  Your essay must prove a single point or thesis.  The reader must be able to find your main idea and follow it from beginning to end.
  • Accentuate the positive.  You can describe negatives, but emphasize how the experience impacted you for the better and what you learned from it.
  • Captivate your audience.  Your essay should be engaging and memorable.  Draw the reader in with a quick, enticing introduction and give the reader a reason to finish your essay.
  • Ask people for input.  Whether it is a teacher, counselor, friend, or parent, ask someone you respect for some candid feedback.  Is it confusing? Boring?
  • Leave time for rewriting. Write a first draft and let it sit for a few days.  Look for weak or dull spots and grammatical errors.  Never let your first draft be your final draft.
  • Write from the heart.  The more effectively you can show the reader how it felt to have a car accident or make an important decision, the more the reader will know about you, and that is the goal of a good college essay.
  • Revise, reword.  Put your draft into shape through various rewrites.  Read the essay aloud to find awkward sentences or problems.
  • Prove it.  Develop your main idea with vivid and specific facts, events, quotations, examples, and reasons.
  • Be specific.  Avoid clichéd, generic, and predictable writing by using vivid and specific details.


  • Don’t tell them what you think they want to hear.
  • Don’t write a resume.  Don’t include information that is found elsewhere in the application.
  • Don’t exaggerate or use a flowery, inflated, or pretentious style.
  • Don’t use 50 words when five will do. Eliminate unnecessary words.
  • Don’t forget to proofread.  Typos and spelling or grammatical errors can be interpreted as carelessness or just bad writing.  Don’t rely on your computer’s spell check.  It can miss errors.

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