Write a College Essay that Admissions Counselors Remember

Applying to college is often stressful, time-consuming, and expensive. Many students hope that their test scores and transcript is an accurate representation of their potential for success. Fortunately, there is another tool students can use to showcase their potential: the college essay.

Though it is a useful tool, the college essay is not automatically a way to reveal why a student is the perfect fit for a specific school. It is crucial that the essay is personal, specific, and memorable. Here are some DOs and DONTs for writing a great college essay.

College Essay DOs

  1. Focus on one moment in your life. This moment doesn’t have to be a sad moment, but it should be a time when you experienced something important. This moment could be sad, like the end of a friendship, or it could be less dramatic. For example, you could write about going for a hike. Maybe on this hike you noticed, for the first time, how many different sights and sounds you miss when you don’t take time to really appreciate them. This is a moment of epiphany.

  2. Your essay should be focused on you and who you are. As you write about a moment in your life, you should be describing why that moment was important to you. This could include how you changed, what you learned about yourself, or how your perspective on something changed. This is not just a descriptive essay.

  3. Definitely put the reader in the moment. Let the reader experience what you felt and what you saw. This often works for a great intro/hook.

College Essay DONTs

  1. Don’t try to feed the reader what you think he/she wants to hear. Most writers can’t pull off an insincere essay and yours will likely seem hollow.

  2. Avoid focusing on the prompts. The prompts, especially the Common App prompts, are vague enough that you can make almost any essay that is focused on an important moment fit one of the prompts. Focus on telling your story, not on addressing a prompt.

  3. Though you are telling a story, this is not all you are doing. If you spend your entire essay telling the story, you’ve missed the point. You need to shift from telling the story to talking about why the story matters and what it reveals about you.

  4. Focus on you. Some students write about people who matter to them, like family members. Avoid this, if possible. These essays often reveal more about the family member than the student.

  5. Though this is a story about you and you should be able to tell that story, you really should think carefully about the story you want to tell. Be careful with stories that focus on the touchdown or goal you scored. Though this is certainly a great memory, does this moment really define you?

There are many ways to approach the college essay. Just remember that the essay should reveal something interesting about you.