The college essay is an important part of the application. This is your opportunity to add your voice and show the admissions officers who you are and that you would be a good match for their college. It gives the readers the chance to learn about you in addition to what the application says about your classes, grades, and extracurricular activities.

By Wendi Ostroff

What are colleges looking for in an essay? Admissions officers will read your essay for content, style, and creativity. It is expected that you type your essay, use proper grammar and spelling and also answer the question or prompt given. This is your chance to stand out, use your natural voice, and be descriptive without going over the word count.

  1. Brainstorm: This is critical and worth the time spent thinking about what you want to choose to write about and how you want to present it in your essay. Think about a few different ideas, take time to reflect, write down key words and ideas, and speak to others to help you narrow down your choice.
  2. Choose a topic: When selecting what to write about, pick a topic that is meaningful to you. If you’re excited about it, it will be reflected in your writing. Look at the prompts carefully, and choose one that feels meaningful to you. Don’t recreate your list of activities that is already in your application, think about it as a story that is unique to you.
  3. Do not choose controversial subjects: Even if you have strong opinions, you never know who may be reading your essay and what their beliefs are, so best to steer clear of all controversial and politically charged topics.
  4. Start your first draft: This is a rough draft where you put down your ideas and begin writing. Think about your interests, values, goals, and get something down, not worrying about word count or any revisions yet. Give yourself plenty of time to write, this is not just an essay for school and writing about you can be challenging.
  5. Use examples, be descriptive and write in an active voice: This is a story about you so make it interesting to read, think of your senses and apply the known phrase, “show, don’t tell” in your writing. Make statements using the word “I” and open up with a statement that will engage the reader. Leave out information that isn’t relevant or is too wordy.
  6. Be sincere and genuine: Do NOT have someone else write your essay for you. That will not reflect your natural voice or be authentic. Be yourself and highlight the positive to reflect growth. Writing about a hardship can be difficult but explain how you have matured and learned from the experience.
  7. Share your essay with others (teacher, parent, counselor, friend): Get feedback and suggestions, but not so much that it changes the flow of the essay or steers from the topic. Keep in mind the more people you share it with, the more comments and ideas you may get which isn’t always a good idea.
  8. Edit, proofread, and edit more: Read the essay multiple times, varying the word selection, spots of repetition, and grammar. Does it flow and answer the question? Be concise, don’t try to use words to impress but detail your essay with action and descriptive language. Make corrections, read it out, and share for more feedback. Expect to go through a few drafts to make it stand out.
  9. Send essay to the right school and submit on time: There’s nothing worse than reading an essay about your number one school only to not be that school. Be careful not to include a school’s name in an essay that other schools will read. And be sure to submit on time or a day early.