How to Write a College Essay (10 Tips)

How to Write a College Essay (10 Tips)

Written by Chris Hernandez

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Many students consider the essay the most difficult part of the application process. These essays put a lot of pressure on applicants as they are time-consuming, challenging to write, and can be the deciding factor. Here are 10 tips to help you write an amazing essay.

Many students consider the essay the most difficult part of the application process. These essays put a lot of pressure on applicants as they are time-consuming, challenging to write, and can be the deciding factor as to whether a student is granted admission to a competitive school or not. To help you overcome this challenge, we will be sharing 10 tips to help you write an amazing essay.

Tip #1:  Give yourself enough time

Essay writing is time-consuming, no matter what kind of essay it is. However, college application essays are probably unlike any research or persuasive essay you’ve written before, so you need to account for the unfamiliarity and give yourself time to adjust.

You will probably write a couple of drafts before you decide on a final topic you like that will make you stand out from other applicants in the pile. We recommend students finish testing by the end of junior year so that they have summer to focus on college applications and essays before the school year begins.

As with anything else, it doesn’t look good to submit an application a minute before it is due. Don’t let the essay be what holds you back from submitting early. Plan ahead and give yourself more time than you think you will need to complete the essays with depth. Even after you are done, dedicate a couple of hours per week to reviewing and perfecting your writing.

Tip #2: Avoid Risky or Played-Out Cliché Essay Topics

Though it is unfortunate and hard to admit, many times what is fresh, raw, and personal to a student has been written the same way a million times. This makes most essays very boring and unoriginal to the board of admissions.

Three topics we generally recommend staying away from are divorce, death/disease of a relative, and the big game. Unless you are sure your version of this has an interesting and unique twist, steer clear of writing your application essay about these.

Receiving advice from someone experienced with the admissions process has its benefits. If you have one, ask your college counselor or consultant to help you identify the types of topics that are played out and find a new way to approach what you want to write about. We have essay consultants that help students through this process.  

Risky Essay Topics

Your college admissions essay should portray you as a responsible young adult. Drama-filled, risque stories, as well as essays about political beliefs may sometimes not be the best topics to pursue.

Colleges are not particularly enthusiastic about accepting students that don’t match the status quo or have vices including drugs, alcohol, or sex, as it can be seen as a precursor of scandal. You don’t know where the person reading your essay stands on the political spectrum, so it is best to avoid this topic as you don’t want them to be affected by their own personal opinions.

Tip #3: Find Your Voice

Your essay is your biggest opportunity to show who you are,  instead of just numbers (test scores, GPA, clubs, etc. ) You need to make sure you appreciate this opportunity and make yourself stand out from the pile of candidates.

Every once in a while, a student finds a way to put a fresh, new spin on a story. For example, a student once wrote a story about the death of a relative and when she met with her college advisor, he asked some questions that helped bring up meaningful memories that resulted in the student making significant edits to the essay and putting a whole new spin on her previous story. As they talked, her advisor learned that a cherished memory she had was when they would go out for ice cream. Despite loving ice cream, he would never get any for himself.  After digging deeper, the student came to the realization that the grandfather was making a sacrifice for her every time, because he could not afford to get two, but placed her happiness above his own.

The student rewrote the essay and used her memories as an anecdote to introduce the new message of the story instead of focusing on the death of her grandfather. She turned the original topic into a powerful story about how she wanted to live her life differently so she didn’t miss the beauty in people, as she had done with her grandfather.

When you’re writing your college application essay, try to find your voice and show off a little of your personality. Remember, this is the most personal part of the application and can make all the difference in your acceptance.

Tip #4: Show, Don’t Tell.

The use of imagery and descriptive language helps paint a picture for the reader. Writing about a unique experience in a way that readers can visualize without having any prior knowledge can be extremely beneficial. This tactic can make your essay more memorable and thereby increase your chances of standing out.

Tip #5: Hook Your Reader

You’ve been hearing it since you learned how to write an essay: the first sentences are the most important part of an essay. The same thing is true about a college admissions essay.

By the time your application is read by an admissions officer, they’ve likely gone through hundreds of others.  If your first sentence doesn’t grab them, they will read it simply for completion and will most likely feel indifferent towards it.

Admissions officers spend about eight minutes per application, though this time may vary based on the college. Often, schools use rating systems to categorize essays as positive, neutral, or negative. If you lose their interest right away, you have a neutral essay.

Tip #6: Stay on Topic

If you’ve chosen to answer a particular prompt, make sure to answer the question at hand. Students often become consumed in the process and stray off-topic. If none of the specific prompts inspire you, do not shy away from picking an open-ended prompt so long as you manage to tell a coherent story.

Tip #7: Make Every Word Count

According to the Common App, you should try to limit your essay to around 650 words or less. Keep in mind, admissions officers spend roughly 8 minutes per application, meaning essays get only a fraction of that time.

Choose every word carefully and make sure what you write is concise. If you have trouble sticking to the limit, consider writing about another topic.

Tip #8: Keep Parent Involvement to a Minimum

Although some parents may find it tempting to “help” write their child’s essay or application overall, it is best to avoid this. Colleges will be able to tell and it will make your child look incompetent, which is probably worse than how they would’ve looked if they had written it themselves.

It is important to set boundaries and for parents to abide by them.  It is ok for parents to check in every once in a while and stay up to date with where their child is in the process, but parents should let their kids take charge of their essays and applications.

Admissions officers know that 17 & 18-year-olds are writing these essays, so their expectations are adjusted for that. Keep in mind that test scores and transcripts will demonstrate proficiency in the English language, so do not worry about this as much when writing your essay. Instead, focus on your perspective and personality.

Tip #9: Consider Your Audience

Think about how a college admissions officer may interpret your writing.

Try to avoid turning your essay into a lecture rather than a story.  Students who tell stories remind adults and officers of why they wanted to work with kids in the first place. You may look knowledgeable when talking to your peers, but to an older admissions officer, you may come across as naive.

When reviewing essays, officers are looking for a reason to say yes, all you have to do is give it to them. Admissions officers want to get to know you, and if their takeaway is “this is a nice, smart kid who would be an asset to our school,” then you’ve done your job and can expect admission to their university.

Tip #10: Spellcheck Is Not Enough

Spelling and/or grammatical errors in your essay are a definite no. Even if you have a stellar essay, your application may end up in the no pile if your spelling and grammar are subpar.

A simple spellcheck is not enough to assure that your essay is clean. You need to have someone else look at it. Parents and peers probably do not have experience with this type of essay, so they may not be the best reviewers.

Instead, trust someone who has experience proofreading college essays, like your counselor or professional admissions expert.

Written by Founder
Chris Hernandez

Christopher Hernandez, the founder of Amikka Learning, couldn’t afford expensive SAT tutoring so he spent hundreds of hours studying on his own.

After improving over 400 points and attending an Ivy League school he realized how unfair the playing field was with tutoring: no matter how smart you were, if you couldn’t afford tutoring you were stuck.
His dream was to change this.

He began tutoring for the SAT and quickly realized that he was a gifted tutor. His students were loving his program and improving very fast.

Fast forward 8 years, Amikka is a leader in the education industry and has helped thousands of students get into their dream schools.

If you’d like a free consultation for 1-on-1 tutoring schedule a call with our team here.

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