How to Write a Great College Essay

  • Depending on what colleges you apply to, you might have to write one or more essays and/or short answer questions for your college applications.

    These short pieces of writing can be really important because the admissions officers at your college have never met you, and only have access to your grades, activities, and test scores. This is your opportunity to share with them something important about yourself that they wouldn't otherwise know.

    My Best Advice:

    • Get help!
      • Ask me (or a trusted teacher or other adult) to read over your essays and/or to help you brainstorm. They can catch embarrassing errors, like using the wrong college name, typos, and make sure you're communicating what you want to say in your writing.
    • Don't repeat.
      • Think about what's important to you that isn't communicated in the other parts of your application, and be careful about just listing your extracurriculars again, since they can see that on the rest of your application. Some ideas: why do you want to have the career you want? What's been the most important experience in your life? Are there any challenging circumstances you've had to overcome?
    • Show, don't tell.
      • Yes, this is what your English teacher would say, but they're right! Tell a story and use specific details to support what you're saying, don't just say, "My goal in life is to be a college adviser. I want to do this because I like working with people. I want to help people. I think it would be very fun and cool to be a college adviser." All of those things might be true, but it's not very interesting to read!
    • Be honest.
      • Don't make anything up, because that can reflect poorly on you.
    • Take your time.
      • These are important, so don't rush them the day before the essay is due! Try writing one draft, taking a few days away from it, and coming back. You'll catch a lot of your own errors this way, and have a clearer perspective on your writing.
    • Do your research.
      • If the prompt is something like, "Why do you want to attend this college?", show that you've done some research. Why ARE you really applying? Is it because they have programs you want to pursue? Is it because you visited and totally loved it? What did you love about it? What extracurriculars do they have that you might participate in? What do you like about the town they're located in? If you aren't sure where to begin, talk to me for help! 
        • But avoid being the person who writes "I want to attend Appalachian because I love the mountains and the outdoors" OR "I want to go to UNC-W because I love the beach." A LOT of people write the exact same essay and it doesn't help you stand out or show that you've done your research. They want to know why you will succeed at their college, not that you like to swim in the ocean.