How to Write a Great College Essay
You’ve researched potential schools, applied for financial aid, and filled out your applications, but the college essay deadline looms over you. Your blank screen may intimidate you, but you’re closer to writing an amazing essay than you think.
If you’re wondering how to write a great college essay, consult these tips.
1. Choose Your Topic Wisely
Choosing what to write about can feel like half the battle of writing a college essay.
The essay serves as a picture of who you are to the admissions staff, so the topics you care about deeply work the best. Your passions, convictions, and meaningful experiences are all great places to start.
To generate ideas, imagine someone who knows you well had to describe you to a stranger. What’s crucial to include? What stories would they tell? What hobbies and interests would they mention? To take the exercise a step further, ask a close relative or friend the same questions.
Take a close look at the essay prompts, too. Though you can usually write about whatever topic you’d like, the suggested prompts may help you narrow your focus if you have a general idea in mind.
2. Stand Out
A few common topics saturate the hundreds of essays that admissions staff read every year. Some of these include academic setbacks and successes, sports injuries and victories, experiences of loss, immigration and relocation, and travel.
Though you may have powerful stories that fall under these topics, their universality puts you at a disadvantage. It’s extremely difficult to provide a fresh perspective on subjects that thousands of other students have written about. So if you pick one of these topics, know that you risk blending in with the crowd. Consider giving a unique story or unconventional interest the spotlight.
No matter what subject you choose, write in a way that allows you to stand out. Include the details only you can write, describing them in the way only you would.
3. Develop Your Voice
The college essay calls for mature and skillful writing. Many students, wanting to demonstrate that they know how to write a college essay, use unnecessarily complicated language. This only results in a dense and confusing paper.
You risk sounding ingenuine when you use words and expressions that you never would in real life. Your best writing allows your authentic voice to shine through. The admissions officers care more about whether you’re capable of writing clearly and concisely, not about how many academic, multi-syllabic words you know.
Have trouble sounding like yourself while writing? Read your writing aloud. You’ll catch unnatural wording and awkward phrasing.
Consider freewriting as well. Freewriting entails writing whatever comes to mind without pausing, erasing or editing your work. To get started, set a timer for 10-20 minutes and write until it goes off.
After a couple of sessions, you’ll feel more comfortable putting the pen to the page (or fingers to the keyboard!). You’ll also get to practice putting complex feelings and ideas into words, a valuable skill when understanding how to write a great college essay.
4. Highlight Your Growth
Everyone knows that the power of a good story lies in the details. So when writing a college essay, many students focus more on what happened than how they developed as a person through it.
While you want to write descriptively, your essay should emphasize your growth and development more than the external circumstances. Describing what you did on a trip doesn’t illustrate much about you as a person. But exploring how it sparked a passion in you, changed your view about an issue, or challenged you to reexamine your faith makes for a more meaningful essay.
Many students also believe their essay should function as a resume, listing out their strengths and achievements. Your essay may indeed demonstrate a positive quality or achievement of yours. But when you restate details already on your application, you waste the opportunity to venture beyond facts and figures and into who you are as a person. Outlining your noble deeds and impressive accolades won’t resonate with the admissions staff, but sincere, vulnerable writing will.
If you’re wondering how to write a great college essay, highlight your growth and your passions. Don’t select a story simply because it paints you in a good light.
5. Tell a Good Story
Great college essays use compelling narratives to highlight growth. A good story speaks to us in ways other types of writing cannot.
Most college essays follow a narrative sequence, taking the reader through an event chronologically. Because of its simplicity and clarity, this format lends itself well to college essays. Some essays also follow a topical order, describing multiple scenes that revolve around a common theme.
No matter how you structure your essay, use rich, descriptive writing. Specific, powerful language immerses your reader in your story. You can only achieve this kind of writing by putting time and effort into your college essay. Don’t settle on one draft! Play around with sentence structure. Try out multiple words before choosing one. Your college essay is brief, so make sure every word conveys exactly what you intend it to mean.
Wonder no longer how to write a great college essay. With these tips in mind, you can write with power and meaning, giving admissions staff a clear picture of what makes you, you.
Looking for a college that doesn’t require an essay? Consider Grace College. The Lancer application is free and takes only five minutes to complete.