Writing the Perfect College Admissions Essay

Start with a college essay outline, be yourself, and proofread!

Kathryn Knight Randolph

September 12, 2022

Writing the Perfect College Admissions Essay
Strategizing is key and some essay-writing tips can help to do so.
There are multiple components to the college application. Most are fairly simple and straight-forward, like the form itself, transcripts, and test scores. However, there is one component that may cause students to agonize – and procrastinate. It’s the college essay. When it comes to writing this particular essay, the task can be daunting. Strategizing is key and some essay-writing tips can help to do so. Utilize the below advice to write your college admissions essay.

Writing the Perfect College Admissions Essay

Don’t Reuse Unedited Content

Colleges can see right through a generic essay, so personalize it based on the school where you’re applying. There’s nothing wrong with having a standard format and adding in information, but one size does not fit all when it comes to admissions essays. After all, it would be pretty embarrassing if you were applying to XYZ University but sent a college essay that kept mentioning ABC College. At the same time, if you’re going to utilize an essay that you’ve already written, take time to make sure it works for the colleges you’re applying to.
While some colleges don’t care if you use a graded essay that you created for a high school course, others may. Be sure you read the college essay requirements carefully and that your essay will work.

Be Creative

If you look at it from an admissions officer’s perspective, they read hundreds, if not thousands, of admissions essays daily. You want yours to stand out amongst the pile and creativity is key. If you have a unique story to tell, the college essay is the perfect format to share it. Keep in mind, however, that there are college admissions essay topics to avoid.
There are colleges that do not let the creative pressure fall entirely on you. In fact, some are known for their crazy college essay prompts, such as the University of Chicago, which allows newly admitted and current students to craft essay questions like the following: You are on an expedition to found a colony on Mars, when from a nearby crater, a group of Martians suddenly emerges. They seem eager to communicate, but they're the impatient kind and demand you represent the human race in one song, image, memory, proof, or other idea. What do you share with them to show that humanity is worth their time?

Get Editing Help

It never hurts to have a second, third or fourth set of eyes on your essays to edit for voice as well as grammatical errors. Ask your teachers, guidance counselors, and family members, to help you out – they will likely oblige. While we always recommend getting a pair or two of human eyes on your college essay, there are also several sites that will check your writing for punctuation or grammar errors, concise writing, and even plagiarism. Check out Grammarly, Chegg, and EasyBib. Finally, your local community center or library may offer college essay editing help or workshops. If they do, take advantage of this free help. You’ll likely learn quite a bit to help with your writing in general!

Edit More Than You Think You Should

If you’ve gone over your essay a million times, it’s probably starting to bleed together and look the same. But that doesn't mean you should stop looking it over. Take a break, walk away, and then come back to it. It may take a fresh set of eyes, but it’s worth doing several times over. You want your college essay to be perfect, so take your time and be patient in order to ensure you’re making the best impression possible on this important component of the college application.

Don’t Rush

If you haven’t already, prepare a college essay outline. Give yourself enough time to think it through and create a rough draft. From there, return to your work and revise it each time. If you give yourself enough time, you can accomplish more than you would if you left it to the last minute. Great writers take it slow and write, rewrite and rewrite again. It may seem tedious but that's how the process works!

Stay Positive

Focus on all your positive attributes but be sure to steer clear of bragging. There’s a fine line between confidence and narcissism. Also, it may be that you’ve had some very difficult life experiences that you want to address in your college admissions essay, which is completely appropriate. Be sure, though, to discuss what you’ve gained from your circumstances that has helped you grow or encourage you. You’re allowed to be emotional in your college essay, but don’t work to turn it into a sob story. If it’s you have a story that’s a legitimate tear-jerker, you’ll be able to elicit those without embellishing. Finally, if you’re hoping that your admissions essay is a great place to convince the financial aid office to give you more money, think again. While admissions and financial aid officers sometimes work together, admissions officers have no say in what type of aid a student deserves. That data will be pulled solely from the FAFSA and supplemental financial aid forms.

Use Your Own Voice

Admissions officers want to get to know you – you as you are, not that you want to be. Write well, but maintain your voice, expressing what you’re most passionate about and what you picture for yourself in the future. There is a fine line that you have to walk when crafting your admissions essay. You obviously want to impress the admissions committee, but you don’t want it to look like you’re trying to impress them. Don’t use vocabulary or phrases that aren’t part of your regular verbal or written vernacular. Instead, just be – and write – like yourself.

Be Honest

While focusing on the positive, stay true to yourself. Don’t over exaggerate or lie in any way. Admission officers can spot lies – no matter how small – from a mile away. Remember, reading college essays, and deciphering who a student really is from that essay, is part of their job description. You want to be admitted into a college on your own merit, not by pretending to be something that you’re not. It will be easier to find yourself on a college campus if you’re truthful about who you are before you even arrive.

Make Your College Admissions Essay Work for You

Don’t be intimidated by the college essay. Look at it as your opportunity to shine on the college application! Keep in mind that it’s important to be yourself, be prepared, and be ready to ask for help. While reaching out to friends, family, and mentors for help, you can also talk to someone on the admissions committee at your first-choice college. While they can’t edit the essay for you, they may be able to provide some helpful hints on what to do and what not to. Plus, engaging them in this discussion will show them that you’re very interested in their institution. Though bonus points aren’t distributed during the college admissions process, indicating your level of interest may help your case. After all, these colleges and universities want to admit students who actually want to be there.

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