How to Write Your College Application Essay
Last updated September 10, 2023
A college application essay (also known as a personal statement) is a critical component of your college applications. It allows you to tell your story in your own authentic voice, helping the schools you’re applying to truly get to know you outside of your resume and application. The "best" college application essay is one that's just as unique as the person writing it. There isn't one perfect example or template that works for everyone's story - so the key is finding a way to express who you are through engaging storytelling and self-reflection. Here are some tips for writing your college application essay!
Write about a topic that you find interesting
Choosing a topic you're passionate about will breathe energy and life into your essay. This will help it stand out from the thousands of essays that college admissions reviewers will read. No matter what topic you choose, your response should tell a story and give the reader insight into your personality: your values, what fascinates and excites you, what you’re curious about, and more. Your essay shouldn't just speak to why you want to go to a certain college, but how you think you'll benefit from becoming part of their school's community and culture, and how you’ll contribute to it.
Keep your essay focused
You want your essay topic to be an inch wide and a mile deep. What does that mean? Don't try to talk about your whole life! Pick a specific story or example (inch wide) but tell it in full with lots of detail (mile deep) so the reader feels like they fully understand the story and its impact on who you are as a person. While detailing your experiences is important, avoid going off topic or including any unnecessary details. Make sure each experience relates back to your main topic, or has a common theme that ties them together.
Show, don’t tell
The saying, “show, don’t tell” is a common guideline when writing your college application essay. This means instead of stating what happened, describe what happened using vivid details and examples. By “painting” a picture with your words, your reader is able to better understand and follow along in your story.
For example, instead of saying, “I was the president of the Key Club, which taught me leadership skills,” you can “show” it by describing a time when you had to coordinate a team of volunteers, or describing your emotions and thought process when you had to make important decisions under pressure. By “showing," not “telling," your story becomes more impactful and authentic to the people reading it.
Keep your essay organized
While a college application essay doesn’t require a specific structure, it’s important that your story flows smoothly with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Here’s a quick outline of how that can work:
- Introduction paragraph (your thesis statement): Your intro paragraph addresses the prompt and introduces the story you are about to tell. This paragraph is where you’ll clearly state your thesis statement, or main point you’ll be exploring in your essay, which gives the reader an idea of what to expect and helps focus your narrative. Often, this paragraph starts with a "hook" - a sentence, statement, or introduction that grabs your reader's attention and draws them into the rest of your story.
- Body paragraph(s): The body paragraph (or paragraphs) is where you’ll delve deeper into any experiences or details that support your main topic. It includes specific examples or anecdotes that highlight your personal growth, challenges you’ve overcome, or moments that helped shape your perspective. When sharing your examples, reflect on how it’s impacted you or how it contributed to your personal development.
- Conclusion: This is a place to wrap up the story you’ve outlined and discussed in the previous paragraphs, and should not include any new information for the reader. Use this paragraph as an opportunity to show the reader how you’ve grown from your experiences, what you’ve learned, and how you’ll take these lessons with you throughout your college journey. Reflecting on your experiences and looking thoughtfully towards the future shows that you’re ready to make a positive impact at the college you’re applying to.
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