Writing a Good College Application Essay

The college essay is an interview on paper, a chance for the reader to get to know you as an individual beyond your transcript, test scores and extracurricular activities. The essay differentiates you from other applicants and gives you the chance to explain why you are a good fit for the college and how you will engage and succeed there.
Take Time to Brainstorm
Make a list of your most important experiences, achievements, and/or values.
  • List adjectives that describe you and anything significant or unique about you.
  • If you wanted the reader to summarize you in one sentence, what would that be?
  • Think of ways you have grown and changed over the four years of high school and which experiences contributed to those changes. Talk about your recent history, not early childhood.
  • Choose a topic you care about. It should demonstrate self-awareness and personal growth.
  • Don’t try to be someone you are not. You are not expected to have gone through some terrible event or faced a major obstacle. The simplest topics are often the best.
  • Try to tell a unique story. If you left your essay somewhere and a friend found it, would they know it was about you, and only you?
  • Write down a few main ideas for each essay topic and then decide which topic you are most comfortable writing about. No one topic is better than another.
  • Read the prompt carefully and answer all parts of the question. The follow up
    question is often what they really want to know: “How did this affect…?”, “How have you developed..?” etc.
  • If your story doesn’t fit any prompt, you can always use it for the “essay of your choice”.

Sitting Down to Write
  • Be open and AUTHENTIC. The best essay is one that sounds like you.
  • Don’t write what you think the admissions officer wants to hear or try to be someone you are not.
  • Write in your own genuine voice. Don’t use the thesaurus or force humor if that isn’t your style.
  • This is a narrative essay, so make it PERSONAL. Use “I” and “me.”
  • Don't feel limited to the 5-paragraph academic essay formula. It doesn’t work well for narratives.
  • Organize your essay. Don’t jump around too much or you will confuse the reader. Avoid repetition.
  • Narrow your focus. Choose one main idea and really elaborate on it.
  • Pay attention to tone. Don’t be too formal or informal. Leave the reader feeling positive about you.
  • You are not expected to be perfect. Do not be afraid to admit past mistakes or things you would do differently now, but remember to focus on your personal growth and learning.
  • Grab the reader’s attention with a “hook” but move quickly to the focus of the essay.
  • Show using SPECIFIC examples, facts and events to get your point across and make it personal.
  • Tell WHY it is important to you, WHAT you learned, and HOW you grew.
  • Don’t rewrite your résumé or list of accomplishments. Talk about something new that isn’t included elsewhere in the application or expand on and explain personal details of a class/activity/interest.
  • Don’t focus on your hero, other people, past events etc. Give a quick explanation and then focus on yourself and your response to that person, event, problem etc. Don’t complain about a person or experience. It doesn’t reflect well on you.
  • Make every word count. Don’t waste words on repetition or ornate, flowery language.
  • Avoid quotes and using other people’s words. This is about you and your experience.
Don’t Forget to Revise
  • Read it through slowly out loud to assess flow. You may catch mistakes you otherwise missed.
  • Check spelling, but don’t rely on the computer’s spell check! It won’t pick up grammatical errors or words with spelling variations (there/their/they’re for example)
  • Proofread it yourself and then ask someone whose opinion you respect to review it for content, structure, word choice, and tone. Avoid asking too many people for their opinion.
  • Don't feel obligated to use all the advice you get. Take feedback but keep your own voice and style.

Thank you to Tamara Strachman and Ann Auld, Independent Education Consultants and Leigh Alum parents, for the information above.