Not only is the college admissions essay a place to showcase your writing skills, but it’s also one of the only parts of a college application that a student’s voice can shine through. Prospective college students want their essays to make a lasting impression and boost their chances of enrollment; however, they only have several hundred words to make that happen– which can feel like a lot of pressure. From brainstorming essay topics to editing the final drafts, we’ve put together everything students need to know about crafting the ultimate college essay.  

Getting Started on the College Essay  

The best time for students to begin working on their essays is the summer before senior year when homework and extracurricular activities aren’t taking up time and mental energy. Starting early also gives students plenty of time to work through multiple drafts of an essay before college application deadlines appear, which can be as early as November for students applying for early admissions.  

Students can go online to review essay requirements for the colleges they plan to apply to, such as accessing word limits and essay topics. Many students may want to consider starting with the Common App, an application platform accepted by nearly 900 schools.  

How to Pick a College Essay Topic  

The first and usually most daunting step in the college essay writing process is figuring out what topic to write about. There are several essay prompts to choose from on a college application. They tend to be broad, open-ended questions, giving students the freedom to decided what they want to write about.  

Students must understand that the essay isn’t a complete autobiography. There’s no need to get overwhelmed or think that you must write your life story in one essay. Instead, students should narrow their focus and write about one specific experience, hobby, or quirk that reveals how they think, who they are, or their strengths. 

What’s most important is that a college essay is well-thought-out and tells a story that offers insight into who a student is as a person. So, regardless of the topic they choose, they’ll ultimately be writing about themselves. If students have trouble brainstorming potential topics, we suggest asking the people closest to you, like friends or family members, for help.   

Start with a Compelling Introduction  

Excellent writing is hard to achieve, but it’s not impossible. Any professional writer will tell you that you can catch any reader’s attention as long as you deliver a great introduction. The introduction must reveal to the reader what the essay is about and grab their attention. The admissions officers only spend a brief amount of time reviewing an essay, so it must start with a vivid paragraph that will keep them engaged.  

Students may want to consider opening with an anecdote or an interesting story that will show some of their personality and best parts of their character, offering insight that will help the admissions officers get to know who they are. And remember, the first draft of an essay doesn’t need to be perfect. Students must not edit themselves when constructing an essay; lay it all out on the page and leave revisions for later.   

Give Good Examples to Support Your Ideas  

A college application essay is a glimpse into how student’s mind works and how they perceive the world around them. To build a credible essay, it’s important to make sure everything that a student writes supports that viewpoint. It’s essential to spend time figuring out how the essay question relates to student’s personal qualities and then write from that specific angle.  

Don’t merely state a fact every time an idea is expressed; a student should also include specific details and examples to develop their ideas. This can be accomplished by offering examples from personal experiences and writing about what truly motivates students and how they came to create this belief.   

Editing and Submitting the College Essay  

While admissions officers try to learn about the students when reading their essays, they’re also gauging writing and grammar skills, so students must submit top-notch work. The best writing is rewriting; students should never submit a first draft.  

After editing questions, students should seek outside editing help. While many individuals and companies offer paid essay help, from editing services to essay-writing boot camps, we understand that not all families may be able to afford associated fees. Students can also ask peers, teachers, school counselors, and family members to polish an essay. However, proofreaders should not edit the essay’s tone. 

When an essay is ready to go, students will generally submit it online along with the rest of their application. For example, students will copy and paste their essay into a text box on the Common App. While some students may stress the essay, it’s not the only thing college admission officers look at. Don’t forget that an application is built in many pieces.    

Writing a college essay takes time and effort, and students should feel accomplished. When submitting the essay, remember to include first and last name, contact information, and ID number if the college provides one. Make sure to keep copies of what was sent to which school, and lastly, be sure to follow up on them!