Tips for Writing an Effective Application Essay

Find the right college for you.

Writing an essay for college admission gives you a chance to use your authentic voice and show your personality. It's an excellent opportunity to personalize your application beyond your academic credentials, and a well-written essay can have a positive influence come decision time.

Want to know how to draft an essay for your college application ? Here are some tips to keep in mind when writing.

Tips for Essay Writing

A typical college application essay, also known as a personal statement, is 400-600 words. Although that may seem short, writing about yourself can be challenging. It's not something you want to rush or put off at the last moment. Think of it as a critical piece of the application process. Follow these tips to write an impactful essay that can work in your favor.

1. Start Early.

Few people write well under pressure. Try to complete your first draft a few weeks before you have to turn it in. Many advisers recommend starting as early as the summer before your senior year in high school. That way, you have ample time to think about the prompt and craft the best personal statement possible.

You don't have to work on your essay every day, but you'll want to give yourself time to revise and edit. You may discover that you want to change your topic or think of a better way to frame it. Either way, the sooner you start, the better.

2. Understand the Prompt and Instructions.

Before you begin the writing process, take time to understand what the college wants from you. The worst thing you can do is skim through the instructions and submit a piece that doesn't even fit the bare minimum requirements or address the essay topic. Look at the prompt, consider the required word count, and note any unique details each school wants.

3. Create a Strong Opener.

Students seeking help for their application essays often have trouble getting things started. It's a challenging writing process. Finding the right words to start can be the hardest part.

Spending more time working on your opener is always a good idea. The opening sentence sets the stage for the rest of your piece. The introductory paragraph is what piques the interest of the reader, and it can immediately set your essay apart from the others.

4. Stay on Topic.

One of the most important things to remember is to keep to the essay topic. If you're applying to 10 or more colleges, it's easy to veer off course with so many application essays.

A common mistake many students make is trying to fit previously written essays into the mold of another college's requirements. This seems like a time-saving way to avoid writing new pieces entirely, but it often backfires. The result is usually a final piece that's generic, unfocused, or confusing. Always write a new essay for every application, no matter how long it takes.

5. Think About Your Response.

Don't try to guess what the admissions officials want to read. Your essay will be easier to write─and more exciting to read─if you’re genuinely enthusiastic about your subject. Here’s an example: If all your friends are writing application essays about covid-19, it may be a good idea to avoid that topic, unless during the pandemic you had a vivid, life-changing experience you're burning to share. Whatever topic you choose, avoid canned responses. Be creative.

6. Focus on You.

Essay prompts typically give you plenty of latitude, but panel members expect you to focus on a subject that is personal (although not overly intimate) and particular to you. Admissions counselors say the best essays help them learn something about the candidate that they would never know from reading the rest of the application.

7. Stay True to Your Voice.

Use your usual vocabulary. Avoid fancy language you wouldn't use in real life. Imagine yourself reading this essay aloud to a classroom full of people who have never met you. Keep a confident tone. Be wary of words and phrases that undercut that tone.

8. Be Specific and Factual.

Capitalize on real-life experiences. Your essay may give you the time and space to explain why a particular achievement meant so much to you. But resist the urge to exaggerate and embellish. Admissions counselors read thousands of essays each year. They can easily spot a fake.

9. Edit and Proofread.

When you finish the final draft, run it through the spell checker on your computer. Then don’t read your essay for a few days. You'll be more apt to spot typos and awkward grammar when you reread it. After that, ask a teacher, parent, or college student (preferably an English or communications major) to give it a quick read. While you're at it, double-check your word count.

Writing essays for college admission can be daunting, but it doesn't have to be. A well-crafted essay could be the deciding factor─in your favor. Keep these tips in mind, and you'll have no problem creating memorable pieces for every application.

What is the format of a college application essay?

Generally, essays for college admission follow a simple format that includes an opening paragraph, a lengthier body section, and a closing paragraph. You don't need to include a title, which will only take up extra space. Keep in mind that the exact format can vary from one college application to the next. Read the instructions and prompt for more guidance.

Most online applications will include a text box for your essay. If you're attaching it as a document, however, be sure to use a standard, 12-point font and use 1.5-spaced or double-spaced lines, unless the application specifies different font and spacing.

How do you start an essay?

The goal here is to use an attention grabber. Think of it as a way to reel the reader in and interest an admissions officer in what you have to say. There's no trick on how to start a college application essay. The best way you can approach this task is to flex your creative muscles and think outside the box.

You can start with openers such as relevant quotes, exciting anecdotes, or questions. Either way, the first sentence should be unique and intrigue the reader.

What should an essay include?

Every application essay you write should include details about yourself and past experiences. It's another opportunity to make yourself look like a fantastic applicant. Leverage your experiences. Tell a riveting story that fulfills the prompt.

What shouldn’t be included in an essay?

When writing a college application essay, it's usually best to avoid overly personal details and controversial topics. Although these topics might make for an intriguing essay, they can be tricky to express well. If you’re unsure if a topic is appropriate for your essay, check with your school counselor. An essay for college admission shouldn't include a list of achievements or academic accolades either. Your essay isn’t meant to be a rehashing of information the admissions panel can find elsewhere in your application.

How can you make your essay personal and interesting?

The best way to make your essay interesting is to write about something genuinely important to you. That could be an experience that changed your life or a valuable lesson that had an enormous impact on you. Whatever the case, speak from the heart, and be honest.

Is it OK to discuss mental health in an essay?

Mental health struggles can create challenges you must overcome during your education and could be an opportunity for you to show how you’ve handled challenges and overcome obstacles. If you’re considering writing your essay for college admission on this topic, consider talking to your school counselor or with an English teacher on how to frame the essay.

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How to Write a College Application Essay

College Board

  • January 8, 2020

Are you trying to write your college application essay but don’t know where to start? This post will help you decide what to include in your essay . 

What is a college application essay?

Many colleges require you to submit an essay, written by you, as part of your application. They may ask you to respond to a question or prompt. This application essay is your opportunity to show colleges your personality and how you think. You can use the essay to demonstrate what you can bring to a campus and to stand out from other applicants.

Why do you need a college application essay?

Many colleges require an essay from each applicant. The essay is also required on the Common Application, which is used by more than 800 colleges and universities. Most admissions officers take the college application essay into consideration in deciding which students to admit (of course, each college has its own process).

Colleges see the essay as a way to hear from you directly and to get a sense of who you are in your own words. It’s a great opportunity for you to personalize your application beyond the grades, scores, and other information you’ve provided, and it can make a difference at decision time.

What are colleges looking for in your application essay?

Colleges want to see that you can write well and build a logical argument with supporting ideas. Some colleges also use the essay to help them determine whether an applicant is a good fit.

According to one expert, the best advice for any student writing an essay is to answer the question that was asked and to be yourself—in your own voice.

How do you write a college application essay?

1. just get going..

Staring down a blank page can be the hardest part of writing an essay. So try this exercise to overcome writer’s block: Take 20 minutes to jot down a few quick lists of your proudest accomplishments, worst embarrassments, life-changing moments, strongest memories, favorite people, or any other categories that appeal to you. Don’t overthink your lists. (And don’t worry if, like most people, your best ideas come after that initial 30 minutes is up.) Repeat the exercise once a day for as many days as you need. Soon you’ll discover yourself with one—or more—possible essay topics.

2. Give yourself an early start.

Few people write well under pressure, so give yourself at least a few weeks before the submission deadline. You don’t have to work on your essay every single day, but you do have to give yourself enough time to revise, to edit, and then to show your first draft to a friend for feedback. The sooner that first draft is underway, the better off you’ll be.

3. Avoid a theme that everyone else is using.

Your essay will be easier to write—and more exciting to read—if it’s based on genuine emotion and authentic experience. Don’t try to guess what you think an admissions office wants to read. So if all your friends are writing application essays about the topic of the day, that may be a good reason to stay away from it. Unless, of course, you have a unique angle that you are burning to share.

4. Sound like your best self.

Admissions counselors say that the best essays help them learn something about the student that they would never know from reading the rest of the application. For example, this essay may be the ideal opportunity to draw attention to an achievement, a hobby, or a life experience that’s barely mentioned on your application.

5.Write confidently, but not arrogantly.

Keep a confident tone even if—especially if—you’re not feeling that way. Be on the lookout for words and phrases like “maybe,” “sort of,” and “I think” that might undercut that tone. At the same time, though, make sure to follow application guidelines about format and length. If the essay has a suggested 650-word maximum, your application will stand out—not in a good way—if you turn in 250 words.

6. Proofread, proofread, then proofread again.

As you progress toward your final draft, run the essay through the spell-check on your computer and double-check your word count. Then set it aside and don’t read it for a few days. When you read your essay again with a cold eye, you’ll be more likely to spot typos and awkward phrasing. After that, ask a teacher, parent, or college student to give it a quick read.

7. Put yourself in the place of an admissions counselor.

If you were someone who had to read dozens of college essays every day, would you enjoy reading this one? Does it have a promising beginning? Is it easy to follow? Is it free from distracting typos? Does it have a logical conclusion? Does it make you want to know more about the writer? If you think so, chances are that an admission counselor will too.

Ready to start? Here are some tips to come up with an A+ college application essay:

  • You may be asked to write about a personal experience, an achievement, or a person who is significant to you. Go beyond the what or the who and dig into the how and the why.
  • If you write about a trip or event, describe how this experience affected you and why it’s meaningful to you.
  • If you are writing about a person in your life, be personal and specific, not just sentimental. Explain what this person did and how their actions, words, or example affected you.

Find out how other students successfully tackled their college application essays.

Visit bigfuture.org for more free, comprehensive college planning resources.

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How to Write a College Essay | A Complete Guide & Examples

The college essay can make or break your application. It’s your chance to provide personal context, communicate your values and qualities, and set yourself apart from other students.

A standout essay has a few key ingredients:

  • A unique, personal topic
  • A compelling, well-structured narrative
  • A clear, creative writing style
  • Evidence of self-reflection and insight

To achieve this, it’s crucial to give yourself enough time for brainstorming, writing, revision, and feedback.

In this comprehensive guide, we walk you through every step in the process of writing a college admissions essay.

Table of contents

Why do you need a standout essay, start organizing early, choose a unique topic, outline your essay, start with a memorable introduction, write like an artist, craft a strong conclusion, revise and receive feedback, frequently asked questions.

While most of your application lists your academic achievements, your college admissions essay is your opportunity to share who you are and why you’d be a good addition to the university.

Your college admissions essay accounts for about 25% of your application’s total weight一and may account for even more with some colleges making the SAT and ACT tests optional. The college admissions essay may be the deciding factor in your application, especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurriculars.

What do colleges look for in an essay?

Admissions officers want to understand your background, personality, and values to get a fuller picture of you beyond your test scores and grades. Here’s what colleges look for in an essay :

  • Demonstrated values and qualities
  • Vulnerability and authenticity
  • Self-reflection and insight
  • Creative, clear, and concise writing skills

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

It’s a good idea to start organizing your college application timeline in the summer of your junior year to make your application process easier. This will give you ample time for essay brainstorming, writing, revision, and feedback.

While timelines will vary for each student, aim to spend at least 1–3 weeks brainstorming and writing your first draft and at least 2–4 weeks revising across multiple drafts. Remember to leave enough time for breaks in between each writing and editing stage.

Create an essay tracker sheet

If you’re applying to multiple schools, you will have to juggle writing several essays for each one. We recommend using an essay tracker spreadsheet to help you visualize and organize the following:

  • Deadlines and number of essays needed
  • Prompt overlap, allowing you to write one essay for similar prompts

You can build your own essay tracker using our free Google Sheets template.

College essay tracker template

Ideally, you should start brainstorming college essay topics the summer before your senior year. Keep in mind that it’s easier to write a standout essay with a unique topic.

If you want to write about a common essay topic, such as a sports injury or volunteer work overseas, think carefully about how you can make it unique and personal. You’ll need to demonstrate deep insight and write your story in an original way to differentiate it from similar essays.

What makes a good topic?

  • Meaningful and personal to you
  • Uncommon or has an unusual angle
  • Reveals something different from the rest of your application

Brainstorming questions

You should do a comprehensive brainstorm before choosing your topic. Here are a few questions to get started:

  • What are your top five values? What lived experiences demonstrate these values?
  • What adjectives would your friends and family use to describe you?
  • What challenges or failures have you faced and overcome? What lessons did you learn from them?
  • What makes you different from your classmates?
  • What are some objects that represent your identity, your community, your relationships, your passions, or your goals?
  • Whom do you admire most? Why?
  • What three people have significantly impacted your life? How did they influence you?

How to identify your topic

Here are two strategies for identifying a topic that demonstrates your values:

  • Start with your qualities : First, identify positive qualities about yourself; then, brainstorm stories that demonstrate these qualities.
  • Start with a story : Brainstorm a list of memorable life moments; then, identify a value shown in each story.

After choosing your topic, organize your ideas in an essay outline , which will help keep you focused while writing. Unlike a five-paragraph academic essay, there’s no set structure for a college admissions essay. You can take a more creative approach, using storytelling techniques to shape your essay.

Two common approaches are to structure your essay as a series of vignettes or as a single narrative.

Vignettes structure

The vignette, or montage, structure weaves together several stories united by a common theme. Each story should demonstrate one of your values or qualities and conclude with an insight or future outlook.

This structure gives the admissions officer glimpses into your personality, background, and identity, and shows how your qualities appear in different areas of your life.

Topic: Museum with a “five senses” exhibit of my experiences

  • Introduction: Tour guide introduces my museum and my “Making Sense of My Heritage” exhibit
  • Story: Racial discrimination with my eyes
  • Lesson: Using my writing to document truth
  • Story: Broadway musical interests
  • Lesson: Finding my voice
  • Story: Smells from family dinner table
  • Lesson: Appreciating home and family
  • Story: Washing dishes
  • Lesson: Finding moments of peace in busy schedule
  • Story: Biking with Ava
  • Lesson: Finding pleasure in job well done
  • Conclusion: Tour guide concludes tour, invites guest to come back for “fall College Collection,” featuring my search for identity and learning.

Single story structure

The single story, or narrative, structure uses a chronological narrative to show a student’s character development over time. Some narrative essays detail moments in a relatively brief event, while others narrate a longer journey spanning months or years.

Single story essays are effective if you have overcome a significant challenge or want to demonstrate personal development.

Topic: Sports injury helps me learn to be a better student and person

  • Situation: Football injury
  • Challenge: Friends distant, teachers don’t know how to help, football is gone for me
  • Turning point: Starting to like learning in Ms. Brady’s history class; meeting Christina and her friends
  • My reactions: Reading poetry; finding shared interest in poetry with Christina; spending more time studying and with people different from me
  • Insight: They taught me compassion and opened my eyes to a different lifestyle; even though I still can’t play football, I’m starting a new game

Brainstorm creative insights or story arcs

Regardless of your essay’s structure, try to craft a surprising story arc or original insights, especially if you’re writing about a common topic.

Never exaggerate or fabricate facts about yourself to seem interesting. However, try finding connections in your life that deviate from cliché storylines and lessons.

Common insight Unique insight
Making an all-state team → outstanding achievement Making an all-state team → counting the cost of saying “no” to other interests
Making a friend out of an enemy → finding common ground, forgiveness Making a friend out of an enemy → confront toxic thinking and behavior in yourself
Choir tour → a chance to see a new part of the world Choir tour → a chance to serve in leading younger students
Volunteering → learning to help my community and care about others Volunteering → learning to be critical of insincere resume-building
Turning a friend in for using drugs →  choosing the moral high ground Turning a friend in for using drugs →  realizing the hypocrisy of hiding your secrets

Admissions officers read thousands of essays each year, and they typically spend only a few minutes reading each one. To get your message across, your introduction , or hook, needs to grab the reader’s attention and compel them to read more..

Avoid starting your introduction with a famous quote, cliché, or reference to the essay itself (“While I sat down to write this essay…”).

While you can sometimes use dialogue or a meaningful quotation from a close family member or friend, make sure it encapsulates your essay’s overall theme.

Find an original, creative way of starting your essay using the following two methods.

Option 1: Start with an intriguing hook

Begin your essay with an unexpected statement to pique the reader’s curiosity and compel them to carefully read your essay. A mysterious introduction disarms the reader’s expectations and introduces questions that can only be answered by reading more.

Option 2: Start with vivid imagery

Illustrate a clear, detailed image to immediately transport your reader into your memory. You can start in the middle of an important scene or describe an object that conveys your essay’s theme.

A college application essay allows you to be creative in your style and tone. As you draft your essay, try to use interesting language to enliven your story and stand out .

Show, don’t tell

“Tell” in writing means to simply state a fact: “I am a basketball player.” “ Show ” in writing means to use details, examples, and vivid imagery to help the reader easily visualize your memory: “My heart races as I set up to shoot一two seconds, one second一and score a three-pointer!”

First, reflect on every detail of a specific image or scene to recall the most memorable aspects.

  • What are the most prominent images?
  • Are there any particular sounds, smells, or tastes associated with this memory?
  • What emotion or physical feeling did you have at that time?

Be vulnerable to create an emotional response

You don’t have to share a huge secret or traumatic story, but you should dig deep to express your honest feelings, thoughts, and experiences to evoke an emotional response. Showing vulnerability demonstrates humility and maturity. However, don’t exaggerate to gain sympathy.

Use appropriate style and tone

Make sure your essay has the right style and tone by following these guidelines:

  • Use a conversational yet respectful tone: less formal than academic writing, but more formal than texting your friends.
  • Prioritize using “I” statements to highlight your perspective.
  • Write within your vocabulary range to maintain an authentic voice.
  • Write concisely, and use the active voice to keep a fast pace.
  • Follow grammar rules (unless you have valid stylistic reasons for breaking them).

You should end your college essay with a deep insight or creative ending to leave the reader with a strong final impression. Your college admissions essay should avoid the following:

  • Summarizing what you already wrote
  • Stating your hope of being accepted to the school
  • Mentioning character traits that should have been illustrated in the essay, such as “I’m a hard worker”

Here are two strategies to craft a strong conclusion.

Option 1: Full circle, sandwich structure

The full circle, or sandwich, structure concludes the essay with an image, idea, or story mentioned in the introduction. This strategy gives the reader a strong sense of closure.

In the example below, the essay concludes by returning to the “museum” metaphor that the writer opened with.

Option 2: Revealing your insight

You can use the conclusion to show the insight you gained as a result of the experiences you’ve described. Revealing your main message at the end creates suspense and keeps the takeaway at the forefront of your reader’s mind.

Revise your essay before submitting it to check its content, style, and grammar. Get feedback from no more than two or three people.

It’s normal to go through several rounds of revision, but take breaks between each editing stage.

Also check out our college essay examples to see what does and doesn’t work in an essay and the kinds of changes you can make to improve yours.

Respect the word count

Most schools specify a word count for each essay , and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit.

Remain under the specified word count limit to show you can write concisely and follow directions. However, don’t write too little, which may imply that you are unwilling or unable to write a thoughtful and developed essay.

Check your content, style, and grammar

  • First, check big-picture issues of message, flow, and clarity.
  • Then, check for style and tone issues.
  • Finally, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors.

Get feedback

Get feedback from 2–3 people who know you well, have good writing skills, and are familiar with college essays.

  • Teachers and guidance counselors can help you check your content, language, and tone.
  • Friends and family can check for authenticity.
  • An essay coach or editor has specialized knowledge of college admissions essays and can give objective expert feedback.

The checklist below helps you make sure your essay ticks all the boxes.

College admissions essay checklist

I’ve organized my essay prompts and created an essay writing schedule.

I’ve done a comprehensive brainstorm for essay topics.

I’ve selected a topic that’s meaningful to me and reveals something different from the rest of my application.

I’ve created an outline to guide my structure.

I’ve crafted an introduction containing vivid imagery or an intriguing hook that grabs the reader’s attention.

I’ve written my essay in a way that shows instead of telling.

I’ve shown positive traits and values in my essay.

I’ve demonstrated self-reflection and insight in my essay.

I’ve used appropriate style and tone .

I’ve concluded with an insight or a creative ending.

I’ve revised my essay , checking my overall message, flow, clarity, and grammar.

I’ve respected the word count , remaining within 10% of the upper word limit.

Congratulations!

It looks like your essay ticks all the boxes. A second pair of eyes can help you take it to the next level – Scribbr's essay coaches can help.

Colleges want to be able to differentiate students who seem similar on paper. In the college application essay , they’re looking for a way to understand each applicant’s unique personality and experiences.

Your college essay accounts for about 25% of your application’s weight. It may be the deciding factor in whether you’re accepted, especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurricular track records.

A standout college essay has several key ingredients:

  • A unique, personally meaningful topic
  • A memorable introduction with vivid imagery or an intriguing hook
  • Specific stories and language that show instead of telling
  • Vulnerability that’s authentic but not aimed at soliciting sympathy
  • Clear writing in an appropriate style and tone
  • A conclusion that offers deep insight or a creative ending

While timelines will differ depending on the student, plan on spending at least 1–3 weeks brainstorming and writing the first draft of your college admissions essay , and at least 2–4 weeks revising across multiple drafts. Don’t forget to save enough time for breaks between each writing and editing stage.

You should already begin thinking about your essay the summer before your senior year so that you have plenty of time to try out different topics and get feedback on what works.

Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit to write a developed and thoughtful essay.

You should aim to stay under the specified word count limit to show you can follow directions and write concisely. However, don’t write too little, as it may seem like you are unwilling or unable to write a detailed and insightful narrative about yourself.

If no word count is specified, we advise keeping your essay between 400 and 600 words.

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By submitting my email address. i certify that i am 13 years of age or older, agree to recieve marketing email messages from the princeton review, and agree to terms of use., crafting an unforgettable college essay.

Most selective colleges require you to submit an essay or personal statement as part of your application.

college essay

It may sound like a chore, and it will certainly take a substantial amount of work. But it's also a unique opportunity that can make a difference at decision time. Admissions committees put the most weight on your high school grades and your test scores . However, selective colleges receive applications from many worthy students with similar scores and grades—too many to admit. So they use your essay, along with your letters of recommendation and extracurricular activities , to find out what sets you apart from the other talented candidates.

Telling Your Story to Colleges

So what does set you apart?

You have a unique background, interests and personality. This is your chance to tell your story (or at least part of it). The best way to tell your story is to write a personal, thoughtful essay about something that has meaning for you. Be honest and genuine, and your unique qualities will shine through.

Admissions officers have to read an unbelievable number of college essays, most of which are forgettable. Many students try to sound smart rather than sounding like themselves. Others write about a subject that they don't care about, but that they think will impress admissions officers.

You don't need to have started your own business or have spent the summer hiking the Appalachian Trail. Colleges are simply looking for thoughtful, motivated students who will add something to the first-year class.

Tips for a Stellar College Application Essay

1. write about something that's important to you..

It could be an experience, a person, a book—anything that has had an impact on your life. 

2. Don't just recount—reflect! 

Anyone can write about how they won the big game or the summer they spent in Rome. When recalling these events, you need to give more than the play-by-play or itinerary. Describe what you learned from the experience and how it changed you.

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3. Being funny is tough.

A student who can make an admissions officer laugh never gets lost in the shuffle. But beware. What you think is funny and what an adult working in a college thinks is funny are probably different. We caution against one-liners, limericks and anything off–color.

4. Start early and write several drafts.

Set it aside for a few days and read it again. Put yourself in the shoes of an admissions officer: Is the essay interesting? Do the ideas flow logically? Does it reveal something about the applicant? Is it written in the applicant’s own voice?

5. No repeats.

What you write in your application essay or personal statement should not contradict any other part of your application–nor should it repeat it. This isn't the place to list your awards or discuss your grades or test scores.

6. Answer the question being asked.

Don't reuse an answer to a similar question from another application.

7. Have at least one other person edit your essay.

A teacher or college counselor is your best resource. And before you send it off, check, check again, and then triple check to make sure your essay is free of spelling or grammar errors.

Read More: 2018-2019 Common Application Essay Prompts (and How to Answer Them)

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what do you write about in a college application essay

How to Write College Application Essays

Use the links below to jump directly to any section of this guide:

College Application Essay Fundamentals 

How to prepare to write your essay , how to approach different essay types, how to structure your essay , how to revise your essay, how to find essay writing help , resources for teaching students how to write a college essay, additional resources (further reading).

Of all the materials in a college application, the essay provides the greatest opportunity for you to set yourself apart. Unlike the transcript or resume, the essay is creative and expressive; in it, you can show the admissions counselors who you are and what you can do (that is, how well you can write!). A good application essay should have a memorable main idea, a cohesive structure, and a strong introduction and conclusion. Although essay topics can vary by college, the most common prompts deal with personal experiences and aspirations for the future. This guide   contains a diverse set of resources to help you orient yourself to the college application essay and, ultimately, to write the most competitive essay possible. 

The college application essay is a requirement for admission to almost all institutions of higher learning. Though in some ways it resembles essays you've written in class or on standardized tests, in other ways it's a unique writing exercises with its own particular requirements. Use the resources below to help you understand how the essay should be structured and what kind of content to include. 

"How Long Should College Application Essays Be?" (Learn.org)

This webpage guides you through some basic tips on writing the college essay—including essay length, sticking to the prompt, and maintaining an original tone. 

"College Application Essay" (College Board)

This webpage from the College Board discusses the different types of application essays, what length you should aim for, and most importantly, why colleges value this aspect of the application so much. 

"College Essays, College Applications" (College Board) 

The College Board's website is a great resource for any student looking to apply to college. This webpage contains several links to helpful resources, including sample essays and genuine student interviews. 

"Timeline for College Applications" (College Essay Guy)

This colorful, one-page guide from a college application specialist offers an illustrated timeline for high school students looking to apply for college. 

Before putting your ideas down on paper, it's important to conceptualize your essay, to craft strategically your tone and style, and,  crucially, to choose a topic that suits you and the school to which you're applying. The resources in this section include writing tips, lists of common mistakes you should avoid, and guides dedicated to the college application essay.

How to Plan Your Essay

"3 Common College Essay Mistakes to Avoid" (CNBC)  

This article from CNBC broadly outlines the most common mistakes students make when writing their college application essays. Although these mistakes may seem obvious, even the most experienced writers can fall into these common traps.

"7 Effective Application Tips" (Peterson's)

This article from Peterson's (a company providing academic materials for test prep, application help, and more) lists seven pieces of advice designed to make your writing pop. 

"The Secret to Show, Don't Tell" ( The Write Practice Blog)  

You've heard it before: show, don't tell. This is a great writing tip, but how do you pull it off? Here, the writing blog  The Write Practice  outlines how you can make your writing more descriptive and effective. 

"Passive Voice" (University of North Carolina)  

Avoiding passive construction is a subtle yet effective way to upgrade any piece of writing. Check out this webpage from a university writing center for some tips on recognizing and avoiding passive voice. 

"Using Appropriate Words in an Academic Essay" (National University of Singapore)

There are many ways to upgrade your vocabulary. Often, words can be replaced with more impressive substitutes, phrases can be shortened or lengthened depending on context, and transitions can be used for a smoother flow. The link above expands on these strategies and offers several others. 

How to Brainstorm Topic Ideas

"Bad College Essays: 10 Mistakes to Avoid" (PrepScholar)

This article from a well-known tutoring service and test prep program describes what to avoid when writing your essay. Essays that are too graphic, too personal, or too overconfident are all problematic, and this article explains why. 

"5 Tricks for Choosing Your College Essay Topic" (CollegeXpress)

Lost on how to choose a topic? This webpage from CollegeXpress outlines five sources of inspiration you can mine for ideas as you're getting started.

"The College Admission Essay: Finding a Topic" (The Choice Blog)

This article from New York Times  blog The Choice  breaks down three essential questions to ask yourself when choosing a topic for your college essay. 

"COLLEGE ESSAY GUIDE: Choosing a Prompt for the Common Application" (YouTube)

In this five-minute video, a Yale student discusses how to choose a college essay prompt and how to approach the essay writing process. His channel is filled with original videos on the college application process. 

"Where to Begin? 3 Personal Essay Brainstorming Exercises" ( CollegeVine Blog)

Approaching the Common App essay prompts can be difficult. This blog post explains several tactics you can use to narrow down your options, such as writing down a list of your greatest convictions.

"Using First Person in an Academic Essay: When Is It Okay?" (WritingCommons.org)

Most high school students are told to avoid using the first person point of view; this can be confusing when writing college essays, which typically ask what  you  think. This article breaks down when (and why) it's acceptable to write in the first person. 

Although all college essays serve the same purpose - articulating why you should get into a college - they come in different kinds. While topics on the Common Application are relatively consistent from year to year, personal statements and so-called "supplemental essays" vary by institution. Each of these essays requires a slightly different approach. The resources in this section will prepare you to answer the various types of essay prompts you're likely to encounter. 

Common Application Essays

CommonApp.org

The Common Application's official website is the best place to start getting acquainted with the service to which the majority of US colleges and universities now subscribe - a service which allows you to streamline your application process and minimize duplication of materials.

"What's App-enning" Blog (Common App)  

The Common App runs a blog with a wealth of information on common application-related news, including periodic updates on common application essay prompts for each application cycle. You can practice brainstorming with old prompts, or even start preparing your application by looking at this year's prompts.

125 College Essay Examples (PrepScholar Blog)

Here, PrepScholar provides a variety of Common App essays that got their respective applicants into their desired schools. Along with the body text of the essays, the website provides analysis on  what  makes the essays so great. 

A Few Essays That Worked (And a Few That Didn't) (NYTimes Blog)

This article analyzes unsuccessful essays, illuminating the ways in which they fell short. Although you should exercise caution and adjust your approach to your specific school, it's always good to pick up on general things to avoid. 

Personal Statements

What Is a Personal Statement? (PrepScholar Blog)

Although personal statements and Common App essays are similar, not all personal statement essays are administered through the Common App. This article from PrepScholar's blog will provide you with everything you need to know about writing a personal statement.

Examples of Successful Statements (Purdue OWL)

The Purdue OWL online writing lab collate links on this page to several successful personal statement. It can be useful to read successful statements and to consider how and why the statements made an impact on their readers. 

Past Threads on Advice for Writing Your College Essay (Reddit Post)

Although not about the personal statement  per se , this Reddit post has links to several past threads that may be of use to any prospective college applicant. 

What 10 Things Should Your Personal Statement Include? (Which University UK)  

This site outlines ten things to consider when writing a personal statement, including outlining what you will bring to the course, not what the course will bring to you. 

Supplemental Essays

How to Write Great Supplemental College Essays (IvyWise Newsletter)

Supplemental essays can often be challenging, asking a range of questions from the mundane to the oddly specific. This article from college application site IvyWise will break down example prompts to make them more approachable. 

Write Your Supplemental Essays (College Essay Guy)

Looking for a comprehensive guide to supplemental essays? Look no further than this page provided by the "College Essay Guy," who breaks down how to write supplemental essays that ask different kinds of questions. 

An Awesome Guide to the UChicago Supplement (Dyad)

Dyad, a college mentoring service, walks you through how to approach UChicago's supplemental essay question. Although the article is specific to UChicago, it contains general tips that are helpful to any college applicant. 

Reading My Yale Supplement Essay (YouTube)

Josh Beasley is back in this short YouTube video, where he reads the supplemental essay that got him into Yale and extrapolates advice for current and prospective applicants. 

A college application essay (like any academic essay) should have an introduction, a conclusion, and body paragraphs. Additionally, it should have overall coherence (that is, it should make a point) and cohesion (that is, it should flow well from paragraph to paragraph). We've collected the most relevant resources here to help you structure your college essay correctly and efficiently. 

How to Make Your Essay Stand Out 

College Essays That Stand Out From the Crowd (NYTimes)

This NYTimes article includes links to several recent essays that caught the eyes of the admissions readers by taking risks. You can even listen to an essay being read aloud by a current Princeton student.

50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays (Gen / Kelly Tanabe)  

If you have some time on your hands, this hefty PDF document contains 50 essays from successful Ivy League applicants. After reading these essays, consider what they have in common and how they might be a model for your own essay.

Make Your Application Essay Stand Out (CampusExplorer.com)

In this article from CampusExplorer, you'll find general tips on how to make your essay more appealing to the admissions readers. The writers include general writing tips as well as more targeted advice for the tone and audience of the application essay.

How to Write a College Application Essay that Stands Out (Boston University)

This short video from BU's own admissions department touches briefly on what impresses their admissions readers, including risk-taking, memorable stories, and honesty. 

Essay Structure (Monash University)

This chart from Monash University visually demonstrates how your content should be organized in order to keep your argument or story on track. 

How to Write an Introduction

How to Start a Personal Statement: The Killer Opening (Which University UK)  

Any good introduction both forecasts what your essay will be about and catches the reader's attention. This page will give you some helpful advice on starting your essay with a bang. 

How to Start a College Essay Perfectly (PrepScholar Blog)

This article from PrepScholar shows you how to "hook" your reader at the start of your application essay with colorful language, a vivid story, and an "insightful pivot" to your main point.

Let Me Introduce Myself (Stanford University)

This article from Stanford U's alumni page details the first-line openings of the essays for some current Stanford undergrads. 

Five Ways to NOT Start Your College Application Essays (PowerScore)

In this article, you'll learn five techniques to avoid, as they typically land a college application essay in the "reject" pile; these include beginning with dictionary definitions or famous quotations. 

How to Write a Conclusion 

Ending the Essay: Conclusions (Harvard University)

Harvard's writing center suggests bringing closure to your essay (that is, wrapping up your argument) while still expanding outward to broader applications or insights in your final paragraph.

Concluding Paragraph (Easybib)  

Although you may have used Easybib to make a bibliography before, did you know they have many resources on how to write a good essay? Check out this page for succinct advice on what your conclusion should entail. 

5 Ways to Powerfully End Your College Essay (College Greenlight)

This blog post instructs you to end with action (that is, a story or anecdote) rather than summary, giving you five ways to do this effectively, including addressing the college directly.

How to Write the Best Conclusion for a College Application Essay and Supplement (Koppelman Group)

The Koppelman Group, a college application consulting firm, warns you, above all, not to end "in conclusion" or "to conclude." They also provide targeted advice for the Common App and Supplement essays, respectively. 

No essay is perfect in its first-draft form; college application essays in particular are limited by word counts that can be difficult to meet. Once you've communicated your ideas, you'll want to edit your essay in order to make sure it's the best it can be. You'll also need to cut or add words to make sure it's within the specifications set by the institution. The resources in this section include tips and tricks for revising your college application essay. 

3 Ways to Increase Word Count (WikiHow)

Complete with illustrations, this WikiHow page outlines several ways you might go about substantively expanding your essay. These tips include clarifying points, reworking your introduction and conclusion, adding new viewpoints and examples, and connecting loose threads. 

Admissions 101: What an Essay Word Limit Really Means (Veritas Prep) 

In this blog post, Veritas Prep's college preparation tutors assure you that being a little over or under the limit is acceptable, recommending ways you can think about the word limit's purpose.

College Essay Word Limit - Going Under? (College Confidential) 

In this College Confidential discussion forum, students discuss the possible ramifications of writing under the word limit for a college essay. 

How to Increase Your Essay Word Count (WordCounter)

This article from WordCounter outlines different ways you might go about meeting word count, including addressing different viewpoints, adding examples, and clarifying statements. 

Hitting the Target Word Count in Your College Admissions Essay (Dummies.com)

This article details how to hit the target word count. Scroll down to the middle of the article for advice on where you should cut words from to meet word count. 

Some Tricks to Reduce Word Count (EastAsiaStudent.net)

This article recommends simplifying your style, deleting adverbs, deleting prepositions, and revisiting connectives and adjectives to reduce word count. 

Advice on Whittling Your Admissions Essay (NYTimes) 

In this New York Times article, Andrew Gelb discusses how to go about cutting down your admissions essay in order to meet the requisite word limit.

How to Shorten an Essay Without Ruining the Content (Quora) 

This Quora post from a concerned student yielded useful community responses on how to effectively shorten an essay without losing the original message. 

Feel like you've hit a wall revising your essay on your own? You're not alone, and there are plentiful resources on the web through which you can connect with fellow college applicants and/or professional tutors. The links in this section will take you to free services for improving your college application essay, as well as two of the top paid writing tutor services.

College Confidential Forums 

College Confidential is a free, public forum in which you can post your essay and receive feedback from current college students, current college applicants, and even teachers or other experienced users. 

/r/CollegeEssays (Reddit)

This subreddit is a great place to look for crowdsourced help on your essay, ask questions about college essays, or even find a private tutor. 

Essayforum.com

Essayforum.com provides another platform for students to share their application essays. Although this link takes you to the site's forum for applicants to undergraduate degree programs, you can submit and review essays in other categories as well.  Varsity Tutors

Varisty Tutors offers tutoring services from freelance tutors based on location. Prices and services vary, but their site is easy to use and there are many tutors available to choose from.

Princeton Review

Princeton Review, one of the largest providers of college preparation tutoring (ranging from standardized test preparation to essay help) offers online essay tutoring services with a free trial period. 

Using in-class time to prepare your students to write college application essays is, of course, rewarding, but can also be challenging. If you're a teacher looking to incorporate the college essay into your curriculum but you're not sure where to start, take a look at the useful resources below.

TeachersPayTeachers

College Essay Writing

This product includes material for more than one full lesson plan, including powerpoint presentations, assessments, and homework on the topic of college essays. 

Narrative Writing Ideas and Prompts

Appealing to students 9th grade and up, this product includes lesson plans, handouts, and homework for developing narrative writing for the college essay process. 

College Essay: Comprehensive 7-Session Workshop Series

This PDF includes entire courses, manuals, and handouts designed to teach students the ins and outs of the college essay process, either in an individual or group setting. 

College Essay Revision Forms & Rubrics

These PDFs provide students with visual organizers and rubrics to assess their own writing and learn how to become better college essay writers. 

Free Resources

Teaching the College Essay (Edutopia) 

Teaching your students about writing the college essay can be incredibly intimidating -- as a teacher, how should you approach the process? This article from Edutopia outlines how to go about introducing the college essay to your students. 

Essay Lesson Plan Ideas for College Applications (EssayHell)

If you're a teacher looking for a concrete lesson plan on college essays, this guide recommends using the first day to discuss the importance of the essay, the second day for brainstorming, and so on. Click on the link above to examine their full guide. 

Help Your Students Write a Killer College Essay (EdWeek Blog)

This blog post goes over various techniques designed to help your students choose an appropriate topic and write their essay with passion. 

The Biggest College Essay Mistakes & How to Fix Them (Talks With Teachers)

Looking to help your students avoid the minefield of mistakes in the college essay field? Check out this post from Talks With Teachers, a journal that shares "inspiring ideas for English teachers." 

Curious to read more about college application essays, or to see fun and unusual examples of what students have written? The articles, blog posts, and books in this section are a good place to start surveying the field.

One Over-the-Top Admissions Essay (Huffington Post)

This piece from the Huffington Post talks about a humorous response to a Stanford supplemental essay topic, the so-called "letter to my future roommate."

College & University - Statistics and Facts (Statista.com) 

In the process of writing your college essay, you may find yourself wondering who exactly goes to college, how many colleges there are in the United States, etc. This site gives the up-to-date statistics for various US demographics, both in aggregate and by university, as well as other information.

Who Made That College Application? (NYTimes)

This piece from the NYTimes outlines the history of the college essay from its origins in the 1800s, to the first "modern" college application, produced by Columbia University in 1919, to the present.  

How They Got Into Harvard (Staff of the Harvard Crimson)

This highly-rated collection of successful Harvard application essays, available on Amazon, is both an entertaining read and an instructive resource for anyone looking for exemplary essays to use as models. 

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How to Write a Good College Application Essay

what do you write about in a college application essay

By Janet Morrissey

  • Aug. 2, 2018

Here are some tips compiled from experts for writing that all-important application essay, which can often mean the difference between getting accepted — or rejected — by the school of your choice.

The essay is your megaphone — your view of the world and your ambitions. It’s not just a resume or a regurgitation of everything you’ve done. It needs to tell a story with passion, using personal, entertaining anecdotes that showcase your character, your interests, your values, your life experiences, your views of the world, your ambitions and even your sense of humor.

Emphasize volunteer work or other ways you’ve helped people or made your community a better place. It helps if the activity is related to the subject you want to study. For example, Christopher Rim of Command Education Group, which coaches students, remembers that one student who wanted to become a dentist set up a nonprofit and held fund-raisers to distribute toothbrushes, toothpaste and other dental products to homeless shelters. Admissions staff members want to know how your presence will make the college a better place.

Mention internships, summer courses, extracurricular activities or lab work that show steps you’ve taken to learn and understand your field of interest. That will help show you know the field you’ve chosen to study and are passionate about it.

Explain with knowledge and passion why you want to study at this particular college rather than at others. Tell why the school’s size, curriculum, social atmosphere, location, professors or history influenced your choice.

Correct spelling, grammar and punctuation are critical. Use grammar, syntax and writing with a level of sophistication that shows you’re ready for college. Never use text-style abbreviations or rude or profane language.

After the essay is submitted, check your email and voice mail daily to make sure you see and respond promptly to messages from admissions staff members. Many students check only texts and sometimes miss emails asking follow-up questions or requesting an interview.

Hafeez Lakhani of Lakhani Coaching summed up the essay this way: “Every college is like a dinner table. What will make you the most interesting contributor to that dinner table conversation? What will make you help everyone else have a more interesting experience?” A good essay, rich with anecdotes and personality, will answer those questions and stand out from the pile.

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what do you write about in a college application essay

How to Write the Common Application Essays 2024-2025 (With Examples)

The Common App essay is one of the most important parts of your application, but it can be extremely daunting if you’re not familiar with creative writing or what admissions officers are looking for.

In this blog post, we’ll provide advice on how to break down these prompts, organize your thoughts, and craft a strong, meaningful response that admissions officers will notice. If you’d like more free personalized help, you can get your essays reviewed and explore school-by-school essay help on CollegeVine.

Why the Common App Essay Matters

Admissions is a human process. While admissions committees look at grades, test scores, and extracurriculars, there are five students that have great qualifications in those areas for every spot in a university’s class. As an applicant, you need an admissions counselor to choose you over everyone else — to advocate specifically for you. 

This is where essays come in; they are an opportunity for you to turn an admissions counselor into an advocate for your application! Of your essays, the Common App is the most important since it is seen by most of the colleges to which you apply. It is also your longest essay, which gives you more space to craft a narrative and share your personality, feelings, and perspective.

It’s not hyperbole to say that getting the Common App essay right is the single most important thing you can do to improve your chances of admission as a senior. 

Overview of the Common App

The Common App essay is the best way for admissions committees to get to know you. While SAT scores, your past course load, and your grades provide a quantitative picture of you as a student, the Common App essay offers adcoms a refreshing glimpse into your identity and personality. For this reason, try to treat the essay as an opportunity to tell colleges why you are unique and what matters to you.

Since your Common App essay will be seen by numerous colleges, you will want to paint a portrait of yourself that is accessible to a breadth of institutions and admissions officers (for example, if you are only applying to engineering programs at some schools, don’t focus your Common App on STEM at the expense of your other applications — save that for your supplemental essays).

In short, be open and willing to write about a topic you love, whether it is sports, music, politics, food, or watching movies. The Common App essay is more of a conversation than a job interview.

What Makes a Great Common App Essay?

A great Common App essay is, first and foremost, deeply personal. You are relying on the admissions committee to choose you over someone else, which they are more likely to do if they feel a personal connection to you. In your essay, you should delve into your feelings, how you think about situations/problems, and how you make decisions.

Good essays also usually avoid cliche topics . A couple overdone themes include an immigrant’s journey (particularly if you’re Asian American), and a sports accomplishment or injury. It’s not that these topics are bad, but rather that many students write about these subjects, so they don’t stand out as much. Of course, some students are able to write a genuine and unique essay about one of these topics, but it’s hard to pull off. You’re better off writing about more nuanced aspects of your identity!

You should also, of course, pay close attention to your grammar and spelling, use varied sentence structure and word choice, and be consistent with your tone/writing style. Take full advantage of the available 650 words, as writing less tends to mean missed opportunities.

Finally, it’s a good practice to be aware of your audience – know who you are writing for! For example, admissions officers at BYU will probably be very religious, while those at Oberlin will be deeply committed to social justice.

See some examples of great Common App essays to get a better idea of what makes a strong essay.

How your Common App Essay Fits with Your Other Essays

The Common App is one part of a portfolio of essays that you send to colleges, along with supplemental essays at individual colleges. With all of your essays for a particular college, you want to create a narrative and tell different parts of your story. So, the topics you write about should be cohesive and complementary, but not repetitive or overlapping. 

Before jumping in to write your Common App essay, you should think about the other schools that you’re writing essays for and make sure that you have a strategy for your entire portfolio of essays and cover different topics for each. If you have strong qualifications on paper for the colleges you are targeting, the best narratives tend to humanize you. If you have weaker qualifications on paper for your colleges, the best narratives tend to draw out your passion for the topics or fields of study that are of interest to you and magnify your accomplishments. 

Strategy for Writing the Common App Essays

Because the Common App essay is 650 words long and has few formal directions, organizing a response might seem daunting. Fortunately, at CollegeVine, we’ve developed a straightforward approach to formulating strong, unique responses.

This section outlines how to: 1) Brainstorm , 2) Organize , and 3) Write a Common App essay.

Before reading the prompts, brainstorming is a critical exercise to develop high-level ideas. One way to construct a high-level idea would be to delve into a passion and focus on how you interact with the concept or activity. For example, using “creative writing” as a high-level idea, one could stress their love of world-building, conveying complex emotions, and depicting character interactions, emphasizing how writing stems from real-life experiences.

A different idea that doesn’t involve an activity would be to discuss how your personality has developed in relation to your family; maybe one sibling is hot-headed, the other quiet, and you’re in the middle as the voice of reason (or maybe you’re the hot-head). These are simply two examples of infinitely many ideas you could come up with.

To begin developing your own high-level ideas, you can address these Core Four questions that all good Common App essays should answer:

  • “Who Am I?”
  • “Why Am I Here?”
  • “What is Unique About Me?”
  • “What Matters to Me?”

The first question focuses on your personality traits — who you are. The second question targets your progression throughout high school (an arc or journey). The third question is more difficult to grasp, but it involves showing why your personality traits, methods of thinking, areas of interest, and tangible skills form a unique combination. The fourth question is a concluding point that can be answered simply, normally in the conclusion paragraph, i.e., “Running matters to me” or “Ethical fashion matters to me.”

You can brainstorm freeform or start with a specific prompt in mind.

Sometimes, it can be helpful to start by jotting down the 3-5 aspects of your personality or experiences you’ve had on a piece of paper. Play around with narratives that are constructed out of different combinations of these essential attributes before settling on a prompt. 

For example, you might note that you are fascinated by environmental justice, have had success in Model Congress, and are now working with a local politician to create a recycling program in your school district. You may also have tried previous initiatives that failed. These experiences could be constructed and applied to a number of Common App prompts. You could address a specific identity or interest you have associated with public advocacy, discuss what you learned from your failed initiatives, explore how you challenged the lack of recycling at your school, fantasize about solving waste management issues, etc. 

Selecting a prompt that you identify with

For example, consider the following prompt: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Perhaps you had been a dedicated and active member of your school’s debate team until one of your parents lost their jobs, leaving you unable to afford the high membership and travel dues. You decided to help out by getting a job after school, and responded to your familial hardship with grace and understanding (as opposed to anger). A few months later, and after speaking with your former debate coach and your parents, you set up a system to save up for your own trips so that you could still participate in debate!

In general, the most common mistake CollegeVine sees with Common App essays is that they aren’t deeply personal. Your essay should be specific enough that it could be identified as yours even if your name wasn’t attached. 

If you get stuck, don’t worry! This is very common as the Common App is often the first personal essay college applicants have ever written. One way of getting unstuck if you feel like you aren’t getting creative or personal enough is to keep asking yourself “why”

For example: I love basketball…

  • Because I like having to think on the fly and be creative while running our offense.

It can often help to work with someone and bounce ideas off them. Teachers are often a bad idea – they tend to think of essays in an academic sense, which is to say they often fail to apply the admissions context. Further, it is unlikely that they know you well enough to provide valuable insight. Friends in your own year can be a good idea because they know you, but you should be careful about competitive pressures applying within the same high school. Older friends, siblings, or neighbors who have successfully navigated the admissions process at your target universities (or good universities) strike that medium between no longer being competitive with you for admissions but still being able to help you brainstorm well because they know you.

Overall, there is no single “correct” topic. Your essay will be strong as long as you are comfortable and passionate about your idea and it answers the Core Four questions.

Common App essays are not traditional five-paragraph essays. You are free to be creative in structure, employ dialogue, and use vivid descriptions—and you should! Make sure that context and logic are inherent in your essay, however. From paragraph to paragraph, sentence to sentence, your ideas should be clear and flow naturally. Great ways to ensure this are using a story arc following a few major points, or focusing on cause and effect.

The traditional approach

This involves constructing a narrative out of your experiences and writing a classic personal essay. You are free to be creative in structure, employ dialogue, and use vivid descriptions—and you should! Make sure that context and logic are inherent in your essay, however. From paragraph to paragraph, sentence to sentence, your ideas should be clear and flow naturally. Great ways to ensure this are using a story arc following a few major points, or focusing on cause and effect.

The creative approach

Some students prefer to experiment with an entirely new approach to the personal essay. For example, a student who is passionate about programming could write their essay in alternating lines of Binary and English. A hopeful Literature major could reimagine a moment in their life as a chapter of War and Peace, adopting Tolstoy’s writing style. Or, you could write about a fight with your friend in the form of a third person sports recap to both highlight your interest in journalism and reveal a personal story. Creative essays are incredibly risky and difficult to pull off. However, a creative essay that is well executed may also have the potential for high reward.

Your Common App essay must display excellent writing in terms of grammar and sentence structure. The essay doesn’t need to be a Shakespearean masterpiece, but it should be well-written and clear.

A few tips to accomplish this are:

  • Show, don’t tell
  • Be specific
  • Choose active voice, not passive voice
  • Avoid clichés
  • Write in a tone that aligns with your goals for the essay. For example, if you are a heavy STEM applicant hoping to use your Common App essay to humanize your application, you will be undermined by writing in a brusque, harsh tone.

“Show, don’t tell” is vital to writing an engaging essay, and this is the point students struggle with most.  Instead of saying, “I struggled to make friends when I transferred schools,” you can show your emotions by writing, “I scanned the bustling school cafeteria, feeling more and more forlorn with each unfamiliar face. I found an empty table and ate my lunch alone.”

In many cases, writing can include more specific word choice . For example, “As a kid, I always played basketball,” can be improved to be “Every day after school as a kid, I ran home, laced up my sneakers, and shot a basketball in my driveway until the sun went down and I could barely see.”

To use active voice over passive voice , be sure that your sentence’s subject performs the action indicated by the verb, rather than the action performing onto the subject. Instead of writing “this project was built by my own hands,” you would say “I built this project with my own hands.”

Finally, avoid clichés like adages, sayings, and quotes that do not bring value to your essay. Examples include phrases like “Be the change you wish to see in the world” (it’s also important to know that sayings like these are often seriously misquoted—Gandhi did not actually utter these words) and lavish claims like “it was the greatest experience of my life.”

A few tips for the writing (and re-writing!) process

  • If you have enough time, write a 950 word version of your personal statement first and then cut it down to the official word limit of 650. In many cases, the extra writing you do for this draft will contain compelling content. Using this, you can carve out the various sections and information that allow you to tell your story best. 
  • Revise your draft 3-5 times. Any more, you are probably overthinking and overanalyzing. Any less, you are not putting in the work necessary to optimize your Common App essay.
  • It can be easy for you to get lost in your words after reading and rereading, writing and rewriting. It is best to have someone else do your final proofread to help you identify typos or sentences that are unclear.

Deciding on a Prompt

This section provides insights and examples for each of the 7 Common App essay prompts for the 2024-2025 cycle. Each of these prompts lends itself to distinct topics and strategies, so selecting the prompt that best aligns with your idea is essential to writing an effective Common App essay.

Here are this year’s prompts (click the link to jump to the specific prompt):

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. how did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience, reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. what prompted your thinking what was the outcome, reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. how has this gratitude affected or motivated you, discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others., describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. why does it captivate you what or who do you turn to when you want to learn more, share an essay on any topic of your choice. it can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design..

This prompt offers an opportunity to engage with your favorite extracurricular or academic subject, and it allows you to weave a narrative that displays personal growth in that area. An essay that displays your personality and a unique interest can be attention-grabbing, particularly if you have an unconventional passion, such as blogging about Chinese basketball or unicycling.

Don’t feel intimidated if you don’t have a passion that is immediately “unique,” however. Even an interest like “arctic scuba diving” will fail as an essay topic if it’s not written with insight and personality. Instead of attempting to impress the Admissions Officer by making up unusual or shocking things, think about how you spend your free time and ask yourself why you spend it that way. Also think about your upbringing, identity, and experiences and ask yourself, “What has impacted me in a meaningful way?”

Here Are A Few Response Examples:

Background – A person’s background includes experiences, training, education, and culture. You can discuss the experience of growing up, interacting with family, and how relationships have molded who you are. A background can include long-term interactions with arts, music, sciences, sports, writing, and many other learned skills. Background also includes your social environments and how they’ve influenced your perception. In addition, you can highlight intersections between multiple backgrounds and show how each is integral to you.

One student wrote about how growing up in a poor Vietnamese immigrant family inspired her to seize big opportunities, even if they were risky or challenging. She describes the emotional demand of opening and running a family grocery store. (Note: Names have been changed to protect the identity of the author and subjects in all the examples.)

The callouses on my mother’s hands formed during the years spent scaling fish at the  market in Go Noi, Vietnam. My mother never finished her formal education because she  labored on the streets to help six others survive. Her calloused hands not only scaled fish, they  also slaved over the stove, mustering a meal from the few items in the pantry. This image  resurfaces as I watch my mother’s calloused hands wipe her sweat-beaded forehead while she  manages the family business, compiling resources to provide for the family. 

Living in an impoverished region of Vietnam pushed my parents to emigrate. My two  year-old memory fails me, but my mother vividly recounts my frightened eyes staring up at her on my first plane ride. With life packed into a single suitcase, my mother’s heart, though,  trembled more than mine. Knowing only a few words of English, my mother embarked on a  journey shrouded in a haze of uncertainty. 

Our initial year in America bore an uncanny resemblance to Vietnam – from making one  meal last the entire day to wearing the same four shirts over and over again. Through thin walls, I  heard my parents debating their decision to come to the United States, a land where they knew  no one. My grandparents’ support came in half-hearted whispers cracking through long-distance  phone calls. My dad’s scanty income barely kept food on the table. We lived on soup and rice for  what seemed an interminable time. 

However, an opportunity knocked on my parents’ door: a grocery store in the town of  Decatur, Mississippi, was up for rent. My parents took the chance, risking all of their savings.  To help my parents, I spent most of my adolescent afternoons stocking shelves, mopping floors,  and even translating. My parents’ voices wavered when speaking English; through every attempt to communicate with their customers, a language barrier forged a palpable presence in each  transaction. My parents’ spirits faltered as customers grew impatient. A life of poverty awaited us in Vietnam if the business was not successful. 

On the first day, the business brought in only twenty dollars. Twenty dollars. My mother and my father wept after they closed the shop. Seeing the business as a failure, my mom commenced her packing that night; returning to Vietnam seemed inevitable. 

The next business day, however, sales increased ten-fold. More and more customers  came each successive day. My mom’s tears turned into—well, more tears, but they were tears of  joy. My mother unpacked a bag each night. 

Fifteen years later, my parents now own Blue Bear Grocery. My parents work, work,  work to keep the shelves stocked and the customers coming. The grocery store holds a special  place in my heart: it is the catalyst for my success. My parents serve as my role-models, teaching  me a new lesson with every can placed on the shelf. One lesson that resurfaces is the importance  of pursuing a formal education, something that my parents never had the chance of. 

When the opportunity to attend the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science  (MSMS) presented itself, I took it and ran, as did my parents by leaving Vietnam and by buying  the store. Although I am not managing hundreds of products, I am managing hundreds of  assignments at MSMS – from Mu Alpha Theta tutoring to lab reports to student government to British literature. 

Had I not immigrated, my hands would be calloused from the tight grip of the knife  scaling fish rather than from the tight grip on my pencil. My hands would be calloused from scrubbing my clothes covered in fish scales rather than from long hours spent typing a research paper. 

Although the opportunities that my parents and I pursued are different, our journey is  essentially the same: we walk a road paved with uncertainty and doubt with the prospect of success fortified by our hearts and our hands.

Identity – this can mean racial identity, sexual orientation, gender, or simply one’s place within a specific community (even communities as unique as, say, players of World of Warcraft). With the topic of racial identity, it’s important to remember the audience (college admissions counselors often lean progressive politically), so this might not be the best place to make sweeping claims about today’s state of race relations. However, reflecting on how your culture has shaped your experiences can make for a compelling essay. Alternatively, focusing on a dominant personality trait can also make for a compelling theme. For example, if you’re extremely outgoing, you could explain how your adventurousness has allowed you to learn from a diverse group of friends and the random situations you find yourself in. One important thing to note: the topic of identity can easily lack originality if you cover a common experience such as feeling divided between cultures, or coming out. If such experiences are integral to who you are, you should still write about them, but be sure to show us your unique introspection and reflection.

One student detailed how growing up as an American in Germany led to feelings of displacement. Moving to America in high school only exacerbated her feelings of rootlessness. Her transcultural experiences, however, allowed her to relate to other “New Americans,” particularly refugees. Helping a young refugee girl settle into the US eventually helped the writer find home in America as well:

Growing up, I always wanted to eat, play, visit, watch, and be it all: sloppy joes and spaetzle, Beanie Babies and Steiff, Cape Cod and the Baltic Sea, football and fussball, American and German. 

My American parents relocated our young family to Berlin when I was three years old. My exposure to America was limited to holidays spent stateside and awfully dubbed Disney Channel broadcasts. As the few memories I had of living in the US faded, my affinity for Germany grew. I began to identify as “Germerican,” an ideal marriage of the two cultures. As a child, I viewed my biculturalism as a blessing. I possessed a native fluency in “Denglisch” and my family’s Halloween parties were legendary at a time when the holiday was just starting to gain popularity outside of the American Sector. 

Insidiously, the magic I once felt in loving two homes was replaced by a deep­rooted sense of rootlessness. I stopped feeling American when, while discussing World War II with my grandmother, I said “the US won.” She corrected me, insisting I use “we” when referring to the US’s actions. Before then, I hadn’t realized how directly people associated themselves with their countries. I stopped feeling German during the World Cup when my friends labeled me a “bandwagon fan” for rooting for Germany. Until that moment, my cheers had felt sincere. I wasn’t part of the “we” who won World Wars or World Cups. Caught in a twilight of foreign and familiar, I felt emotionally and psychologically disconnected from the two cultures most familiar to me. 

After moving from Berlin to New York state at age fifteen, my feelings of cultural homelessness thrived in my new environment. Looking and sounding American furthered my feelings of dislocation. Border patrol agents, teachers, classmates, neighbors, and relatives all “welcomed me home” to a land they could not understand was foreign to me. Americans confused me as I relied on Urban Dictionary to understand my peers, the Pledge of Allegiance seemed nationalistic, and the only thing familiar about Fahrenheit was the German after whom it was named. Too German for America and too American for Germany, I felt alienated from both. I wanted desperately to be a member of one, if not both, cultures. 

During my first weeks in Buffalo, I spent my free time googling “Berlin Family Seeks Teen” and “New Americans in Buffalo.” The latter search proved most fruitful: I discovered New Hope, a nonprofit that empowers resettled refugees, or “New Americans,” to thrive. I started volunteering with New Hope’s children’s programs, playing with and tutoring young refugees. 

It was there that I met Leila, a twelve-­year-­old Iraqi girl who lived next to Hopeprint. In between games and snacks, Leila would ask me questions about American life, touching on everything from Halloween to President Obama. Gradually, my confidence in my American identity grew as I recognized my ability to answer most of her questions. American culture was no longer completely foreign to me. I found myself especially qualified to work with young refugees; my experience growing up in a country other than that of my parents’ was similar enough to that of the refugee children New Hope served that I could empathize with them and offer advice. Together, we worked through conflicting allegiances, homesickness, and stretched belonging. 

Forging a special, personal bond with young refugees proved a cathartic outlet for my insecurities as it taught me to value my past. My transculturalism allowed me to help young refugees integrate into American life, and, in doing so, I was able to adjust myself. Now, I have an appreciation of myself that I never felt before. “Home” isn’t the digits in a passport or ZIP code but a sense of contentedness. By helping a young refugee find comfort, happiness, and home in America, I was finally able to find those same things for myself.

The above essay was written by Lydia Schooler, a graduate of Yale University and one of our CollegeVine advisors. If you enjoyed this essay and are looking for expert college essay and admissions advice, consider booking a session with Lydia .

Interests – Interest are basically synonymous to activities, but slightly broader (you could say that interests encompass activities); participation in an interest is often less organized than in an activity. For instance, you might consider cross country an activity, but cooking an interest. Writing about an interest is a way to highlight passions that may not come across in the rest of your application. If you’re a wrestler for example, writing about your interest in stand-up comedy would be a refreshing addition to your application. You should also feel free to use this topic to show what an important activity on your application really means to you. Keep in mind, however, that many schools will ask you to describe one of your activities in their supplemental essays (usually about 250 words), so choose strategically—you don’t want to write twice on the same thing.

Read a successful essay answering this prompt.

This prompt lends itself to consideration of what facets of your personality allow you to overcome adversity. While it’s okay to choose a relatively mundane “failure” such as not winning an award at a Model UN conference, another (perhaps more powerful) tactic is to write about a foundational failure and assess its impact on your development thereafter.

There are times in life when your foundation is uprooted. There are times when you experience failure and you want to give up since you don’t see a solution. This essay is about your response when you are destabilized and your actions when you don’t see an immediate answer.

For example, if you lost a friend due to an argument, you can analyze the positions from both sides, evaluate your decisions, and identify why you were wrong. The key is explaining your thought process and growth following the event to highlight how your thinking has changed. Did you ever admit your fault and seek to fix the problem? Have you treated others differently since then? How has the setback changed the way you view arguments and fights now? Framing the prompt in this way allows you to tackle heavier questions about ethics and demonstrate your self-awareness.

If you haven’t experienced a “big” failure, another angle to take would be to discuss smaller, repeated failures that are either linked or similar thematically. For example, if you used to stutter or get nervous in large social groups, you could discuss the steps you took to find a solution. Even if you don’t have a massive foundational challenge to write about, a recurring challenge can translate to a powerful essay topic, especially if the steps you took to overcome this repeated failure help expose your character.

One student described his ignorance of his brother’s challenges — the writer assumed that because his brother Sam was sociable, Sam  was adjusting fine to their family’s move. After an angry outburst from Sam  and a long late-night conversation, the writer realizes his need to develop greater sensitivity and empathy. He now strives to recognize and understand others’ struggles, even if they’re not immediately apparent.

“You ruined my life!” After months of quiet anger, my brother finally confronted me. To my shame, I had been appallingly ignorant of his pain.

Despite being twins, Max and I are profoundly different. Having intellectual interests from a young age that, well, interested very few of my peers, I often felt out of step in comparison with my highly-social brother. Everything appeared to come effortlessly for Max and, while we share an extremely tight bond, his frequent time away with friends left me feeling more and more alone as we grew older.

When my parents learned about The Green Academy, we hoped it would be an opportunity for me to find not only an academically challenging environment, but also – perhaps more importantly – a community. This meant transferring the family from Drumfield to Kingston. And while there was concern about Max, we all believed that given his sociable nature, moving would be far less impactful on him than staying put might be on me.

As it turned out, Green Academy was everything I’d hoped for. I was ecstatic to discover a group of students with whom I shared interests and could truly engage. Preoccupied with new friends and a rigorous course load, I failed to notice that the tables had turned. Max, lost in the fray and grappling with how to make connections in his enormous new high school, had become withdrawn and lonely. It took me until Christmas time – and a massive argument – to recognize how difficult the transition had been for my brother, let alone that he blamed me for it.

Through my own journey of searching for academic peers, in addition to coming out as gay when I was 12, I had developed deep empathy for those who had trouble fitting in. It was a pain I knew well and could easily relate to. Yet after Max’s outburst, my first response was to protest that our parents – not I – had chosen to move us here. In my heart, though, I knew that regardless of who had made the decision, we ended up in Kingston for my benefit. I was ashamed that, while I saw myself as genuinely compassionate, I had been oblivious to the heartache of the person closest to me. I could no longer ignore it – and I didn’t want to.

We stayed up half the night talking, and the conversation took an unexpected turn. Max opened up and shared that it wasn’t just about the move. He told me how challenging school had always been for him, due to his dyslexia, and that the ever-present comparison to me had only deepened his pain.

We had been in parallel battles the whole time and, yet, I only saw that Max was in distress once he experienced problems with which I directly identified. I’d long thought Max had it so easy – all because he had friends. The truth was, he didn’t need to experience my personal brand of sorrow in order for me to relate – he had felt plenty of his own.

My failure to recognize Max’s suffering brought home for me the profound universality and diversity of personal struggle; everyone has insecurities, everyone has woes, and everyone – most certainly – has pain. I am acutely grateful for the conversations he and I shared around all of this, because I believe our relationship has been fundamentally strengthened by a deeper understanding of one another. Further, this experience has reinforced the value of constantly striving for deeper sensitivity to the hidden struggles of those around me. I won’t make the mistake again of assuming that the surface of someone’s life reflects their underlying story.

This prompt is difficult to answer because most high schoolers haven’t participated in the types of iconoclastic protests against societal ills that lend themselves to an awe-inspiring response. A more tenable alternative here could be to discuss a time that you went against social norms, whether it was by becoming friends with someone who seemed like an outcast or by proudly showing off a geeky passion.

And if you ever participated in a situation in tandem with adults and found some success (i.e., by blogging, starting a tutoring organization, or participating in political campaigns), you could discuss your experiences as a young person without a college degree in professional circles. However, avoid sounding morally superior (as if you’re the only person who went against this convention, or that you’re better than your peers for doing so).

Another way to answer this prompt is to discuss a time when you noticed a need for change. For example, if you wondered why medical records are often handwritten, or why a doctor’s visit can be long and awkward, maybe you challenged the norm in healthcare by brainstorming an electronic-recording smartphone app or a telemedicine system. In a similar way, if you led a fundraiser and recognized that advertising on social media would be more effective than the traditional use of printed flyers, you could write about a topic along those lines as well. Focus on what action or experience caused you to recognize the need for change and follow with your actions and resulting outcome.

As a whole, this prompt lends itself to reflective writing, and more specifically, talking the reader through your thought processes. In many cases, the exploration of your thought processes and decision-making is more important than the actual outcome or concept in question. In short, this essay is very much about “thinking,” rumination, and inquisition. A good brainstorming exercise for this prompt would be to write your problem on a sheet of paper and then develop various solutions to the problem, including a brief reason for justification. The more thorough you are in justifying and explaining your solutions in the essay, the more compelling your response will be.

While this prompt may seem to be asking a simple question, your answer has the potential to provide deep insights about who you are to the admissions committee. Explaining what you are grateful for can show them your culture, your community, your philosophical outlook on the world, and what makes you tick. 

The first step to writing this essay is to think about the “something” and “someone” of your story. It is imperative to talk about a unique moment in your life, as the prompt asks for gratitude that came about in a surprising way. You will want to write about a story that you are certain no one else would have. To brainstorm, ask yourself: “if I told a stranger that I was grateful for what happened to me without any context, would they be surprised?” 

Note that the most common answers to this prompt involve a family member, teacher, or sports coach giving the narrator an arduous task ─ which, by the end of the story, the narrator becomes grateful for because of the lessons they learned through their hard work. Try to avoid writing an essay along these lines unless you feel that your take on it will be truly original.

Begin your essay by telling a creative story about the “something” that your “someone” did that made you thankful. Paint a picture with words here ─ establish who you were in the context of your story and make the character development of your “someone” thorough. Show the admissions committee that you have a clear understanding of yourself and the details of your world. 

Keep in mind, however, that the essay is ultimately about you and your growth. While you should set the scene clearly, don’t spend too much time talking about the “something” and “someone.”

Your story should then transition into a part about your unexpected epiphany, e.g. “Six months after Leonard gave me that pogo stick, I started to be grateful for the silly thing…” Explain the why of your gratitude as thoroughly as you can before you begin to talk about how your gratitude affected or motivated you. Have a Socratic seminar with yourself in your head ─ ask yourself, “why am I grateful for the pogo stick?” and continue asking why until you arrive at a philosophical conclusion. Perhaps your reason could be that you eventually got used to the odd looks that people gave you as you were pogoing and gained more self-confidence. 

Finally, think about how learning to be grateful for something you would not expect to bring you joy and thankfulness has had a positive impact on your life. Gaining more self-confidence, for example, could motivate you to do an infinite number of things that you were not able to attempt in the past. Try to make a conclusion by connecting this part to your story from the beginning of the essay. You want to ultimately show that had [reference to a snippet of your introduction, ideally an absurd part] never have happened, you would not be who you are today.

Remember to express these lessons implicitly through the experiences in your essay, and not explicitly. Show us your growth through the changes in your life rather than simply stating that you gained confidence. For instance, maybe the pogo stick gift led you to start a pogo dance team at your school, and the team went on to perform at large venues to raise money for charity. But before your pogo days, you had crippling stage fright and hated even giving speeches in your English class. These are the kinds of details that make your essay more engaging. 

This prompt is expansive in that you can choose any accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked personal growth or new understanding.

One option is to discuss a formal accomplishment or event (whether it is a religious ritual or social rite of passage) that reflects personal growth. If you go this route, make sure to discuss why the ritual was meaningful and how specific aspects of said ritual contributed to your personal growth. An example of this could be the meaning of becoming an Eagle Scout to you, the accomplishment of being elected to Senior Leadership, or completing a Confirmation. In the case of religious topics, however, be sure to not get carried away with details, and focus on the nature of your personal growth and new understanding — know your audience.

Alternatively, a more relaxed way to address this prompt is using an informal event or realization, which would allow you to show more personality and creativity. An example of this could be learning how to bake with your mother, thus sparking a newfound connection with her, allowing you to learn about her past. Having a long discussion about life or philosophy with your father could also suffice, thus sparking more thoughts about your identity. You could write about a realization that caused you to join a new organization or quit an activity you did not think you would enjoy, as doing so would force you to grow out of your comfort zone to try new things.

The key to answering this prompt is clearly defining what it is that sparked your growth, and then describing in detail the nature of this growth and how it related to your perception of yourself and others. This part of the essay is crucial, as you must dedicate sufficient time to not undersell the description of how you grew instead of simply explaining the experience and then saying, “I grew.” This description of how you grew must be specific, in-depth, and it does not have to be simple. Your growth can also be left open-ended if you are still learning from your experiences today.

One student wrote about how her single mother’s health crisis prompted her to quickly assume greater responsibility as a fourteen-year-old. This essay describes the new tasks she undertook, as well as how the writer now more greatly cherishes her time with her mother.

Tears streamed down my face and my mind was paralyzed with fear. Sirens blared, but the silent panic in my own head was deafening. I was muted by shock. A few hours earlier, I had anticipated a vacation in Washington, D.C., but unexpectedly, I was rushing to the hospital behind an ambulance carrying my mother. As a fourteen-year-old from a single mother household, without a driver’s license, and seven hours from home, I was distraught over the prospect of losing the only parent I had. My fear turned into action as I made some of the bravest decisions of my life. 

Three blood transfusions later, my mother’s condition was stable, but we were still states away from home, so I coordinated with my mother’s doctors in North Carolina to schedule the emergency operation that would save her life. Throughout her surgery, I anxiously awaited any word from her surgeon, but each time I asked, I was told that there had been another complication or delay. Relying on my faith and positive attitude, I remained optimistic that my mother would survive and that I could embrace new responsibilities.

My mother had been a source of strength for me, and now I would be strong for her through her long recovery ahead. As I started high school, everyone thought the crisis was over, but it had really just started to impact my life. My mother was often fatigued, so I assumed more responsibility, juggling family duties, school, athletics, and work. I made countless trips to the neighborhood pharmacy, cooked dinner, biked to the grocery store, supported my concerned sister, and provided the loving care my mother needed to recover. I didn’t know I was capable of such maturity and resourcefulness until it was called upon. Each day was a stage in my gradual transformation from dependence to relative independence.

Throughout my mother’s health crisis, I matured by learning to put others’ needs before my own. As I worried about my mother’s health, I took nothing for granted, cherished what I had, and used my daily activities as motivation to move forward. I now take ownership over small decisions such as scheduling daily appointments and managing my time but also over major decisions involving my future, including the college admissions process. Although I have become more independent, my mother and I are inseparably close, and the realization that I almost lost her affects me daily. Each morning, I wake up ten minutes early simply to eat breakfast with my mother and spend time with her before our busy days begin. I am aware of how quickly life can change. My mother remains a guiding force in my life, but the feeling of empowerment I discovered within myself is the ultimate form of my independence. Though I thought the summer before my freshman year would be a transition from middle school to high school, it was a transformation from childhood to adulthood.

This prompt allows you to expand and deepen a seemingly small or simple idea, topic, or concept. One example could be “stars,” in that you could describe stargazing as a child, counting them, recognizing constellations, and then transforming that initial captivation into a deeper appreciation of the cosmos as a whole, spurring a love of astronomy and physics.

Another example could be “language,” discussing how it has evolved and changed over the course of history, how it allows you to look deeper into different cultures, and how learning different languages stretches the mind. A tip for expanding on these topics and achieving specificity is to select particular details of the topic that you find intriguing and explain why.

For example, if you’re passionate about cooking or baking, you could use specific details by explaining, in depth, the intricate attention and artistry necessary to make a dish or dessert. You can delve into why certain spices or garnishes are superior in different situations, how flavors blend well together and can be mixed creatively, or even the chemistry differences between steaming, searing, and grilling.

Regardless of your topic, this prompt provides a great opportunity to display writing prowess through elegant, specific descriptions that leverage sensory details. Describing the beauty of the night sky, the rhythms and sounds of different languages, or the scent of a crème brûlée shows passion and captivation in a very direct, evocative way.

The key to writing this essay is answering the question of why something captivates you instead of simply ending with “I love surfing.” A tip would be to play off your senses (for applicable topics), think about what you see, feel, smell, hear, and taste.

In the case of surfing, the salty water, weightlessness of bobbing over the waves, and fresh air could cater to senses. Alternatively, for less physical topics, you can use a train of thought and descriptions to show how deeply and vividly your mind dwells on the topic.

Well-executed trains of thought or similar tactics are successful ways to convey passion for a certain topic. To answer what or who you turn to when you want to learn more, you can be authentic and honest—if it’s Wikipedia, a teacher, friend, YouTube Channel, etc., you simply have to show how you interact with the medium.

When brainstorming this particular essay, a tip would be to use a web diagram, placing the topic in the middle and thinking about branching characteristics, themes, or concepts related to the topic that are directly engaging and captivating to you. In doing so, you’ll be able to gauge the depth of the topic and whether it will suffice for this prompt.

In the following example, a student shares their journey as they learn to appreciate a piece of their culture’s cuisine.

As a wide-eyed, naive seven-year-old, I watched my grandmother’s rough, wrinkled hands pull and knead mercilessly at white dough until the countertop was dusted in flour. She steamed small buns in bamboo baskets, and a light sweetness lingered in the air. Although the mantou looked delicious, their papery, flat taste was always an unpleasant surprise. My grandmother scolded me for failing to finish even one, and when I complained about the lack of flavor she would simply say that I would find it as I grew older. How did my adult relatives seem to enjoy this Taiwanese culinary delight while I found it so plain?

During my journey to discover the essence of mantou, I began to see myself the same way I saw the steamed bun. I believed that my writing would never evolve beyond a hobby and that my quiet nature crippled my ambitions. Ultimately, I thought I had little to offer the world. In middle school, it was easy for me to hide behind the large personalities of my friends, blending into the background and keeping my thoughts company. Although writing had become my emotional outlet, no matter how well I wrote essays, poetry, or fiction, I could not stand out in a sea of talented students. When I finally gained the confidence to submit my poetry to literary journals but was promptly rejected, I stepped back from my work to begin reading from Whitman to Dickinson, Li-Young Lee to Ocean Vuong. It was then that I realized I had been holding back a crucial ingredient–my distinct voice. 

Over time, my taste buds began to mature, as did I. Mantou can be flavored with pork and eggplant, sweetened in condensed milk, and moistened or dried by the steam’s temperature. After I ate the mantou with each of these factors in mind, I noticed its environment enhanced a delicately woven strand of sweetness beneath the taste of side dishes: the sugar I had often watched my grandmother sift into the flour. The taste was nearly untraceable, but once I grasped it I could truly begin to cherish mantou. In the same way the taste had been lost to me for years, my writer’s voice had struggled to shine through because of my self-doubt and fear of vulnerability.

As I acquired a taste for mantou, I also began to strengthen my voice through my surrounding environment. With the support of my parents, peer poets, and the guidance of Amy Tan and the Brontё sisters, I worked tirelessly to uncover my voice: a subtle strand of sweetness. Once I stopped trying to fit into a publishing material mold and infused my uninhibited passion for my Taiwanese heritage into my writing, my poem was published in a literary journal. I wrote about the blatant racism Asians endured during coronavirus, and the editor of Skipping Stones Magazine was touched by both my poem and my heartfelt letter. I opened up about being ridiculed for bringing Asian food to school at Youth Leadership Forum, providing support to younger Asian-American students who reached out with the relief of finding someone they could relate to. I embraced writing as a way to convey my struggle with cultural identity. I joined the school’s creative writing club and read my pieces in front of an audience, honing my voice into one that flourishes out loud as well.

Now, I write and speak unapologetically, falling in love with a voice that I never knew I had. It inspires passion within my communities and imparts tenacity to Asian-American youth, rooting itself deeply into everything I write. Today, my grandmother would say that I have finally unearthed the taste of mantou as I savor every bite with a newfound appreciation. I can imagine her hands shaping the dough that has become my voice, and I am eager to share it with the world.

Your GPA and SAT don’t tell the full admissions story

We’ll let you know what your chances are at your dream schools!

This prompt allows you to express what you want to express if it doesn’t align directly with the other prompts. While this prompt is very open-ended, it doesn’t mean you can adapt any essay you’ve written and think it will suffice. Always refer back to the Strategy section of this article and make sure the topic and essay of your choice addresses the Core Four questions necessary for a good Common App essay.

This prompt, more than the others, poses a high risk but also a high-potential reward. Writing your own question allows you to demonstrate individuality and confidence. Here, you can craft an innovative essay that tackles a difficult topic (for example, whether to raise or lower taxes) or presents information with a unique format (such as a conversation with an historical figure).

We encourage you to try something unconventional for this prompt, like comparing your personality to a Picasso painting, using an extended philosophical metaphor to describe your four years of high school, or writing in a poetic style to display your love of poetry. If you are extremely passionate about a topic or an expert in a certain area, for example Renaissance technology or journalism during World War II, you can use this prompt to show your authority on a subject by discussing it at a high level.

Be careful to frame the essay in a way that is accessible to the average reader while still incorporating quality evidence and content that would qualify you as an expert. As always, exercise caution in writing about controversial social or political topics, and always make sure to consider your audience and what they’re looking for in a student.

Sometimes an unconventional essay can capture Admissions Officers’ attention and move them in a profound way; other times, the concept can fly completely over their heads. Be sure to execute the essay clearly and justify your decision by seeking high-quality feedback from reliable sources. As always, the essay should demonstrate something meaningful about you, whether it is your personality, thought process, or values.

Here’s what the experts have to say about this prompt…

This prompt, like the others, is really asking you to tell the story of who you are. Your essay should be personal and should talk about something significant that has shaped your identity.

Here are a few broad themes that can work well: academic interest; culture, values, and diversity; extracurricular interests; and your impact on the community. You should highlight one of these themes using creative, vividly descriptive narrative. Make sure to not fall into the common pitfall of talking about something else -- an extracurricular activity, for example -- more than yourself.

A student I advised had a great idea to respond to this prompt -- an essay about how they do their best thinking while sitting on a tree branch near their home. Not only was it unique and personal, but it allowed the student to show what they think about, dream about, and value. That's the main goal for any applicant responding to prompt 7.

what do you write about in a college application essay

Alex Oddo Advisor on CollegeVine

All of the Common App prompts are broad in scope, but this one really takes the cake! I typically advise using the first six prompts as guardrails for your brainstorm, but in doing so, you may come up with a topic that doesn’t cleanly fit with any of the first six prompts. That’s where this prompt can come in handy.

Or, you might have an idea that’s really out there (like writing about your love of sonnets as a series of sonnets). Essentially, this prompt is a good fit for essays that are anywhere from slightly unconventional to extremely atypical.

If this all feels a bit confusing - don’t worry! How you write your story is much more important than what prompt you end up choosing. At the end of the day, these are just guides to help you cultivate a topic and are not meant to stress you out.

what do you write about in a college application essay

Priya Desai Advisor on CollegeVine

Students who want to complete the CommonApp’s seventh prompt need to have already gone through the other prompts and determined that their story cannot fit with those. Thus, generally speaking, I advise my students to not use the final prompt unless it is absolutely necessary.

If an admission officer believes that your essay could have been used with one of the other prompts, this may lead them to have a perception about you as a student that might not be accurate.

Nevertheless, as my colleagues have pointed out, what matters is the essay the most and not necessarily the prompt. That being said, the test of whether or not you as a student can follow directions is part of the prompt selection and how well you answer it. If you choose the final prompt and yet your answer could work with another available prompt, this will not put you in your best light.

In conclusion, only use this prompt when absolutely necessary, and remember that the purpose of the personal statement is to give the admissions officers a glimpse into who you are as a person, so you want to use this space to showcase beautiful you.

what do you write about in a college application essay

Veronica Prout Advisor on CollegeVine

Where to get your common app essay edited.

At selective schools, your essays account for around 25% of your admissions decision. That’s more than grades (20%) and test scores (15%), and almost as much as extracurriculars (30%). Why is this? Most students applying to top schools will have stellar academics and extracurriculars. Your essays are your chance to stand out and humanize your application. That’s why it’s vital that your essays are engaging, and present you as someone who would enrich the campus community.

Before submitting your application, you should have someone else review your essays. That’s why we created our free  Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools.  Find the right advisor for you  to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

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Getting College Essay Help: Important Do's and Don’ts

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College Essays

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If you grow up to be a professional writer, everything you write will first go through an editor before being published. This is because the process of writing is really a process of re-writing —of rethinking and reexamining your work, usually with the help of someone else. So what does this mean for your student writing? And in particular, what does it mean for very important, but nonprofessional writing like your college essay? Should you ask your parents to look at your essay? Pay for an essay service?

If you are wondering what kind of help you can, and should, get with your personal statement, you've come to the right place! In this article, I'll talk about what kind of writing help is useful, ethical, and even expected for your college admission essay . I'll also point out who would make a good editor, what the differences between editing and proofreading are, what to expect from a good editor, and how to spot and stay away from a bad one.

Table of Contents

What Kind of Help for Your Essay Can You Get?

What's Good Editing?

What should an editor do for you, what kind of editing should you avoid, proofreading, what's good proofreading, what kind of proofreading should you avoid.

What Do Colleges Think Of You Getting Help With Your Essay?

Who Can/Should Help You?

Advice for editors.

Should You Pay Money For Essay Editing?

The Bottom Line

What's next, what kind of help with your essay can you get.

Rather than talking in general terms about "help," let's first clarify the two different ways that someone else can improve your writing . There is editing, which is the more intensive kind of assistance that you can use throughout the whole process. And then there's proofreading, which is the last step of really polishing your final product.

Let me go into some more detail about editing and proofreading, and then explain how good editors and proofreaders can help you."

Editing is helping the author (in this case, you) go from a rough draft to a finished work . Editing is the process of asking questions about what you're saying, how you're saying it, and how you're organizing your ideas. But not all editing is good editing . In fact, it's very easy for an editor to cross the line from supportive to overbearing and over-involved.

Ability to clarify assignments. A good editor is usually a good writer, and certainly has to be a good reader. For example, in this case, a good editor should make sure you understand the actual essay prompt you're supposed to be answering.

Open-endedness. Good editing is all about asking questions about your ideas and work, but without providing answers. It's about letting you stick to your story and message, and doesn't alter your point of view.

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Think of an editor as a great travel guide. It can show you the many different places your trip could take you. It should explain any parts of the trip that could derail your trip or confuse the traveler. But it never dictates your path, never forces you to go somewhere you don't want to go, and never ignores your interests so that the trip no longer seems like it's your own. So what should good editors do?

Help Brainstorm Topics

Sometimes it's easier to bounce thoughts off of someone else. This doesn't mean that your editor gets to come up with ideas, but they can certainly respond to the various topic options you've come up with. This way, you're less likely to write about the most boring of your ideas, or to write about something that isn't actually important to you.

If you're wondering how to come up with options for your editor to consider, check out our guide to brainstorming topics for your college essay .

Help Revise Your Drafts

Here, your editor can't upset the delicate balance of not intervening too much or too little. It's tricky, but a great way to think about it is to remember: editing is about asking questions, not giving answers .

Revision questions should point out:

  • Places where more detail or more description would help the reader connect with your essay
  • Places where structure and logic don't flow, losing the reader's attention
  • Places where there aren't transitions between paragraphs, confusing the reader
  • Moments where your narrative or the arguments you're making are unclear

But pointing to potential problems is not the same as actually rewriting—editors let authors fix the problems themselves.

Want to write the perfect college application essay?   We can help.   Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will help you craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay to proudly submit to colleges.   Don't leave your college application to chance. Find out more about PrepScholar Admissions now:

Bad editing is usually very heavy-handed editing. Instead of helping you find your best voice and ideas, a bad editor changes your writing into their own vision.

You may be dealing with a bad editor if they:

  • Add material (examples, descriptions) that doesn't come from you
  • Use a thesaurus to make your college essay sound "more mature"
  • Add meaning or insight to the essay that doesn't come from you
  • Tell you what to say and how to say it
  • Write sentences, phrases, and paragraphs for you
  • Change your voice in the essay so it no longer sounds like it was written by a teenager

Colleges can tell the difference between a 17-year-old's writing and a 50-year-old's writing. Not only that, they have access to your SAT or ACT Writing section, so they can compare your essay to something else you wrote. Writing that's a little more polished is great and expected. But a totally different voice and style will raise questions.

Where's the Line Between Helpful Editing and Unethical Over-Editing?

Sometimes it's hard to tell whether your college essay editor is doing the right thing. Here are some guidelines for staying on the ethical side of the line.

  • An editor should say that the opening paragraph is kind of boring, and explain what exactly is making it drag. But it's overstepping for an editor to tell you exactly how to change it.
  • An editor should point out where your prose is unclear or vague. But it's completely inappropriate for the editor to rewrite that section of your essay.
  • An editor should let you know that a section is light on detail or description. But giving you similes and metaphors to beef up that description is a no-go.

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Proofreading (also called copy-editing) is checking for errors in the last draft of a written work. It happens at the end of the process and is meant as the final polishing touch. Proofreading is meticulous and detail-oriented, focusing on small corrections. It sands off all the surface rough spots that could alienate the reader.

Because proofreading is usually concerned with making fixes on the word or sentence level, this is the only process where someone else can actually add to or take away things from your essay . This is because what they are adding or taking away tends to be one or two misplaced letters.

Laser focus. Proofreading is all about the tiny details, so the ability to really concentrate on finding small slip-ups is a must.

Excellent grammar and spelling skills. Proofreaders need to dot every "i" and cross every "t." Good proofreaders should correct spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammar. They should put foreign words in italics and surround quotations with quotation marks. They should check that you used the correct college's name, and that you adhered to any formatting requirements (name and date at the top of the page, uniform font and size, uniform spacing).

Limited interference. A proofreader needs to make sure that you followed any word limits. But if cuts need to be made to shorten the essay, that's your job and not the proofreader's.

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A bad proofreader either tries to turn into an editor, or just lacks the skills and knowledge necessary to do the job.

Some signs that you're working with a bad proofreader are:

  • If they suggest making major changes to the final draft of your essay. Proofreading happens when editing is already finished.
  • If they aren't particularly good at spelling, or don't know grammar, or aren't detail-oriented enough to find someone else's small mistakes.
  • If they start swapping out your words for fancier-sounding synonyms, or changing the voice and sound of your essay in other ways. A proofreader is there to check for errors, not to take the 17-year-old out of your writing.

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What Do Colleges Think of Your Getting Help With Your Essay?

Admissions officers agree: light editing and proofreading are good—even required ! But they also want to make sure you're the one doing the work on your essay. They want essays with stories, voice, and themes that come from you. They want to see work that reflects your actual writing ability, and that focuses on what you find important.

On the Importance of Editing

Get feedback. Have a fresh pair of eyes give you some feedback. Don't allow someone else to rewrite your essay, but do take advantage of others' edits and opinions when they seem helpful. ( Bates College )

Read your essay aloud to someone. Reading the essay out loud offers a chance to hear how your essay sounds outside your head. This exercise reveals flaws in the essay's flow, highlights grammatical errors and helps you ensure that you are communicating the exact message you intended. ( Dickinson College )

On the Value of Proofreading

Share your essays with at least one or two people who know you well—such as a parent, teacher, counselor, or friend—and ask for feedback. Remember that you ultimately have control over your essays, and your essays should retain your own voice, but others may be able to catch mistakes that you missed and help suggest areas to cut if you are over the word limit. ( Yale University )

Proofread and then ask someone else to proofread for you. Although we want substance, we also want to be able to see that you can write a paper for our professors and avoid careless mistakes that would drive them crazy. ( Oberlin College )

On Watching Out for Too Much Outside Influence

Limit the number of people who review your essay. Too much input usually means your voice is lost in the writing style. ( Carleton College )

Ask for input (but not too much). Your parents, friends, guidance counselors, coaches, and teachers are great people to bounce ideas off of for your essay. They know how unique and spectacular you are, and they can help you decide how to articulate it. Keep in mind, however, that a 45-year-old lawyer writes quite differently from an 18-year-old student, so if your dad ends up writing the bulk of your essay, we're probably going to notice. ( Vanderbilt University )

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Now let's talk about some potential people to approach for your college essay editing and proofreading needs. It's best to start close to home and slowly expand outward. Not only are your family and friends more invested in your success than strangers, but they also have a better handle on your interests and personality. This knowledge is key for judging whether your essay is expressing your true self.

Parents or Close Relatives

Your family may be full of potentially excellent editors! Parents are deeply committed to your well-being, and family members know you and your life well enough to offer details or incidents that can be included in your essay. On the other hand, the rewriting process necessarily involves criticism, which is sometimes hard to hear from someone very close to you.

A parent or close family member is a great choice for an editor if you can answer "yes" to the following questions. Is your parent or close relative a good writer or reader? Do you have a relationship where editing your essay won't create conflict? Are you able to constructively listen to criticism and suggestion from the parent?

One suggestion for defusing face-to-face discussions is to try working on the essay over email. Send your parent a draft, have them write you back some comments, and then you can pick which of their suggestions you want to use and which to discard.

Teachers or Tutors

A humanities teacher that you have a good relationship with is a great choice. I am purposefully saying humanities, and not just English, because teachers of Philosophy, History, Anthropology, and any other classes where you do a lot of writing, are all used to reviewing student work.

Moreover, any teacher or tutor that has been working with you for some time, knows you very well and can vet the essay to make sure it "sounds like you."

If your teacher or tutor has some experience with what college essays are supposed to be like, ask them to be your editor. If not, then ask whether they have time to proofread your final draft.

Guidance or College Counselor at Your School

The best thing about asking your counselor to edit your work is that this is their job. This means that they have a very good sense of what colleges are looking for in an application essay.

At the same time, school counselors tend to have relationships with admissions officers in many colleges, which again gives them insight into what works and which college is focused on what aspect of the application.

Unfortunately, in many schools the guidance counselor tends to be way overextended. If your ratio is 300 students to 1 college counselor, you're unlikely to get that person's undivided attention and focus. It is still useful to ask them for general advice about your potential topics, but don't expect them to be able to stay with your essay from first draft to final version.

Friends, Siblings, or Classmates

Although they most likely don't have much experience with what colleges are hoping to see, your peers are excellent sources for checking that your essay is you .

Friends and siblings are perfect for the read-aloud edit. Read your essay to them so they can listen for words and phrases that are stilted, pompous, or phrases that just don't sound like you.

You can even trade essays and give helpful advice on each other's work.

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If your editor hasn't worked with college admissions essays very much, no worries! Any astute and attentive reader can still greatly help with your process. But, as in all things, beginners do better with some preparation.

First, your editor should read our advice about how to write a college essay introduction , how to spot and fix a bad college essay , and get a sense of what other students have written by going through some admissions essays that worked .

Then, as they read your essay, they can work through the following series of questions that will help them to guide you.

Introduction Questions

  • Is the first sentence a killer opening line? Why or why not?
  • Does the introduction hook the reader? Does it have a colorful, detailed, and interesting narrative? Or does it propose a compelling or surprising idea?
  • Can you feel the author's voice in the introduction, or is the tone dry, dull, or overly formal? Show the places where the voice comes through.

Essay Body Questions

  • Does the essay have a through-line? Is it built around a central argument, thought, idea, or focus? Can you put this idea into your own words?
  • How is the essay organized? By logical progression? Chronologically? Do you feel order when you read it, or are there moments where you are confused or lose the thread of the essay?
  • Does the essay have both narratives about the author's life and explanations and insight into what these stories reveal about the author's character, personality, goals, or dreams? If not, which is missing?
  • Does the essay flow? Are there smooth transitions/clever links between paragraphs? Between the narrative and moments of insight?

Reader Response Questions

  • Does the writer's personality come through? Do we know what the speaker cares about? Do we get a sense of "who he or she is"?
  • Where did you feel most connected to the essay? Which parts of the essay gave you a "you are there" sensation by invoking your senses? What moments could you picture in your head well?
  • Where are the details and examples vague and not specific enough?
  • Did you get an "a-ha!" feeling anywhere in the essay? Is there a moment of insight that connected all the dots for you? Is there a good reveal or "twist" anywhere in the essay?
  • What are the strengths of this essay? What needs the most improvement?

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Should You Pay Money for Essay Editing?

One alternative to asking someone you know to help you with your college essay is the paid editor route. There are two different ways to pay for essay help: a private essay coach or a less personal editing service , like the many proliferating on the internet.

My advice is to think of these options as a last resort rather than your go-to first choice. I'll first go through the reasons why. Then, if you do decide to go with a paid editor, I'll help you decide between a coach and a service.

When to Consider a Paid Editor

In general, I think hiring someone to work on your essay makes a lot of sense if none of the people I discussed above are a possibility for you.

If you can't ask your parents. For example, if your parents aren't good writers, or if English isn't their first language. Or if you think getting your parents to help is going create unnecessary extra conflict in your relationship with them (applying to college is stressful as it is!)

If you can't ask your teacher or tutor. Maybe you don't have a trusted teacher or tutor that has time to look over your essay with focus. Or, for instance, your favorite humanities teacher has very limited experience with college essays and so won't know what admissions officers want to see.

If you can't ask your guidance counselor. This could be because your guidance counselor is way overwhelmed with other students.

If you can't share your essay with those who know you. It might be that your essay is on a very personal topic that you're unwilling to share with parents, teachers, or peers. Just make sure it doesn't fall into one of the bad-idea topics in our article on bad college essays .

If the cost isn't a consideration. Many of these services are quite expensive, and private coaches even more so. If you have finite resources, I'd say that hiring an SAT or ACT tutor (whether it's PrepScholar or someone else) is better way to spend your money . This is because there's no guarantee that a slightly better essay will sufficiently elevate the rest of your application, but a significantly higher SAT score will definitely raise your applicant profile much more.

Should You Hire an Essay Coach?

On the plus side, essay coaches have read dozens or even hundreds of college essays, so they have experience with the format. Also, because you'll be working closely with a specific person, it's more personal than sending your essay to a service, which will know even less about you.

But, on the minus side, you'll still be bouncing ideas off of someone who doesn't know that much about you . In general, if you can adequately get the help from someone you know, there is no advantage to paying someone to help you.

If you do decide to hire a coach, ask your school counselor, or older students that have used the service for recommendations. If you can't afford the coach's fees, ask whether they can work on a sliding scale —many do. And finally, beware those who guarantee admission to your school of choice—essay coaches don't have any special magic that can back up those promises.

Should You Send Your Essay to a Service?

On the plus side, essay editing services provide a similar product to essay coaches, and they cost significantly less . If you have some assurance that you'll be working with a good editor, the lack of face-to-face interaction won't prevent great results.

On the minus side, however, it can be difficult to gauge the quality of the service before working with them . If they are churning through many application essays without getting to know the students they are helping, you could end up with an over-edited essay that sounds just like everyone else's. In the worst case scenario, an unscrupulous service could send you back a plagiarized essay.

Getting recommendations from friends or a school counselor for reputable services is key to avoiding heavy-handed editing that writes essays for you or does too much to change your essay. Including a badly-edited essay like this in your application could cause problems if there are inconsistencies. For example, in interviews it might be clear you didn't write the essay, or the skill of the essay might not be reflected in your schoolwork and test scores.

Should You Buy an Essay Written by Someone Else?

Let me elaborate. There are super sketchy places on the internet where you can simply buy a pre-written essay. Don't do this!

For one thing, you'll be lying on an official, signed document. All college applications make you sign a statement saying something like this:

I certify that all information submitted in the admission process—including the application, the personal essay, any supplements, and any other supporting materials—is my own work, factually true, and honestly presented... I understand that I may be subject to a range of possible disciplinary actions, including admission revocation, expulsion, or revocation of course credit, grades, and degree, should the information I have certified be false. (From the Common Application )

For another thing, if your academic record doesn't match the essay's quality, the admissions officer will start thinking your whole application is riddled with lies.

Admission officers have full access to your writing portion of the SAT or ACT so that they can compare work that was done in proctored conditions with that done at home. They can tell if these were written by different people. Not only that, but there are now a number of search engines that faculty and admission officers can use to see if an essay contains strings of words that have appeared in other essays—you have no guarantee that the essay you bought wasn't also bought by 50 other students.

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  • You should get college essay help with both editing and proofreading
  • A good editor will ask questions about your idea, logic, and structure, and will point out places where clarity is needed
  • A good editor will absolutely not answer these questions, give you their own ideas, or write the essay or parts of the essay for you
  • A good proofreader will find typos and check your formatting
  • All of them agree that getting light editing and proofreading is necessary
  • Parents, teachers, guidance or college counselor, and peers or siblings
  • If you can't ask any of those, you can pay for college essay help, but watch out for services or coaches who over-edit you work
  • Don't buy a pre-written essay! Colleges can tell, and it'll make your whole application sound false.

Ready to start working on your essay? Check out our explanation of the point of the personal essay and the role it plays on your applications and then explore our step-by-step guide to writing a great college essay .

Using the Common Application for your college applications? We have an excellent guide to the Common App essay prompts and useful advice on how to pick the Common App prompt that's right for you . Wondering how other people tackled these prompts? Then work through our roundup of over 130 real college essay examples published by colleges .

Stressed about whether to take the SAT again before submitting your application? Let us help you decide how many times to take this test . If you choose to go for it, we have the ultimate guide to studying for the SAT to give you the ins and outs of the best ways to study.

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

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Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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Made by History

How the College Application Essay Became So Important

Board of Admissions examining applicatio

S chool is out and summer is here. Yet future high school seniors and their families are likely already thinking about applying to college — a process that can be as labor-intensive and time-consuming as it is confusing. Students submit SAT scores, grades, references, personal essays, and more, often without a clear sense of what counts most.

The challenges facing college applicants today aren’t new. For over a century, Americans seeking higher education have had to navigate complicated admissions requirements including exams and grades as well as qualitative metrics of assessment, such as references, interviews, and essays.

Collecting so much academic and personal information has given colleges and universities greater control over the kinds of students they admit. In the first half of the 20th century, this information was mainly used to bar some applicants based on race, gender, and religion. Since the social movements of the 1960s and 70s, however, it has been used to do nearly the opposite by expanding access to previously excluded groups. In this process, personal essays have been especially valuable for the unique insights they can offer into applicants’ backgrounds and perspectives. In the context of today’s narrowing national diversity agenda, they are key to promoting inclusion in American higher education.

In the late 19th century, college admission standards were relatively low in America, even at the “Big Three” private universities, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. In an era when few Americans had more than an eighth-grade education, and even fewer could afford the cost of higher education, there was little competition for admission. Applicants needed only to pass subject matter exams, tests that were rudimentary and could be taken repeatedly until passed. Even those who failed their entrance exams might be admitted if they had elite standing and could pay tuition.

Read More: How to Talk About Race on College Applications, According to Admissions Experts

By the turn of the 20th century, however, demand for higher education was growing. Colleges worked intentionally to admit a broader range of students, dropping archaic requirements like knowledge of Latin and Greek that had previously barred all but the most privileged high school students from applying. More and more qualified applicants competed for fewer available spots, which meant that colleges and universities could be more selective. 

But with more applicants passing exams and earning entry to higher education, private universities became increasingly concerned about the demographics of their student bodies. By the 1910s, as immigration increased, and more public high schools were better preparing students of all backgrounds to meet private entrance requirements, rising numbers of Jewish students were landing spots at the historically Protestant and upper-class universities. With antisemitism on the rise, many private colleges adopted new metrics of admission that could be used to limit the number of “undesirable” students, especially Jewish ones. 

It was at this juncture that selective colleges introduced the application essay to assess students for the amorphous category of "fit." Applications in general became much more involved and intrusive. 

For instance, beginning in 1919, Columbia required prospective students to complete an eight-page form, submit a photo, list their mother’s maiden name, and provide information about their religious background. Even standardized tests could be used to screen students by cultural background. Early entrance exams were heavily biased toward American customs and colloquialisms, putting first-generation immigrants at a disadvantage.

In the wake of World War II, the passage of the GI Bill created a surge in demand for higher education across the country. Between 1950 and 1970, enrollment in colleges and universities in the U.S. nearly quadrupled. 

Although public and private universities expanded in response, they still came under new pressures to bolster selective criteria that would allow them to limit the growth of their student bodies. To ensure spots for students long considered the natural recipients of higher education — especially white, middle-class, Protestant men — private colleges continued to use quotas and other forms of preference such as legacy status to effectively limit the numbers of Jewish students, people of color, and women admitted. Meanwhile, admissions were far from need blind; applying for a scholarship could damage your chance of acceptance.

Public universities like the University of California, Berkeley charted a different course. In the post-war period, the UC system admitted all students who met basic requirements — graduation from an accredited high school along with a principal's recommendation, acceptance by exam, or completion of an Associate’s degree. But public universities now also faced more demand than they could accommodate. Indeed, the 1960s California Master Plan for Higher Education acknowledged that state universities, too, might well have to introduce a selective process for choosing applicants in the face of expanded access across much wider class, geographic, and ethnic backgrounds. 

By the 1960s, a selective application process became common across major private and public universities. But the social movements of the 1960s and 70s forced private universities to drop their formal practices of discrimination and changed the use of personal essays and other qualitative metrics of evaluation in the process. 

For the first time, in the 1960s, admissions officers at historically white and Protestant universities acknowledged that applicants’ academic profiles were deeply shaped by the opportunities — educational, economic, and cultural — available to them, and that these in turn were shaped by students’ race, ethnicity, and sex. 

While special considerations about background had once been used to systematically exclude minorities, in the 1960s they were invoked for the first time to do the opposite, albeit with some striking limitations. 

By looking at applicants from a comprehensive standpoint, which included these markers of identity, even the most selective private universities made major strides in achieving racial diversity in this period. They also dropped quotas and began to admit women on an equal basis with men. Class diversity, however, was another matter — to this day private universities continue to be comparatively socio-economically homogenous despite meaningful shifts in other areas. 

Since the 1970s, the admissions system has only grown increasingly competitive, with more students than ever before applying to college. That forced universities to choose between strong applicants while building their own brands and competitive profiles. This competitive environment has turned the college application essay into a particularly important vehicle in the admissions process for learning about students’ backgrounds and human qualities.

Read More: How the End of Affirmative Action Could Affect the College Admissions Process

In 1975, a small group of mostly East Coast colleges came together to form the Common App — today used by more than 1,000 universities. The Common App led the way in formulating what we now think of as the personal statement, aimed at understanding the inner world of each student.

For more than 50 years now, universities both private and public have evaluated essays for a range of qualities including leadership capacity, creativity, service to the community, and ability to overcome hardship, as part of their admissions decisions. The kinds of questions universities ask, the qualities they seek, and the responses they receive have changed many times and have been shaped by the cultural trends of our times. 

In 2021 for example, following the spread of a global pandemic, the Common App introduced a question about gratitude for the first time. And while the prompts remained unchanged following the 2023 Supreme Court decision in Students for Fair Admissions Inc. (SFFA) v. President & Fellows of Harvard College and SFFA v. University of North Carolina , which formally excluded race as a factor in admissions, universities began to read them for the role of race, ethnicity, and other identities in students’ profiles. In these and many other ways, the essay has only gained value as a way for students to explain the important ways their experiences and identities have shaped their academic profiles.

what do you write about in a college application essay

Still, there have been calls to eliminate the college essay from admissions requirements from both the right and the left, as either frivolously inclusive, or potentially exclusionary. Now, at a time when there are major political constraints on supporting diversity and inclusion at the national level, personal essays give admissions committees important flexibility. They also allow colleges to evaluate students for underrated but essential intellectual and personal qualities hard to observe elsewhere, including the capacity for growth, self-reflection, and awareness of the world around them. 

The history of modern admissions shows how institutions of higher education have sought to engineer their classes, often reinforcing harmful racial, class, and gender hierarchies. There is little objectivity in the metric of “fit” that has shaped American admissions practices. But the Civil Rights era has had a powerful and long-lasting legacy in broadening access through an assessment of applicants that is attentive to identity. However flawed the system, the essay offers something no other metric can: an account of a student’s lived experience, in their own words.

Sarah Stoller is a writer and historian. She also tutors college essay writing.

Made by History takes readers beyond the headlines with articles written and edited by professional historians. Learn more about Made by History at TIME here . Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors .

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How to Write the Purdue Supplemental Essays 2023–2024

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Purdue University is a renowned public research institution especially known for their College of Engineering . Their storied alumni include astronaut Neil Armstrong, comedian Jim Gaffigan, and NASCAR driver Ryan Newman, among others. Every year, tens of thousands of applicants hope to follow in their footsteps. If you’re hoping to nail your Purdue supplemental essays, then you’ve come to the right place. Let’s dive in.

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Purdue’s 2023-2024 Prompts

Purdue University only asks its applicants to write two short supplemental essays. Although these prompts may look simple, there are few tips and tricks that help you take your essays to the next level. First of all, here are the prompts:

How will opportunities at Purdue support your interests, both in and out of the classroom? (250 words or fewer)

Briefly discuss your reasons for pursuing the major you have selected. (250 words or fewer).

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General Tips

The Purdue supplemental essays are academically focused, with some room to discuss other aspects of college life when responding to the first prompt. For these reasons, it’s important to focus your responses on academic topics. In addition, when possible, make your responses specific to Purdue.

The key to making your responses specific to Purdue is research, research, research . Look through course catalogs, department webpages, and other online or paper resources you have available to you. If you know any Purdue alumni, you may want to ask them questions about their experiences. Understanding the unique qualities of Purdue that will support your academic journey, and then describing those qualities in your essays, will greatly strengthen your application.

Purdue Short Essay Questions

This is your chance to show the admissions team why you’re excited about applying to Purdue. In other words, this is your “Why Purdue?” essay. According to Purdue’s Common Data Set , their admissions team considers the applicant’s level of interest when making acceptance decisions. Therefore, demonstrating how interested you are in attending Purdue could make or break your application.

How can you demonstrate interest in Purdue in this essay? First, you’ll need to clarify your interests to the reader. Then, you’ll need to point to the opportunities at Purdue that relate to these interests of yours. As discussed in the “General Tips” section of this article, research will be key to making your response to this prompt shine. When possible, name specific programs, professors, courses, or other opportunities at Purdue that will support you on your academic journey.

Ideally, you show the reader why Purdue is uniquely fitting for your academic interests and personal ambitions. What does Purdue offer that most schools don’t? Once you identify the unique offerings at Purdue related to your interests, you can explore them in your essay. If you have space, feel free to connect those opportunities at Purdue to your future career or other goals. Demonstrating how Purdue’s curriculum and extracurricular offerings will benefit you post-graduation will show the reader your forethought and maturity.

This question is simple, but difficult. Most applicants struggle to identify a particular moment when the topic of their chosen major became important to them. If you do have a particular moment in mind, then that’s great. In this essay, take the time to explore that moment and how it continues to impact your academic journey to this day.

That said, your choice of major might be the result of a series of life experiences and interests, rather than a single “aha!” moment. Moreover, many students select a major on their college application without much confidence that they’ll stick to it once they get to campus. If that sounds like you, you’re not alone! According to the National Center for Education Studies, about 30% of students change their major in college at least once.

Whatever the case, you definitely have at least a couple reasons for choosing your major. Before you begin this essay draft, try to write down ten reasons for choosing your major. That might sound like an excess of reasons, and it is, for the purposes of writing this essay. But it’s a useful brainstorming exercise. After creating your list, you might realize that some of your reasons can be recombined into a few more nuanced reasons.

You may also want to brainstorm occasions when this particular subject has brought you joy or fulfillment. In your essay, you can dive into these moments and build your narrative around them. Think broadly: has there been an occasion when you have seen someone with a degree in your field of interest make a positive impact on the world? If so, that moment could be part of your essay. You could write about just one moment, or you could cover a few. Moreover, don’t feel restricted to describing a single reason behind your major of choice. That said, there’s nothing wrong with focusing on a single source of inspiration, if that is true to your experience.

In sum, look into your past experiences, plural, to guide the progression of this essay. If you’re having trouble deciding which moment(s) to focus on, try freewriting to figure out which topics you find most meaningful to explore in your writing.

If you need help polishing up your Purdue supplemental essays, check out our College Essay Review service. You can receive detailed feedback from Ivy League consultants in as little as 24 hours.

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How the college application essay became so important

School is out and summer is here. Yet future high school seniors and their families are likely already thinking about applying to college — a process that can be as labor-intensive and time-consuming as it is confusing. Students submit SAT scores, grades, references, personal essays, and more, often without a clear sense of what counts most.

The challenges facing college applicants today aren’t new. For over a century, Americans seeking higher education have had to navigate complicated admissions requirements including exams and grades as well as qualitative metrics of assessment, such as references, interviews, and essays.

Collecting so much academic and personal information has given colleges and universities greater control over the kinds of students they admit. In the first half of the 20th century, this information was mainly used to bar some applicants based on race, gender, and religion. Since the social movements of the 1960s and 70s, however, it has been used to do nearly the opposite by expanding access to previously excluded groups. In this process, personal essays have been especially valuable for the unique insights they can offer into applicants’ backgrounds and perspectives. In the context of today’s narrowing national diversity agenda, they are key to promoting inclusion in American higher education.

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The Personal Statement Topics Ivy League Hopefuls Should Avoid

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A compelling personal statement is a critical component of an Ivy League application, as it offers students the unique opportunity to showcase their personality, experiences, and aspirations. Kickstarting the writing process in the summer can give students a critical advantage in the admissions process, allowing them more time to brainstorm, edit, and polish standout essays. However, as students begin drafting their essays this summer, they should bear in mind that selecting the right topic is crucial to writing a successful essay. Particularly for students with Ivy League aspirations, submitting an essay that is cliche, unoriginal, or inauthentic can make the difference between standing out to admissions officers or blending into the sea of other applicants.

As ambitious students embark on the college application process, here are the personal statement topics they should avoid:

1. The Trauma Dump

Many students overcome significant hurdles by the time they begin the college application process, and some assume that the grisliest and most traumatic stories will attract attention and sympathy from admissions committees. While vulnerability can be powerful, sharing overly personal or sensitive information can make readers uncomfortable and shift focus away from a student’s unique strengths. Students should embrace authenticity and be honest about the struggles they have faced on their path to college, while still recognizing that the personal statement is a professional piece of writing, not a diary entry. Students should first consider why they want to share a particular tragic or traumatic experience and how that story might lend insight into the kind of student and community member they will be on campus. As a general rule, if the story will truly enrich the admissions committee’s understanding of their candidacy, students should thoughtfully include it; if it is a means of proving that they are more deserving or seeking to engender pity, students should consider selecting a different topic. Students should adopt a similar, critical approach as they write about difficult or sensitive topics in their supplemental essays, excluding unnecessary detail and focusing on how the experience shaped who they are today.

2. The Travelogue

Travel experiences can be enriching, but essays that merely recount a trip to a foreign country without deeper reflection often fall flat. Additionally, travel stories can often unintentionally convey white saviorism , particularly if students are recounting experiences from their charity work or mission trips in a foreign place. If a student does wish to write about an experience from their travels, they should prioritize depth not breadth—the personal statement is not the place to detail an entire itinerary or document every aspect of a trip. Instead, students should focus on one specific and meaningful experience from their travels with vivid detail and creative storytelling, expounding on how the event changed their worldview, instilled new values, or inspired their future goals.

3. The Superhero Narrative

Ivy League and other top colleges are looking for students who are introspective and teachable—no applicant is perfect (admissions officers know this!). Therefore, it’s crucial that students be aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and open about the areas in which they hope to grow. They should avoid grandiose narratives in which they cast themselves as flawless heroes. While students should seek to put their best foot forward, depicting themselves as protagonists who single-handedly resolve complex issues can make them appear exaggerated and lacking in humility. For instance, rather than telling the story about being the sole onlooker to stand up for a peer being bullied at the lunch table, perhaps a student could share about an experience that emboldened them to advocate for themselves and others. Doing so will add dimension and dynamism to their essay, rather than convey a static story of heroism.

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Similarly, many students feel compelled to declare their intention to solve global issues like world hunger or climate change. While noble, these proclamations can come across as unrealistic and insincere, and they can distract from the tangible achievements and experiences that a student brings to the table. Instead, applicants should focus on demonstrable steps they’ve taken or plan to take within their local community to enact positive change, demonstrating their commitment and practical approach to making a difference. For instance, instead of stating a desire to eradicate poverty, students could describe their extended involvement in a local charity and how it has helped them to discover their values and actualize their passions.

5. The Sports Story

While sports can teach valuable lessons, essays that focus solely on athletic achievements or the importance of a particular game can be overdone and lack depth. Admissions officers have read countless essays about students scoring the winning goal, dealing with the hardship of an injury, or learning teamwork from sports. Students should keep in mind that the personal essay should relay a story that only they can tell—perhaps a student has a particularly unique story about bringing competitive pickleball to their high school and uniting unlikely friend groups or starting a community initiative to repair and donate golf gear for students who couldn’t otherwise afford to play. However, if their sports-related essay could have been written by any high school point guard or soccer team captain, it’s time to brainstorm new ideas.

6. The Pick-Me Monologue

Students may feel the need to list their accomplishments and standout qualities in an effort to appear impressive to Ivy League admissions officers. This removes any depth, introspection, and creativity from a student’s essay and flattens their experiences to line items on a resume. Admissions officers already have students’ Activities Lists and resumes; the personal statement should add texture and dimension to their applications, revealing aspects of their character, values and voice not otherwise obvious through the quantitative aspects of their applications. Instead of listing all of their extracurricular involvements, students should identify a particularly meaningful encounter or event they experienced through one of the activities that matters most to them, and reflect on the ways in which their participation impacted their development as a student and person.

7. The Pandemic Sob Story

The Covid-19 pandemic was a traumatic and formative experience for many students, and it is therefore understandable that applicants draw inspiration from these transformative years as they choose their essay topics. However, while the pandemic affected individuals differently, an essay about the difficulties faced during this time will likely come across as unoriginal and generic. Admissions officers have likely read hundreds of essays about remote learning challenges, social isolation, and the general disruptions caused by Covid-19. These narratives can start to blend together, making it difficult for any single essay to stand out. Instead of centering the essay on the pandemic's challenges, students should consider how they adapted, grew, or made a positive impact during this time. For example, rather than writing about the difficulties of remote learning, a student could describe how they created a virtual study group to support classmates struggling with online classes. Similarly, an applicant might write about developing a new skill such as coding or painting during lockdown and how this pursuit has influenced their academic or career goals. Focusing on resilience, innovation, and personal development can make for a more compelling narrative.

Crafting a standout personal statement requires dedicated time, careful thought, and honest reflection. The most impactful essays are those that toe the lines between vulnerability and professionalism, introspection and action, championing one’s strengths and acknowledging weaknesses. Starting early and striving to avoid overused and unoriginal topics will level up a student’s essay and increase their chances of standing out.

Christopher Rim

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Boston College (BC) 2024-25 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Early Decision: Nov 1

Regular Decision Deadline: Jan 2

You Have: 

Boston College 2024-25 Application Essay Question Explanations

The Requirements: 1 essay of 400 words Supplemental Essay Type(s): Oddball , Community, Why

The writing supplement topics for the 2024-25 application cycle (400 word limit):

*please select one topic, each year at university convocation, our incoming class engages in reflective dialogue with the author of a common text. what book by a living author would you recommend for your incoming class to read, and why would this be an important shared text .

Calling all bookworms! This prompt asks you to discuss a book by a living author that has made a big enough impression on you to warrant your recommendation to others. At CEA, we always recommend that you choose an unexpected work in order to stand out from the pack. So, you might want to steer clear of books that were assigned reading in school. What have you read that stuck with you because of who you are and what you care about? Which characters did you relate to? Maybe you recently read a memoir that changed the way you approach presence. Why would your peers benefit from a new perspective on living in the moment? Perhaps the thriller you read last summer explores nuanced ethical dilemmas, a conversation-starter you think everyone should engage with. Try to be as creative as possible with your selection here and think about which books have really struck you at your core and why.

At Boston College, we draw upon the Jesuit tradition of finding worthwhile conversation partners. Some support our viewpoints while others challenge them. Who fulfills this role in your life? Please cite a specific conversation you had where this conversation partner challenged your perspective or you challenged theirs.

Whether you cherish early-morning car rides to school with your dad, late-night conversations with your sister on the couch, or chatting with your extended family over Zoom, we’re willing to bet there’s at least one person in your life who has challenged your perspectives or vice versa. And Boston College wants to hear all about it.

To make sure your response stands out from the pack, be as specific and purposeful as possible. Boston College has even gone so far as to ask you to cite a specific conversation, so follow through with a detailed account. Maybe you’ve had your beliefs challenged by a cousin who leads a very different lifestyle from you over Thanksgiving dinner. Or, perhaps, you’ve asked probing questions about your dad’s beliefs in order to better understand his worldview during a game of golf. If you can’t recall where you were at the time, no problem; but details are your friend here to add credibility. Whatever conversation you decide to write about, remember that BC is looking to accept thoughtful students to campus who are open to new ideas and engaging with diverse viewpoints.

In her November 2019 Ted Talk, “ The Danger of a Single Story ,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi warned viewers against assigning people a “single story” through assumptions about their nationality, appearance, or background.  Discuss a time when someone defined you by a single story. What challenges did this present and how did you overcome them?

This prompt will likely stick out to students who know what it’s like to be reduced to one aspect of their background or identity, and odds are, you’d have a specific memory in mind. As you write your response, you’ll want to make sure you summarize your account as succinctly as possible; that way, you can dedicate most of your words to discussing how you felt, how you responded, and how you overcame these challenges. You only have 400 words to work with, so you won’t be able to write a thesis on the general public’s preconceived notions about people living with a disability or women who choose to wear hijabs, but you can reveal more information about your background and experiences living in a world where stories are often assigned to you before you have the chance to introduce yourself.

Boston College’s founding in 1863 was in response to society’s call. That call came from an immigrant community in Boston seeking a Jesuit education to foster social mobility. Still today, the University empowers its students to use their education to address society’s greatest needs. Which of today’s local or global issues is of particular concern to you and how might you use your Boston College education to address it?

Admissions wants to know how you plan to use a BC education to address issues dear to your heart. What you focus on here can be reflective of larger cultural constructs or specific to your city or town. Maybe you have experienced environmental racism firsthand, having had your community’s air and water supply polluted by nearby factory farms for decades. Are you pursuing an Environmental Geoscience degree in hopes of eventually changing laws to improve the health of your community and others experiencing similar injustices? Perhaps you’ve been filming your family and friends since you could wrap your fingers around a camera, so you’re pursuing a degree in Film Studies in hopes of changing peoples’ hearts and minds about your community, however large or small that may be, through powerful documentary storytelling. Whatever path you’re on and issue you’re hoping to address in your career, be sure to use specific examples—both from your own past and from BC’s offerings—to distinguish yourself.

Human-Centered Engineering (HCE) Applicants only : One goal of a Jesuit education is to prepare students to serve the Common Good. Human-Centered Engineering at Boston College integrates technical knowledge, creativity, and a humanistic perspective to address societal challenges and opportunities. What societal problems are important to you and how will you use your HCE education to solve them?

This prompt, exclusively for Human-Centered Engineering Applicants, is incredibly similar to prompt #3, and our advice is the same: select at least one societal problem that weighs on your heart, explain its significance to you, and describe how you will take advantage of an HCE education to find a solution. You’d be wise to spend some time exploring the HCE program and BC’s offerings at large to show that you’ve done your research and dedicated time to thinking about your future goals and the steps you will take to achieve them.

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Resume for College Application – Examples & Template

July 8, 2024

College application resumes are different from professional resumes. There’s a certain way your resume for college applications should be to ensure your profile stands out. In one page, your resume will need to cover your academics, background, extracurricular activities and achievements. So to be asked to complete a resume, on top of everything else that goes into the college application? We know, it sounds like a lot. If you’re not sure where to start, you’ve come to the right place. Down below, we’ll dive right into what a college resume is and how to write a college resume. You’ll even find three college application resume examples and a college application resume template to help you start your own.

Let’s have a look at how to begin your resume for your college applications.

What goes into a college application resume?

A resume for your college application, otherwise known as your high school resume, should be one page long. It’s a space for you to show colleges all of your most important activities and achievements that they wouldn’t necessarily know in other parts of your college application. The overall objective of the college application resume is to demonstrate the bigger picture of who you are. It’s essentially a summary of what you’ve done, assembled in a way that serves as a snapshot of your greatest achievements.

There are a few core sections that will go into your college application resume:

– Contact information: Your full name, home address, email and phone number should be at the very top of your college application resume. The header of your resume should have all of this information. This includes any LinkedIn page or personal website that showcases your achievements. – Educational details and academic accomplishments: The full name of your high school and the dates of when you attended should go here. This is where you’ll include your GPA, your AP or IB courses, your ACT or SAT scores and your class ranking, if it’s significant.

College Resume Template (Continued)

Extracurricular activities and work experience: Any special volunteering, internships, part-time jobs, or even had a unique experience studying or working abroad? You should mention those moments here. This section of the resume will amplify what kind of person you are in the community around you. To better understand you as an applicant, admissions officers want to know where you spend your time outside of school. Did you have any leadership positions? Was there a special job or position you had? – Awards and honors: If you have any accomplishments that you’re proud of, you should list them here. This is the part of the college application resume to list achievements like your first prize in a district-wide writing competition or your Most Valuable Player award in your tennis team. Remember, both academic awards and extracurricular awards can be mentioned, so be sure to include any relevant recognitions. – Special skills and interests: Let’s say you speak more than one language and you’re passionate about all things student leadership. Perhaps you know everything about computers. This part of the college application resume is where you should list those unique skills. Think of strong skills and interests you possess, while making sure they reflect your overall college application profile and ambitions. If you have any particular interests or even hobbies that can strengthen your application, then go for it.

Putting together the resume for your college applications can be a tedious process, so it’s best to pay careful attention to every line. You’ll want to focus on the format , style of language , brief but concise descriptions and crucial details .

Resume for College Application – Examples & Templates

College resume template #1.

Here are three different resume examples for college applications. They’ll go from the most basic college application resume to the most detailed:

1) For a standard college application resume, take a look at this student interested in studying anthropology or literature in college. The following is a very standard college application resume:

Dakota Lee 909 Park Avenue Portland, Oregon (012) 345-6789 [email protected]

Bloomington High School, Class of 2024 GPA: 3.85

  • Lead students (K-6) in all camp-related activities relating to literature immersion.
  • Organize art projects three days a week with senior counselors.
  • Coordinate students’ final art show for parents.
  • Assisted graduate students in their anthropology research 4 hours every week.
  • Presented at the end of every month my own research findings between literature and anthropology.
  • President, Student Anthropology Club: 2021-Present
  • Vice President, Bloomington Book Club: 2022-Present
  • Team Captain, JV Tennis Team: 2021-Present
  • First Chair Violinist, Symphony Orchestra: 2022-Present
  • High Honors List: 2024
  • Principal’s List: 2023-2024
  • National Honors Society: 2021-2024
  • Most Valuable Player, JV Tennis Team: 2023-2024
  • Languages: Spanish, French, Japanese
  • Computer: Microsoft Word, Excel, Adobe Photoshop

College Resume Template #2

2) The next college application resume includes more details than the resume above, with a different layout. You’ll find that there is a short description of the student’s character and interests under a section called “Educational Goal” at the top:

Jon Jackson 678 Orange Street Austin, Texas (123) 456-7890 [email protected]

Educational Goal

Diligent, driven student with a passion for business and economic development. Dedicated to improving the livelihood of small businesses across the state of California. Focused on collaborating with business leaders, community organizers and students across the country to create a stronger, more sustainable economy.

High School Diploma                                                                                                                    2024 Springfield High School Austin, Texas GPA: 3.98 Courses: AP Calculus, AP Physics, AP Macroeconomics, AP US History, AP Spanish

Austin Chamber of Commerce – Student Representative                                                     2021-2024 Austin, Texas – Served as representative of public schools across the city of Austin, advocating for student perspectives on Austin’s economic initiatives. – Developed campaigns and city-wide initiatives to encourage more student involvement in local elections, distributed pamphlets door-to-door to invite neighborhoods to participate in city-wide census polls. – Relayed information from commerce meetings back to our school district. – Advocated for the support of small businesses. – Created a bimonthly “Student Visit Day” to continue open communication between decision makers and high school student leaders across Austin.

  • President, Business Club 2021-Present
  • Treasurer, Young Economists 2022-Present
  • Student Volunteer, Save the Children 2022-Present
  • Editor, Springfield Student Gazette 2022-Present
  • High Honors List 2024
  • Principal’s List     2023-2024
  • National Honors Society     2021-2024
  • Best Student Entrepreneur, Business Club     2023-2024
  • Languages: Spanish, German, Arabic
  • Advocacy, Debate, Public Speaking
  • Microsoft Word, Excel, Adobe Photoshop

College Resume Template #3

Now let’s look at a college application resume that has a different structure and even more details. Keep in mind the first two resumes you just saw above:

Cassandra Zimmerman Los Angeles, CA ✦ (012) 987-6543 ✦ [email protected]

Driven student with a track record of community and student leadership. Passionate about women’s rights and girls’ education, eager to make a difference through service and mentorship. Committed to applying my leadership and communication skills to contribute to my college community, I am excited to major in business marketing and sociology to create a better working environment for women around the world.

High School Diploma                                                                                       Expected in June 2024 Valley High School Los Angeles, CA GPA: 3.88 – Awards: Academic Achievement Award (2021-2023), Community Service Excellence Award (2022-2023), Student Role Model Award (2024) – Courses: AP Microeconomics, AP Literature, AP European History, AP Spanish, AP French – Clubs: Journalism Club, UNICEF Club, Girls Empowerment Club, Entrepreneurial Club – Sports : Track and field team captain

  • Critical thinking
  • Innovation and adaptability
  • Project management
  • Organization and coordination

Professional Skills

Leadership – Led a team of 10 senior students across the Los Angeles School District to meet with the Mayor of Los Angeles and discuss our hopes for women in business. – Steered the track and field team as team captain, maintaining a positive spirit throughout every season. – Initiated the weekly column of our student newspaper to focus on areas of local community improvement. Communication – Showcased results from community polling to 50 members of the school district leadership. – Proactively participated in journalism club, leading student investigation pieces on local incidents affecting women-led businesses. – Collaborating across different school clubs to foster an interdisciplinary education and promote a united community. Computer and Technology Proficiency – Highly skilled in Microsoft Excel to aggregate and process data, while also proficient in the entire Microsoft Office Suite applications. – Adept in creating social media campaigns on X (formerly known as Twitter), Instagram and TikTok.

Work History

University of Southern California, Young Leaders Internship                                      2022-2024 Los Angeles, CA YMCA Girls Leadership                                                                                                 2021-2024 San Francisco, CA

Volunteer Experience

UNICEF Local Chapter Volunteer                                                                             2021-2024 Volunteered as a student leader UNICEF member for our local chapter every month. Disseminated pamphlets and helped organize Los Angeles events that focused on girls’ education. Mentoring freshmen with All Hands On Deck                                                            2022-2024 Served as a mentor to freshmen students across the Los Angeles Unified School District. Coordinated activities with arts organizations and businesses across the city to help struggling students have more access to educational and extracurricular resources. Dog Rescue Volunteer                                                                                                 2021-2024 Participated as a weekly volunteer at the local animal shelter to help clean, feed and walk dogs. Promoting adoption events and animal rescue awareness across the city.

College Application Resume Styles

By looking at the resumes for college applications above, you’ll see that the three are quite different from each other. The first was a very simple college application resume example, while the second was a bit more informative, though not entirely. The third college application resume example provided more background information and relevant details. However, it’s always important to keep in mind that you’ll want your college application resume to be around one page.

The top general tips for writing your resume for college applications are:

1) Write your contact information and professional email address. Make sure your email address is something that colleges won’t have to think twice about.

2) Begin with education . Colleges know that you won’t have a lot of work experience. They’re academic institutions, so first and foremost, they’re interested in your academic performance. Start your college application resume with your education.

3) Bulleted lists over paragraphs. Elaborate on your achievements and experiences with brief descriptions in bullet points, not in lengthy paragraphs . Admissions officers will want to read clear and concise descriptions that are straight to the point.

4) Use strong action verbs that empower you. If you led a group of children at camp or presented your research in front of a committee, use an action verb that encapsulates your responsibilities. This means that instead of writing “It involved leading groups of children…” try something like “Directed groups of children to…”

5) One page does the trick. It’s tempting to want to make your resume as long and informative as possible. But the moment that happens, the quicker the reader will lose interest. College admissions offices are looking through thousands of applications. Keeping your college application resume concise will only work in your favor. Doing so is also a great exercise for future job applications and helps you decide what you really want to focus on sharing.

As seen from the examples above, you can personalize the style of your college application resume. But a general college application resume template will look like the following:

Your name Home address, City, State (Your) phone number | [email protected]

The name of your high school                                                                City, State, Year of Graduation

GPA: Your score ■  SAT: Your score  ■  ACT: Your score

Relevant Coursework : The names of any relevant, important classes

Your role, The name of your experience                                                                      City, State, Year

  • Description of your experience.

Awards/Honors

  • The name of your award: Date you were awarded

Description of your award. Any specific numbers and information that provides more context.

Additional Skills

List your skills that are relevant to your overall college application. They can be both professional and unique skills.

Resume for College Application – Examples & Template – Additional Resources 

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  3. 11 Best College Application Essay Examples (Format Guide)

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  1. How to use AI to write college application essays in Excel/Google Sheet

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  3. How to write a college essay step by step

  4. Top 10 Tips for Writing a Great College Essay

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COMMENTS

  1. 53 Stellar College Essay Topics to Inspire You

    Once you've chosen a general topic to write about, get out a piece of paper and get to work on creating a list of all the key details you could include in your essay. These could be things such as the following: Emotions you felt at the time. Names, places, and/or numbers. Dialogue, or what you or someone else said.

  2. Ultimate Guide to Writing Your College Essay

    Sample College Essay 2 with Feedback. This content is licensed by Khan Academy and is available for free at www.khanacademy.org. College essays are an important part of your college application and give you the chance to show colleges and universities your personality. This guide will give you tips on how to write an effective college essay.

  3. How to Format a College Essay: Step-by-Step Guide

    Again, we'd recommend sticking with standard fonts and sizes—Times New Roman, 12-point is a standard workhorse. You can probably go with 1.5 or double spacing. Standard margins. Basically, show them you're ready to write in college by using the formatting you'll normally use in college.

  4. Tips for Writing an Effective Application Essay

    Follow these tips to write an impactful essay that can work in your favor. 1. Start Early. Few people write well under pressure. Try to complete your first draft a few weeks before you have to turn it in. Many advisers recommend starting as early as the summer before your senior year in high school.

  5. How to Write a College Application Essay

    A student should write a college application essay that distinguishes them from other applicants. For example, writing about playing a niche instrument or winning an Olympic medal can help students stand out from other applicants. Doing so also demonstrates how your distinctive qualities will add to campus life. 5.

  6. How to Write Your College Essay: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide

    Next, let's make sure you understand the different types of college essays. You'll most likely be writing a Common App or Coalition App essay, and you can also be asked to write supplemental essays for each school. Each essay has a prompt asking a specific question. Each of these prompts falls into one of a few different types.

  7. How to Write a College Application Essay

    5.Write confidently, but not arrogantly. Keep a confident tone even if—especially if—you're not feeling that way. Be on the lookout for words and phrases like "maybe," "sort of," and "I think" that might undercut that tone. At the same time, though, make sure to follow application guidelines about format and length.

  8. How to Write a College Essay

    Write like an artist. A college application essay allows you to be creative in your style and tone. As you draft your essay, try to use interesting language to enliven your story and stand out. Show, don't tell "Tell" in writing means to simply state a fact: "I am a basketball player."

  9. Crafting an Unforgettable College Essay

    Tips for a Stellar College Application Essay. 1. Write about something that's important to you. It could be an experience, a person, a book—anything that has had an impact on your life. 2. Don't just recount—reflect! Anyone can write about how they won the big game or the summer they spent in Rome.

  10. How to Write a College Essay

    A strong application essay can boost a student's chances of being admitted to a college. In this guide, admissions experts offer advice on picking a college essay topic as well as navigating the ...

  11. How to Write College Application Essays

    A college application essay (like any academic essay) should have an introduction, a conclusion, and body paragraphs. Additionally, it should have overall coherence (that is, it should make a point) and cohesion (that is, it should flow well from paragraph to paragraph).

  12. How to write a great college application essay

    6. Stick to a clear essay plan. Creativity is an aspect very much appreciated in writing, but don't assume that a creative essay is not also an organized one. Obviously, you don't want to write a bunch of words without meaning, so make sure you write about just one subject at a time.

  13. How to Write a Good College Application Essay

    Tell why the school's size, curriculum, social atmosphere, location, professors or history influenced your choice. Correct spelling, grammar and punctuation are critical. Use grammar, syntax and ...

  14. How to Write the Common Application Essays 2024-2025 ...

    Because the Common App essay is 650 words long and has few formal directions, organizing a response might seem daunting. Fortunately, at CollegeVine, we've developed a straightforward approach to formulating strong, unique responses. This section outlines how to: 1) Brainstorm, 2) Organize, and 3) Write a Common App essay.

  15. How To Write A College Essay: A Step-By-Step Guide

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  16. College Application Essay Guide: A How-to With Samples!

    Tips on How to Write a Good College Essay. Say what you need to say and avoid unnecessary filler in your essay. A strong college essay is transparent, honest, and meaningful. It should portray you in a positive light, so be cautious about discussing negative experiences or personal weaknesses.

  17. How to Write a College Essay Step-by-Step

    Step 2: Pick one of the things you wrote down, flip your paper over, and write it at the top of your paper, like this: This is your thread, or a potential thread. Step 3: Underneath what you wrote down, name 5-6 values you could connect to this. These will serve as the beads of your essay.

  18. 177 College Essay Examples for 11 Schools + Expert Analysis

    The personal statement might just be the hardest part of your college application. Mostly this is because it has the least guidance and is the most open-ended. One way to understand what colleges are looking for when they ask you to write an essay is to check out the essays of students who already got in—college essays that actually worked.

  19. How To Write a College Application Essay

    4. Edit carefully. The college admissions essay format is fairly simple. Start with an introduction, then pivot to the body before ending the piece with a well-rounded conclusion. But, before submitting your essay, be sure to thoroughly edit the piece.

  20. How To Start a College Essay: 9 Effective Techniques

    For many, getting started is the hardest part of anything. And that's understandable. First, because it turns whatever you're doing into a reality, which raises the stakes. Second, because where you start can easily dictate the quality of where you end up. College essays have their own special brand of DTDT.

  21. College Essays: Write Ones That Get You Admitted

    A college admissions essay, often taking the form of a personal statement, is a brief document through which you demonstrate why you're the right fit for admission to a particular college or university. Think of it as the cover letter to your college application—your transcript shows which courses you've taken and the grades you earned in ...

  22. Getting College Essay Help: Important Do's and Don'ts

    Have a fresh pair of eyes give you some feedback. Don't allow someone else to rewrite your essay, but do take advantage of others' edits and opinions when they seem helpful. ( Bates College) Read your essay aloud to someone. Reading the essay out loud offers a chance to hear how your essay sounds outside your head.

  23. 24 Do's and Don'ts of Writing a College Admission Essay

    DO write an ending, not a conclusion. Building on the idea of not writing a school essay, having a story arc, and breaking away from form, your essay still does need to have an ending. What it doesn't need is a conclusion. Conclusions wrap things up with a bow. You are a human, not a present.

  24. 5 Ways to Make Your Scholarship Essay Stand Out

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  25. How the College Application Essay Became So Important

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  26. How to Write the Purdue Supplemental Essays 2023-2024

    If you're hoping to nail your Purdue supplemental essays, then you've come to the right place. Let's dive in. Purdue's 2023-2024 Prompts. Purdue University only asks its applicants to write two short supplemental essays. Although these prompts may look simple, there are few tips and tricks that help you take your essays to the next level.

  27. How the college application essay became so important

    School is out and summer is here. Yet future high school seniors and their families are likely already thinking about applying to college — a process that can be as labor-intensive and time-consuming as it is confusing. Students submit SAT scores, grades, references, personal essays, and more, often without a clear sense of what counts most.

  28. The Personal Statement Topics Ivy League Hopefuls Should Avoid

    Kickstarting the writing process in the summer can give students a critical advantage in the admissions process, allowing them more time to brainstorm, edit, and polish standout essays.

  29. 2024-25 Boston College Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

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  30. Resume for College Application

    Here are three different resume examples for college applications. They'll go from the most basic college application resume to the most detailed: 1) For a standard college application resume, take a look at this student interested in studying anthropology or literature in college. The following is a very standard college application resume: