A student’s personal statement or college essay is a required element of the admissions process at many institutions of higher learning.1 It’s a great way for the applicant to impress admissions officials with their personality, background and goals. In most cases, the admissions committee will utilise the essay to complement other application information like grades and test results.
Definition: College application essay
A college application essay is a statement of purpose made by a prospective student to a college or university. It’s a standard part of applying to any institution and allows you to sell yourself. Here are four key ingredients to consider when writing a college application essay:
- The college application essay thesis statement should be stated directly and informatively.
- The student’s voice and writing style in the college application essay must come through.
- The essay should feature concrete examples that prove the student’s claim and showcase their background, accomplishments and goals.
- The applicant’s passion and familiarity with the school being considered should shine through in the essay.
How to make your college application essay stand out
Focusing on a unique and personal tale, demonstrating your personality, using vivid language and ensuring appropriate punctuation can set your college application essay apart.
What do colleges look for?
College admissions officials often read personal statements included with applications and search for the following qualities and characteristics:
- Original thought and expressive style.
- Writer’s clarity and efficiency.
- Awareness and insight gained through reflection.
- Be acceptable to the educational institution.
Start your college essay application early
An outline and brainstorming session are good for preparing your college application essay. The earlier you start, the more time you will have for review and correction. The best way to write a college essay application is to familiarise yourself with the institution’s guiding principles and draw connections with your own experiences.
Essay tracker sheet
The purpose of an essay tracker sheet is to keep you on top of all your essay due dates and tasks. Keeping an essay planner allows you to do the following:
- Always remember when things need to be turned in or submitted.
- Sort your tasks in order of priority or due date.
- Note how far along you are in completing each task.
- How to better manage your time.
- Help relieve the burden of a college application essay writing and the accompanying tension.
Choosing a topic for your college application essay
The earlier you begin thinking about a college application essay subject, the more time you will have to consider many angles and build a strong thesis.2 One way to make your writing more interesting and memorable to readers is to use a novel approach.
Qualities of a good topic
The best topic for a college application essay is the one that;
- Show the applicant has thought about themselves and grown as a person.
- Highlights the applicant’s talents and their alignment with the school’s ethos.
- Demonstrate your writing skills and ability to reflect and self-analyse.
Identifying your topic
Brainstorming, freewriting and mind maps are just a few methods for settling down on a focus. While deciding on a subject, it’s a good idea to consider your strengths, weaknesses, audience and objectives.
Questions for brainstorming
- What experiences have shaped your identity and values?
- What challenges have you overcome and how have they influenced your growth?
- What are your long-term goals and how has your past prepared you for them?
- What is a defining moment in your life and how has it impacted you?
- How have you contributed to your community and what have you learned from those experiences?
- What are your academic and personal passions and how have you pursued them?
- What do you want the admissions committee to know about you that is not reflected in your application?
Outlining your college application essay
An essay outline is a structure that helps organise an essay’s main points and supporting details. Common college application essay outline approaches include the vignette structure, single-line stories and story arcs. Each approach varies in format but generally follows a similar structure.
Approach 1: Vignettes structure
The montage (or vignette) framework integrates related storylines into a whole. Each narrative should serve as evidence that you possess a certain value or quality and should end with a conclusion or view on the future.
Approach 2: Single-story structure
The narrative approach presents a student’s growth through the lens of a single tale. Although some narrative essays focus on a series of key events within a shorter event, others chart a more extensive journey that spans many months or years.
|Situation||Injury during a rugby match|
|Problem||I have less time to spend with my friends, less support from my professors and no more football.|
|Changing point||Ms. Jane's history class was a turning point since it was there that I met Brendah and her friends and began to like studying.|
|Feelings I had||The more time I spend reading poetry, talking about poetry with Brendah, learning and interacting with others who are different from me, the more I realise how much I like these activities|
|Insights||Even if I still cannot play football, I am beginning a new game because of what they taught me: compassion and an appreciation for diversity.|
Creative insights or story arcs
Writing on a familiar subject might make it difficult to stand out, so it’s important to focus on creating an unexpected narrative arc or fresh insights regardless of the essay’s format. Never make anything up about yourself to make it seem more fascinating.
Introduction: A memorable start
Every year, admissions examiners go through hundreds of essays, yet they only spend a few minutes on each.3 Your opening must capture the reader’s interest and make them want to continue reading to convey your message successfully.
Method 1: Intriguing hook
Start your college application essay with a bold remark that will make the reader stop and take notice.
Method 2: Vivid imagery
Create a vivid, specific picture to immerse the reader in your recollection.
Writing like an artist in your college application essay
College application essays allow for creativity.
Show, don’t tell
You may experiment with voice and style in a college application essay. Use vivid language to bring life to your tale and set yourself apart when you create your essay. First, recollect the most memorable details of a scene or picture.
- Which pictures dominate?
- Can you remember any noises, scents or tastes?
- How did you feel?
Vulnerability & emotional responses
To create an emotional reaction, share your honest ideas, emotions and experiences. Vulnerability shows maturity.
Appropriate tone & style
Use these principles to ensure you promote your college application essay style and tone:
- Adopt a courteous, conversational tone that is less official than academic writing but more formal than texting pals.
- Emphasise your viewpoint using “I” expressions.
- Write in your language to seem natural.
- Write quickly in the active voice.
- Grammar standards
A strong conclusion in your college application essay
Finish your college essay with a profound or original thought to create a lasting impression. Your college applications essay should avoid the following:
- Summarising your writing.
- Expressing your desire to attend the school.
- “I am a hard worker” should have been in the essay.
Strategy 1: Sandwich structure
The sandwich structure form finishes the college application essay with a picture, concept or tale from the start. The reader feels closure with this method.
Strategy 2: Revealing the insights
The conclusion of a college application essay may demonstrate what you learned from your experiences. Presenting your primary point at the end builds suspense and reinforces the takeaway.
Revising & receiving feedback for your college application essay
Be sure to proofread your essay for language, spelling and substance errors before turning it in. Consult with up to three persons. The revision process sometimes involves several iterations; nonetheless, it is important to take pauses between each round of editing.
Most universities have a maximum word count for college application essay; aim to be within 10% of that. Please keep your response within the word limit provided to demonstrate your ability to be brief and adhere to instructions.
Content grammar & style
- Examine the message, flow and clarity.
- Assess tone and style.
- Eliminate grammatical and punctuation mistakes last.
Receive input from 2–3 individuals who know you, write well and understand college application essay.
- Teachers and counsellors may review your material, language and tone.
- Family and friends can verify.
- College applications essay coaches and editors may provide an impartial critique.
College application essay: Checklist
- I scheduled and planned my essay prompts.
- Essay subject brainstorming is complete.
- I chose a significant subject that differs from my application.
- I have a plan.
- I have created a captivating opening.
- My article demonstrates instead than tells.
- My college application essay has excellent qualities.
- My writing showed intelligence and self-reflection.
- I’m suitable.
- I closed with a thought or idea.
- My article was updated for flow, clarity and language.
- I stuck to the word restriction, staying under 10%.
With the college application essay, they want to grasp each individual’s unique character and experiences.
25% of your college application is your essay. It may determine your acceptance, particularly at competitive colleges.
You should keep under 10% of the top limit set by most college application platforms for your essay.
Something special and significant to the speaker.
A catchy first sentence or paragraph that sticks in mind.
The use of concrete examples and story-based rather than description-based language.
1 counselors.collegeboard.org. “College Application Essay – Counselors | College Board.” Accessed March 24, 2023. https://counselors.collegeboard.org/college-application/essay.
2 Wheaton College Massachusetts. “How to Write a College Application Essay.” Accessed March 24, 2023. https://wheatoncollege.edu/admission/apply/how-to-write-a-college-application-essay/.
3 collegeessay.org. “Learn How to Draft a Perfect College Application Essay.” Accessed March 24, 2023. https://collegeessay.org/blog/college-application-essay-writing.
4 Mandelaro, Jim. “How to Write Your Best College Application Essay.” News Center, September 28, 2021. https://www.rochester.edu/newscenter/how-to-write-your-best-college-application-essay-493692/.