When you’re thinking about beginning your college essay, it can be difficult to know where to start. Below is a list of general writing tips to help you get started.
Select a College Essay Topic About You
When using the Common Application, you will have a list of suggested topics as well as the option to write on a topic of your choice. Whatever you decide to write about, make sure that it is something that reflects your interests, ideas, and passions. Above all, make sure that the essay is about YOU. Always remember that, within reason, it is not the topic itself that’s important but what you have to say about it.
Tell Something About Yourself
This is one of the most common prompts a college might ask you as it lets you decide how to describe yourself. Below are a couple of examples from past applications:
- “In reading your application we want to get to know you as well as we can. We ask that you use this opportunity to tell us something more about yourself that would help us toward getting a sense of who you are, how you think, and what issues and ideas interest you most” (Elizabeth with Essay Help For Colleges).
- “Tell us one story about yourself that would best provide us, either directly or indirectly, with an insight into the kind of person you are. The possibilities are unlimited (well, almost so). You choose. Just relax and write it. Remember, the Gettysburg Address was only 272 words” (Princeton Review).
Tell Something About an Interest or Idea
Some colleges focus their essay question on your academic and extracurricular interests or pose certain subjects to challenge your thinking. Below are a couple of examples from past applications:
- “We know that diversity makes us a better university–better for learning, for teaching and for conducting research. – Mary Sue Coleman, Former University of Michigan President. Share an experience through which you have gained respect for intellectual, social, or cultural differences. Comment on how your personal experiences and achievements would contribute to the diversity of the University of Michigan” (University of Michigan).
- “Given the scope of the world’s problems, from political conflict and environmental decay to drug use, disease, and poverty, it may seem that we cannot reasonably expect solutions. Choose an instance that proves to you that change in the status quo is possible” (Amherst).
- “Science and technology seem to give with one hand even as they take away with the other; we receive benefits that other generations hardly dared to hope for, but all too often at the cost of danger they never had to fear. Use your own familiarity with modern advances to discuss a particular instance of balancing of advantages and disadvantages” (Bryn Mawr).
- “What particular book, play, film, dance performance, musical composition, or piece of visual art has affected you deeply in the past three years? Describe your reaction. If you choose a book, please select one that you have read outside your high school curriculum” (Amherst).
- “Discuss the following quotation from Shakespeare’s As You Like It — “Sweet are the uses of adversity” (Colby).
The College Essay Writing Process
Give yourself plenty of time to write your essay. If at all possible, begin writing during the summer before your senior year. When you first begin, write freely without worrying about editing, and after you’ve finished a first draft, set it aside. Come back to it a few days or a week later and read it with a fresh perspective. Select the passages you like and do not be afraid to get rid of the passages that you feel are unnecessary. As you begin your second draft, start to consider matters of organization, style, grammar, and tone. Although it’s fine to ask family members, teachers, and your college counselor for help with editing, make sure that the essay is unequivocally your own and in your individual voice.
A Powerful Essay Opener
Some of the best essays start with a specific anecdote or moment and then use that opener to delve into the applicant’s thinking and experience. Reveal yourself in your essay but do not “confess.” This is not the occasion to talk about the worst in you. Show, don’t tell. You are your own best salesperson. Whenever possible, give examples of and illustrate the ideas you are trying to convey instead of stating them outright.
Write In Your Own Voice
Write in your own person, voice, and style. Use your own judgment to determine what is appropriate; if you are unsure, ask your high school counselor or feel free to get in touch with me. You have more freedom than you might think. Admissions officers want you to be you, and it is refreshing for them to read an essay that feels genuine. Lastly, this is a personal essay, not a formal academic essay; do not let your style become overly formal. Do not try to be funny if humorous writing is not one of your natural strengths. Use your space wisely and avoid repeating the same points and ideas.
College applications can be stressful to complete, but this can also be an exciting time. Work with your school counselor, your parents, or use my services. You’ve got this!