The Do’s and Don’ts for Writing College Essays

Ashley Yakish
Published on
May 18, 2021

College essay do's:

1. Make it personal

The essay is about you! Whether it be about your beliefs, your experiences, your characteristics, and so on, this essay is about you. You are writing the essay to show about yourself. The admission officers want to know whether or not you are qualified for their college, so make sure you show them in the essay why they should pick you.

2. Write clearly and simply

It is important to tell the whole story within the limited word count. Do not be redundant. Have a strong vocabulary and try not to repeat words numerous times or it will seem less formal. Don’t attempt to add unnecessary details or add words to fluff up the story. Answer the prompt and write about the experience you are writing about clearly.

3. Include “so what?”

Admission officers care about how that experience changed you. What did you learn or gain through that experience? A tip if this is hard, apply the “hero’s journey” format. This is a good format to follow if you are writing about challenges and hardships you have experienced. Read about hero’s journey as an example.

4. Strong and captivating opening

You do not want the admission officer to get bored reading your essay. The best way to catch their attention is through the first paragraph of your essay. Don’t be stressed to create a hook in the first sentence and think of your first paragraph as a build-up to the story. Make your opening unique, not generic. You want them to continue to read the rest of the essay.

5. Read successful essays

Read essays that worked on websites such as John’s Hopkins’ Essays That Worked. They list essays from applicants and also include comments from admission officers about why the essay is good. When you read them, think about your essay and see if you can incorporate a few successful elements from other essays into yours.

College essay don’ts:

1. Writing about something that is already included elsewhere in the application

You should write about something that is not listed in other parts of the application. The admission officers would already know if it is written somewhere. Tell something about you that they wouldn’t know without reading the essay.

2. Not being yourself

Be yourself when you are writing. Do not force yourself to write in a certain style that doesn’t fit you. Using vocabularies that you barely know such as flowery language will not do you any good if you are using it incorrectly. The admissions officers will not see the real you and will feel that the essay comes off as insincere.

3. Procrastinating

Start now. Remember, great essays are not made in a day. Just do something such as brainstorming or start writing without stressing about proper grammar or structure. Write what is on your mind. You can always edit it and make it better every time. If you’re having trouble writing out what you want to say, try speaking it instead and having an online generator type down what you say. After you finish your essay, have a teacher or peer look over your essay while you work on another to be on track.

4. Cliche/General topic

You want your essay to be unique to stand out among thousands of applicants. For example, a bad topic would be COVID-19. The Common Application will have a separate section for seniors to talk about their impacts from COVID-19. Other cliche topics are sports injuries, mission trips, mental illness, and death. The admissions officers are going to be tired of reading essays about the same topics over and over.

This does not mean these topics are completely off-limits. If one of these topics truly changed your life, go beyond the topic and focus on how you changed for the better or the changes you made in your life because of the topic.

Read the next article in our college application guide: Filling out the Extracurricular Section on College Apps

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