How To Write A College Essay That Makes An Impressive Start?


Many colleges require a personal statement, or college essay, for applicants as part of the admissions process. That’s because, when reviewing applications, college and university admissions committees are looking at two main things: who you are as a student, and who you are as a person. To help you stand out amongst the pile of applications, we’ve created this guide on how to write a college essay. 


We’ll cover how to format a college essay, how to write a hook for a college essay, and overall, how to write a great college essay. 



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How to Write College Essays 


1. Pick Your Topics 


It can be hard to choose what to talk about in your college essays. In addition to this, the schools that you’re applying to may have different prompts – which could mean having to write multiple essays. This is why it could be beneficial to begin by brainstorming a few topics that you can write about (which showcase who you are, what you’ve overcome, or your future prospects). 


Regardless of what you have to write about, two rules are non-negotiable: be honest and be original.


Whether you’re prompted to write about a formative experience, why you think you’d be a good fit for the university or about a person who has influenced you greatly, answer the question honestly. Don’t just write what you think the admissions office wants to hear. They are often inundated with essays that cater to “what they want to hear,” making such essays precisely what they don’t want to hear.


Next, be original. Originality shouldn’t come at the expense of honesty. If you’re worried that your essay topic is a bit run-of-the-mill, you have two options. The first is to find another topic that feels authentic to you. The second is to find a unique angle within the topic.


Write down three or four possible essay topics that meet these criteria of honesty and originality, and then you’ll be ready for the next step.



2.  Freewrite Before Finalizing 


Your essay may be the ultimate product, but before you start worrying about the final edition that you’ll send off to colleges, take some time to work on the process. Freewriting will help you hone your skills and practice for the real thing.


Freewriting, ideally done with pen and paper instead of on the computer, is an exercise in opening the creative mind and letting ideas flow. Your freewriting is NOT your college essay. You will not submit it. Knowing this, you will be more relaxed and inspired as you write. It will also help you find your own writing style (which further showcases your honesty and authenticity through the written word). 


Take a notebook and write a page or two on each of your possible subjects. Which ones felt easiest to write? Where were the ideas pouring out, and where were they feeling stuck? Let this exercise be the compass that points you in the direction of your topic.



3. Make an Outline for Your College Essay


Now that you’ve done your freewriting, it’s time to get serious about putting this essay together. You have a topic and some ideas that you’ve jotted down during your freewriting. This is a great time to create an outline. 


College essays are allowed to be a bit formulaic. That’s because there’s an expected college essay format to follow, which is the same basic format of essays that you learned in high school. The format is as follows: introduction paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion paragraph.


Make an outline in three sections with horizontal lines. The top section is your introduction, the middle section is the body, and the lower section is the conclusion. Write bullet points for what you want to include in each section. Remember that you’ll need a topic sentence for each body paragraph, which introduces what the paragraph is about. Then, follow it up with a couple of sentences that back up that statement with proof, whether it be a story, lesson, or example. 


The introduction needs to set up the whole essay. It should establish for the reader a sense of expectation for what’s to come without giving it all away. The introduction is also how you will captivate the attention of your reader. So, you’ll want to start it off strongly with a hook statement, which is a sentence that has the intention to grab ahold of the reader’s mind and provoke them to want to keep reading. This could be a sentence that sparks curiosity, such as: “We were running out of time, but I had yet to know that the single moment would forever change my life.”


The body is for your main points and narrative. The outline is not for writing perfect sentences but rather for putting your ideas in the right sequence. Make sure you arrange your thoughts so that they make sense and lead one into the other.


The conclusion finishes off the whole essay by nodding towards what came before without being repetitive and summarizing the takeaway.


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4. Draft Your College Essay and Put It in a Drawer


Now, it’s time to write the first draft of your essay. You have your outline, so now your goal is to translate this into an essay with voice. 


Here are a few tips for how to write a college essay that will surely pack a punch. 


The first sentence should hook the reader. If the prompt of the essay was “Who is the most influential person in your life and why?” don’t start the essay with “The most influential person in my life is…” It’s dull and the admissions office created the prompt, so it’s telling them the info they already know.


What’s an exciting way to start the essay? 


Writers live by the rule of “in medias res,” or starting in the middle. Rather than over-explaining at the start, begin at an exciting moment: “The sun was beating down on our backs, and all we could hear was the sound of a predatory creature licking its lips in the bushes nearby.” 


An introduction like this is colorful and intriguing. It gives the reader a sense of expectation and excitement, without giving too much away from the beginning.


The body paragraphs that follow will go into more depth and take the essay in a new direction. The first paragraph might jump back and talk about the past. The second might go into more detail about the trip to Africa. The third might then provide an end to the essay’s narrative frame: the encounter with the lion.


Now it’s time for the conclusion, which will knit all the different points and stories of the body paragraphs into something coherent and meaningful, as well as showing what the described experience taught you or how it changed you.


After you’re finished with your draft, put it in a drawer and forget about it (or close your laptop and don’t open the document for a few days). After this break, you will have more perspective. Reread your draft aloud and make notes on it. Then, you can create a second draft.



5. Seek Feedback 


Once you have a revised draft of your college essay, call in your friends and family to take a look. Have them give you comments, and encourage them to be honest. 


Writers often inherently know where they are having trouble with their work, but they aren’t always able to see what to change, keep, and take out. Hearing other people’s comments, you’ll notice that some of them really resonate. Take these into serious consideration.


You don’t have to make changes based on everyone’s comments, but give them all some careful thought and try to imagine how the essay would look if you made each change.



6. Finish Your Essay


As you put together your final draft, make use of the resources at your disposal. 


Grammarly is a great tool for checking spelling, grammar, and scanning for plagiarism (which will get your essay tossed in the rejected pile faster than you can write a comma).


Check out online resources with helpful tips. There is one on and another helpful post from MIT, which offers an especially helpful list of writing tips from author Kurt Vonnegut:


  1. Find a subject you care about.
  2. Do not ramble, though.
  3. Keep it simple.
  4. Have the guts to cut.
  5. Sound like yourself.
  6. Say what you mean to say.
  7. Pity the readers.



The Bottom Line 


Everyone’s writing style and process for writing is likely to differ. But, when it comes to knowing how to write a college essay that will get you an application decision letter with a congratulatory beginning, it’s best to follow the words of advice listed above. 


Take bits and pieces as they are relevant to your own situation and application requirements. All in all, the college essay format will look the same for most students, so it’s safe to say it’s the right way to go. 


If you’re looking to study at an institution that doesn’t require a personal college essay, look into offerings from the University of the People. To enroll, you simply need proof of having your high school diploma and being proficient in English. Then, you can get started earning your degree online from our accredited and tuition-free institution. 



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