How To Write The Perfect College Application Essay

Your personal essay is one of the most important parts of your application to college. Yes, sometimes, it can be more important than your grades or letters of recommendation. Why? Your college application essay is the one place where you can let your personality and passion shine through.


Many students stress over this portion of their college applications, but with the right pointers and some quick tips about how to write a college application essay, you’ll be able to submit an essay you’re proud of and that helps stand out from the crowd.


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Why is the College Application Essay Important?


As we mentioned earlier, it’s the one place you can let your personality shine. The majority of your application goes through an automation process that filters and sorts applicants, but your college essay is the only part that gets read by someone in the admissions office.


For that reason, you need to make your essay stand out. When it comes to your essay, the more personal the better. Colleges want to see and understand your personality and your motivation for attending university, and especially attending their institution in particular.


Simply put, the college application essay helps admission boards understand you as a person instead of just you as a collection of grades and test scores.


It’s also important to consider the rest of your application. If your grades are average and you’re worried about being admitted to your preferred choice, then a strong essay can help tip the scales in your favor.


How Long Should a College Essay Be?

This isn’t meant to be a long-winded essay or a research project. It’s ideal to keep your essay short and sweet. According to Common App, an app that helps you complete and submit your college applications, a good word count to aim for is between 250-650 words. This should give you enough space to show your personality, explain your passions, or show your interests.


That being said, there’s usually no cap on how long an admissions essay should be. So, if you want to write a longer essay, that’s up to you. However, it’s important to keep in mind that admission boards have tons of personal essays to go over, so if yours is too long-winded or dragged out, it likely won’t hold their attention and you risk getting the opposite to your desired effect.


Popular College Essay Topics

Sometimes universities select the topic for you or give you a choice between a few topics, and sometimes you’re on your own when it comes to choosing a subject.


Try and make the topic related to something you’re interested in or have a strong opinion about.


It also doesn’t have to be completely serious — if you want to make it lighthearted or humorous, then go for it, as long as your personality shines through.


In 2017, Carolina Williams, a high school senior, got accepted to Yale after she submitted an essay that talked about her love for Papa John’s Pizza. Clearly, almost nothing is off-limits when it comes to college essay topics.


If you’re looking for some inspiration, here are a few popular topics you can use in your college application essay:


  • Highlight your background or identity and how it’s helped shape who you are and brought to where you are today.
  • Write about failure and use an example of a time that you failed and how you handled it and what you learned from it.
  • Discuss any obstacle you’ve faced in your life and how you worked to overcome it.
  • Have your world views ever been challenged? Have you ever changed your opinion on something because of being challenged or being exposed to new information?
  • Describe a character from a book or a movie that you identify with.
  • Write about your life goals. It can be a mix of personal goals and professional goals.
  • What quote describes you or do you relate to the most? Why?
  • Describe a time where you had to choose between taking a risk or sticking to the safe route. How did you react and what did you do?
  • If you could have lunch with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
  • What one thing do you want to accomplish the most during your time in college?
  • If you could travel backward or forwards in time, when would you time travel to and why?


What Are Admissions Officers Looking for?


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When writing your college application essay, it’s important to keep your main audience in mind: admissions officers. You should always stay focused on the purpose of your essay, which is getting accepted to college. You don’t want your essay to stray off-topic or spiral into irrelevant tangents.


Still, there are some other key factors admissions officers will look out for in your essay. First off, they want to make sure you have good enough writing skills to handle studying at a university level. This includes good grammar, punctuation, and a vocabulary that’s suitable.


They’ll also be looking at whether or not you accurately answered the question. Of course, you need to be able to expand on your answer, but your essay, overall, should provide a clear answer to the posed question. Your essay should be succinct in that it gets right to the point, and you should also display that you can stick to the point throughout your entire essay.


Make sure your opening paragraph is strong, as it has the capacity to hook the admissions officer into your essay and really ensure that you stand out from the piles of other essays.


6 Tips for Writing a College Essay


Aside from choosing the right topic and writing for admissions officers, there are some other tips for writing your college application essay that you should keep in mind.


1. Don’t repeat information


Don’t use your essay to talk about other elements of your application, like your grades, extracurriculars, classes you took, etc. You don’t want to waste this space to tell the admissions office things they can already learn about you from your application.


2. Write it in advance


Write a few drafts and give yourself ample time to write and rewrite it. If you leave it to the last minute, your essay will likely be rushed, and admissions officers will catch on to that, too.


3. Be smart about humor


Use humor if it’s relevant, but don’t rely on this too heavily. It can be tough to be funny, and making the admissions officer laugh is definitely a good thing. But you don’t want your essay to come off as forced or disingenuous, so don’t try too hard to be funny. Let your voice come naturally.


4. Keep your essays original


Don’t repeat the same essay on multiple applications. If you’re applying to more than one school, you should be writing a completely unique essay for each one. Some schools will give you a topic, so you won’t be able to copy the same essay, but in general, keep them all original.


5. Answer the question


It’s so important to answer the question being asked. Yes, showing personality is important too, but that will mean nothing if you failed to answer the question you were asked in the first place.


6. Get feedback


Friends, family, or school counselors can all provide feedback on your essay. This is another reason why it’s important to start it ahead of time. Aside from feedback, it’s good to get a set of fresh eyes to look over your essay to find mistakes or inconsistencies you may have missed.


The Bottom Line

Your college application essay shouldn’t be something you’re afraid of, it should actually be something to look forward to. This is a part of your application that you have complete control over, so use this to your advantage to make yourself stand out.


At University of the People, we know that college applications can be stressful. That’s why we’ve made our process easy. Our online application process makes applying quick and simple, so you can be on your way to studying at our tuition-free online university in no time.

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