Tips for Writing College Application Essays

Are you getting ready to put together a college application? A lot of schools have eliminated the testing component (SAT, ACT), so the essays are more important than ever. With a little thought and strategy, you can put together a great, eye-catching essay. The Common Application essay prompts for this year are the same as last year, and can be found here: There are A LOT of books and websites about this, but here are some tips to get started:

Picking the topic:

  • Don’t pick a topic that you have to think too hard to write about.
  • Consider picking one of the lesser used topics (See below about that).
  • Try not to pick the “choose your own topic” prompt (also see below).
  • You want to catch the admissions officer’s attention
  • DON’T MAKE SOMETHING UP! This should be obvious, but lies are bad and you get caught.

Make an outline:

  • Let’s you organize what you want to say.
  • Places it in the order in which you want to say it.
  • Keeps you from writing too much.

Writing it:

  • Don’t let someone else write your essay! You don’t know if you will be asked about it, and they know what a teenager sounds like.
  • Get someone to proofread it, preferably an adult who is not related to you (your parents will be too close to the subject matter—you want someone to read it solely for grammar and flow).
  • Word count is important—keep track on your computer.

Record it:

  • Consider saying what you want to write out loud into a recorder on your phone, and then transcribe it. It might sound more natural if you are saying it before you write it.

Save your essays!

  • Use a flash drive or (better) Google Docs or another cloud computing service.

The easiest method to use is the Five Paragraph Essay. You probably did some in school already, but if not, here is a good starter explanation: (or search “Five Paragraph Essay” for lots of other tips).

About the prompts: In 2018-19, the most frequently selected topic was #7, the “topic of your choice” essay, chosen by 24.1% of applicants. Prompt #5, the “discuss an accomplishment” essay was chosen by 23.7% of seniors. Prompt #2, the “challenge, setback, or failure” themed essay, was third with 21.1% of applicants. You want your essay to stand out to the application committee, so think about picking one of the prompts that were not in the top three chosen. And unless you are super-creative and confident, don’t use the “topic of your choice” prompt. It makes it harder to get to the point you want to make, and you may not get around to telling the application committee what it wants to know about you. Don’t make this harder on yourself than you need to! There are plenty of other prompts to choose from that will give you a good starting point.

Good luck and get writing!