How to Write a College Application Essay
Writing an essay for a college application is becoming
increasingly important as a way to select students for admission
into colleges and universities. This guide will provide some essay
writing tips as well as list other resources and websites.
is the purpose of the college application essay?
The college application includes a lot of information about
applicants—grades, test scores, lists of extracurricular activities,
etc.—but not much personal information. The essay allows the college
or university staff an opportunity to find out something about you
and whether you will succeed in an academic setting. The essay
demonstrates your writing ability, a key component to success in
college. Colleges are looking for a mastery of the basic mechanics
of writing (grammar, spelling, syntax, and organization). The essay
also reflects the maturity of your thinking and writing and your
overall readiness for college.
Who is the audience for the
Your essay will be read by a college admission officer who reads
hundreds or thousands of application essays each year. Admission
officers generally spend just one to two minutes reading an essay.
To capture their interest and distinguish you from other students,
it is critical that your essay capture their attention. It is also
important that your essay provide an accurate picture of who you are
and why you would be a good candidate for college while
demonstrating your writing ability.
What types of topics are required for the application essays?
There are generally three types of application topics:
- General Topics – “Tell us about yourself” questions
- Specific Questions – about a favorite book, a beloved teacher,
a life goal, or a significant experience
- Creative questions – questions that require you to reveal your
thoughts or opinions on a topic, such as: Why have you chosen this
career or profession? Choose an issue of personal, local, or
international concern and discuss its importance to you.
What should I write about?
If the application asks you to choose a topic to write about and you
can’t think of one, here are some suggestions for essays:
- Write about an event (local, national, international) that
has touched you in a personal way.
- Write about a social issue (e.g., gun control, whale
protection) that is near and dear to you.
- Write about an out-of-classroom interest or hobby not
covered to your fullest advantage elsewhere in your application.
- Write about an academic subject (e.g., music, literature)
that engages you. There may be essay material on courses you
- Write about a person (e.g., parent, grandparent) that has
greatly affected your life.