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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.

What 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 college essay?
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 have taken.
  • Write about a person (e.g., parent, grandparent) that has greatly affected your life.


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