Tips for Writing College Essay
Here’s advice from the people who
Does writing a college application
essay seem like a daunting task to you? For most people, the answer
is a resounding “yes!” However, the essay is also an opportunity for
you to show your talents and creativity to their best advantage.
To help you get
started, here are some insights on writing an essay from the people
who read hundreds of them every year — admission officers at ACM
The essay is your chance to use
The essay is the living, breathing part
of your application to a college. In the essay, you can speak in
your own voice and personalize your application. Here’s your
opportunity to show something about you that doesn’t really come
across elsewhere in your application.
So, step back and be reflective. Think
about who you are as an individual. How do you view the world? What
do you care about deeply? What experiences and people have been
important in shaping you as a person? What are your aspirations in
It is in such reflection that you can
find your own, unique voice. That’s the voice that will help you
write an interesting essay that only you could have written.
Now, on to some nuts and bolts of
writing the essay.
Show your command of the basics of
Here are some key points that
admission officers look for in an essay:
• Make sure to answer the
essay question and to follow all the instructions that
• Start off with a strong
opening paragraph that captures the reader’s interest.
• Use a style that you find
comfortable and that is appropriate for the subject matter.
• Use correct grammar,
punctuation and spelling.
• Make a point and stick to
it; develop your argument or narrative.
• Check all of your
facts. Do you mention a date, place or event in your essay?
Make sure it’s correct.
Have you given your reader complete information, so he or she won’t
• In general, it’s best to
be succinct. If there a recommended length for the essay, pay
attention to it.
• The essay should be neatly
• Remember that mistakes,
especially sloppy mistakes, make it look like you
don’t take the essay (and, by
extension, the application) very seriously.
What to write about? Where to look
for an essay topic
Does the application ask you to choose a topic to write about? There
are as many (actually, many more) good topics as there are
applicants. Here are some ideas for where you might look for an
• Do you have hobbies and
non-school pursuits that really excite you and that engage your
heart and mind? Writing about your out-of-classroom interests could
help bring out a part of you that’s not covered— or not covered
completely and to your fullest advantage — elsewhere in your
• Is there a social cause
that you hold near and dear? Remember, an essay is not an academic
paper; but a cause that you feel passionately about, and that has
been in your thoughts and activities, might be the basis for a
• Perhaps there is an event
(local, national or international) that has touched you in a
Is there an academic subject that really sparks your
interest? Why does the subject engage you? Has it led to experiences
or study outside of school? There may be essay material that goes
beyond the courses you took or scores on AP tests.
How to handle a topic
will ask you, the applicant, to write about an experience you’ve
had, an achievement in your life, or someone who has had a
significant influence on your life. In handling such a topic — or,
for that matter, any topic you select — go beyond the what
and dig into the how and why. In
other words, don’t settle for simply providing a description of an
event. Take the next step and tell about the impact the situation
had on you. For example:
• This is a personal essay,
not a travelogue. So, if you’re writing about a trip to another
country, tell about how your experiences effected you, and why they
were interesting or meaningful to you. In other words, the people
reading the essay are interested in what makes you tick and how you
got the way you are, not in how the trains run in Paris.
• Are you
writing a tribute to your grandparents and their influence on your
childhood? Be personal and specific, not just sentimental. Explain
how the particular things your grandparents did or said were
important to you.
• Did you overcome an
athletic injury and recover to perform well? A description of the
type of cast you wore and your rehab routine is not likely to make a
compelling essay. However, your reflections on what it felt like to
be watching your teammates, instead of competing alongside them,
might be the basis of a memorable essay.
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