5 Tricks and Tips for Writing College Essays

Student Life

Early round submission deadlines have passed, bringing us to the next round of the college application season. A senior myself, I am currently preparing my applications for regular decision (RD) and completely agree that writing essays is the most challenging yet creative part of it.

Don’t have the motivation to begin? Stuck on your second draft? It’s too early to panic. Instead, read through these 5 tips I found helpful when writing my own essays that may help you find your outlet out of senioritis and writer’s block.

TIP 1 – Start drafting

Everything seems hard until you try it. This message applies to scuba-diving, baking, doing calculus homework, and––no surprise––college essays!

You have two choices for beginning the drafting process:

  1. Free write
  2. Outline

Personally, I’ve used both strategies for different essays, and from experience, I believe you should choose based on your understanding of the prompt and your mood. Does a volunteering experience immediately pop up into your head after reading a prompt asking you to write about community service? Begin free writing. Are you short of ideas for a “why school” essay? Jot down ideas for an outline.

TIP 2 – Be personal

Know your audience. College essays are the most personal part of your application, so rather than seeing them as essays, I prefer to call them stories.

Admission officers don't want to sit all day reading thousands of essays that all begin with an overview/thesis and end with a generalized takeaway. Therefore, you have the freedom and power to get as personal as you can. I suggest treating admission officers as your friends rather than teachers, but really smart friends who you don't want to embarrass with spelling mistakes, grammar errors, and convoluted ideas.

TIP 3 – Get specific

It is impossible to come up with a completely new idea or takeaway––thousands of essays are about not giving up or how you found your passion for a class/hobby. But don’t be discouraged. Specificity can make you unique.

The way you structure and tell your story is what matters to admission officers. I suggest asking yourself: what are some important things I value but have never told anyone about? You can also try asking people around you for their first and current impressions of you as a child, sibling, friend, student, and peer. Don’t be shy to ask, “what makes me special?” Often times, it is these unplanned conversations that spark inspiration.

TIP 4 – Revisit to revise

Finishing an essay is a huge accomplishment and even more impressive if you do it in one sitting, but chances are, its quality is not at its best. So don’t immediately check these essays off your to-do list. Instead, treat your essays as something you should look back to check on at least one more time after you complete the first draft.

If the application deadline is in a month, revisit and revise your “finished” draft a week later and be ready to make edits. The biggest no-no is to realize your essay is not as strong as you thought a week later, but you are too lazy to make significant changes. So if you’re reading this tip right now, be sure not to do that. Trust me, the consequences are not worth testing.

Receiving feedback from family, counselors, or close friends is also advisable because we may develop bias toward our own writing, which makes it easy for us to not see places where our language becomes illogical or wordy.

TIP 5 – Enough is enough

Be careful not to over-edit your essays! After going through a few drafts and revisiting your essay after a period of time, be confident to call it done. Do not edit them just for the sake of editing until the last minute––you may make them worse.

It is also highly recommended to submit your applications a few days in advance. In the case of system glitches or other technical issues, wouldn’t it be horrible to have these issues interfere with your application? So remember: early is on time, on time is late, and late? Is never.

I genuinely wish all current and prospective seniors who are/will be applying to colleges the best of luck! Just do your part well and leave no regrets. Believe that the outcome will be the best outcome.

Katherine Wang
5,000+ pageviews

Katherine is a current junior in high school. A storyteller at heart, she loves to write short stories and narratives. Outside of writing, Katherine also enjoys drawing, cooking, and swimming.