Tackling the College Essay Monster

Seven helpful tips to use in your application


Photo by Avery Myers

The personal essay is a large part of college applications. Writing those essays can be a hard thing to accomplish, but these tips will help the process be much smoother. – Made in Canva

College admission season is in full swing, and as a high school senior I’ve been feeling the brunt of it. The hardest part, in my opinion, is the personal essay that most colleges require. Those open-ended questions have haunted my dreams and given me a fear of blank Google Docs. After reading multiple accepted essays, researching what most colleges look for and writing roughly 10 personal essays for myself, I have boiled down to a handful of must-haves when it comes to college essays.

1.) Write about something only you can write about

Prompts range across colleges, but CommonApp and most universities have the option for writing about a special interest, background or identity. This is the best prompt to choose, in my opinion, because it gives you the opportunity to write about yourself in a way that will set you apart from other applicants. Your personal essay should be personal – that’s the whole point. You want to express to the colleges who you are and why you are special enough for them to accept you into their school. Yes, you may not be that kid who did a study abroad program in Thailand, but your story is still something unique and interesting.

2.) Do not contradict yourself or lie

I feel like this should go without saying, but do not lie in your essay. It may be tempting to be that person who went to Thailand, but if you did not go then do not pretend you did. In the same way, make sure nothing in your essay contradicts with what you included in the rest of your application.

3.) Write about something you care about

I can not stress this enough: you want to write about something that really matters to you. If you are a devout soccer player, have your own business or you just really like collecting stickers, write about it. The coolest essay I read online was about a girl going through the stickers on her laptop. Each one had a story unique to her that also expressed something she was interested in. Choosing to write about your interests and what matters to you will make the writing process so much easier. Find that thing you can talk about for hours and use it in a way that shows how unique you are, then you have the perfect essay.

4.) Do not repeat

If you mentioned something previously in your application, do not write about it again in your essay. The colleges already know your GPA, test scores and anything else you have included in the short answer section of the application, so use the essay to show special things beyond any rewards or grades you have received.

5.) Keep in mind who you are writing for

It is pretty easy to lose track and get lost on a tangent, but remember that an adult is actually reading your essay and judging it. Do not go on a rant, do not preach and do not stray from the prompt you chose to write under. While the essay should be personal, it should not be your diary so do not overshare. While it would be amazing if you can make the judge laugh, do not make the purpose of your essay to be a comedy sketch. Nothing is worse than flat humor. And if you find yourself getting bored while reading your essay, the judge is most likey going to be bored too. Basically, read your essay and try to imagine yourself as a college admissions officer. If there is anything that seems skeptical, cut it out.

6.) Writing multiple drafts is a good idea

Like I said before, I have roughly 10 different essays saved on my computer ranging in different styles and contents. Practice makes perfect, and writing multiple essays allows you to see what you really want to keep and what you can go without.

7.) Make people read it, but not everyone

When you are finished, or at least think you are finished, show your essay to your family, teachers and friends. Getting a second opinion and an adult’s view is so important in making sure your essay is the best it can be. Edit and revise your essay with their critiques until you feel truly satisfied. My only warning about this is that you should try to share your essay with only the people who will actually help. While Sally might be a good person for fashion advice, trusting her to edit your essay might not be the best idea. Additionally, you do not want twenty different people changing your essay until it has become something unrecognizable from what you intended it to be.

Ultimately, you are supposed to leave your own personal marks on your college essays. Make those colleges see why you are unique and how your passions can benefit whatever school you are applying to. All this may seem very daunting, but there are many resources online and there are so many teachers willing to help as well. The main thing to remember is that this essay is yours and you should not overthink it.