7 Strategies for Writing a Standout College Application Essay

Writing a personal essay is a crucial step in the college application process. It’s your chance to show the admissions committee your personality  — and show off your writing chops. An engaging, well-written essay can set your application apart.

However, writing your essay may feel daunting, particularly if writing isn’t your strongest suit. The key is to be true to yourself. Admissions teams want to know more about your unique skills, abilities, and personality. To show them to best advantage, here are seven strategies for writing a standout college application essay.

1. Choose a Topic You Care About

Great essays start with great topics. When brainstorming topics, think about what you are interested in, rather than what you think admissions officers will want to hear. Admissions teams receive thousands of applications each year, so writing about something unique will help you stand out.

Choosing a topic you’re passionate about will also keep you motivated throughout the writing process. You’ll be able to rely more on your existing knowledge and experience rather than research. Possible college essay topics include a particular challenge you’ve solved, a hobby that inspires you, or a social issue you’re passionate about.

Some colleges provide essay prompts for prospective students to respond to. For example, the Common App requires students to choose from one of seven prompts. In this case, select the prompt that resonates most closely with your interests and experiences.

2. Seek Outside Opinions

Assessing your own writing can be difficult. Ask friends, family, or even trusted teachers for their opinions when writing your essay. They can point out strengths you can highlight or provide suggestions to improve flow and readability. This is an easy way to ensure that your writing has the desired impact on the reader.

Getting feedback from college admissions experts is also very helpful. Most high school counselors are very familiar with the college application process and are happy to provide feedback. A college admissions consultant can provide even more detailed, personalized input. They can assist you in selecting topics, refining your writing, and tailoring your essay to specific universities.

3. Follow Guidelines Closely

Each application will come with a set of guidelines for your essay. Familiarize yourself with these guidelines before you start writing. The last thing you want is for your application to be rejected because you failed to follow instructions.

These guidelines may specify how long the essay should be, how it should be structured, and how to submit it. They might also provide prompts to respond to. If you’re reusing the same essay for multiple applications, be sure to tailor it to the requirements before submitting.

Keep in mind that many colleges want short essays — usually fewer than 600 words. You’ll need to be concise to meet the requirements and keep readers engaged. With so many applications to get through, a long, rambling essay could turn the admissions committee off.

4. Dig Deep

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable or bold in your essay. Don’t just list your experiences, but use descriptive phrasing to pull the reader into your story. Specifically, focus on a strong beginning and ending for your essay. A compelling opening “hooks” the reader, while a rousing conclusion leaves them with a positive impression.

In most cases, the essay will be your primary opportunity to showcase your personality on your college applications. It’s also your chance to share important life experiences that don’t fit neatly into your resume. Talk about how these experiences made you feel and have influenced your goals for the future.

5. Write Multiple Drafts

You don’t need to write a perfect essay on the first try. Instead, write multiple drafts and refine your essay over time. Writing multiple drafts takes some of the pressure off while writing. Be sure to start well before the application deadline so you have plenty of time.

Use your first draft as a brain dump to get your ideas on the page. Don’t worry about perfect spelling, grammar, or structure. Instead, focus on getting your ideas out and showcasing your personality.

In your second draft, clean up the structure of your essay and condense any redundant sentences. Proofread it for spelling and grammar errors. Once you have a solid second draft, ask for feedback from others. You can use their suggestions to make further revisions and solidify your final draft.

6. Read Your Essay Out Loud

One of the most effective ways to edit your essay is to read it out loud. This will enable you to identify issues with structure and flow that are more difficult to catch while writing. This approach will also give you an idea of what your essay sounds like to other people.

In particular, pay attention to the tone of your essay while reading aloud. Look for phrases that sound overly formal or awkward, and substitute more accessible language. Ultimately, your essay needs to sound like you.

7. Avoid Repetition

Take care to avoid repetition while writing your essay. You have a limited number of paragraphs to make an impression, so make sure that each sentence says something new. After you’ve written your initial draft, cut out repetitive sentences as you edit. Reading the essay aloud will also help surface these.

In addition, make sure you’re not repeating information from other parts of your application in your essay. This isn’t the place to list your extracurriculars, awards, or transcript highlights. Instead, focus on things that don’t fit neatly into other parts of your application.

Final Thoughts

Don’t be afraid to get creative when it comes to your college essay. Every student is completely unique and has something special to show an admissions board. Combining solid writing with personal reflection will make your essay stand out even in a competitive admissions environment.

Charu decided to unite her Honors Degree in New Media and lifetime of geekiness to pursue a career in tech and gaming journalism. You can usually find her writing about a variety of topics and drooling over new gadgets and games.