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Every year, nearly 70 percent of high school graduates go no to enroll in college courses. Are you planning on becoming one of them?
Getting into college can be quite the challenge, especially if you’re also trying to qualify for financial aid or scholarships.
One of the keys to increasing your chances of acceptance is to write an effective college essay.
Not confident in your writing skills? Not sure how to write the kind of essay college entrance officials want to see?
Read on to learn how to write a college essay that will set you apart from the other applicants.
Characteristics of a Good College Essay
Before getting into the specific process of writing a college essay, let’s first go over some characteristics of a good essay.
The admissions official reading your essay will almost certainly be on the lookout for these things:
- An engaging story: Admissions officials read thousands of college essays each year — you need to emphasize what makes you different from other applicants
- Positivity: Admissions officials want to see that you have a positive attitude about education and are excited to learn
- Critical thinking skills: You need to show that you’re able to think critically about various subjects and not just deliver generic answers to questions and prompts
- Strong writing skills: You’ll need to prove that you can craft clear, well-written, and grammatically correct sentences
It ought to go without saying, but a good college essay also needs to be 100 percent unique. Plagiarism is a serious problem, and copying your essay from someone else is a surefire way to ensure you don’t get accepted.
How to Write a College Essay That Stands Out
When it comes to writing a college essay, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Your future rests largely on how well-written this document is, after all — who wouldn’t be nervous about writing it?
If you’re unsure of how to begin writing your college essay, keep these tips in mind:
Read the Prompts Carefully
In most cases, colleges will give you several different essay prompts from which to choose.
Read through these prompts carefully to make sure you understand them. Then, choose the one that seems the most applicable to you.
Don’t worry about which one is the “best” — they’re all good options. Just pick the one that makes the most sense for you to write about.
Choose the Right Topic
In addition to choosing a prompt, you’ll also likely need to choose a topic for your essay. Most college essay prompts are intentionally vague.
For example, you might be asked to write about a time you overcame adversity. This is the prompt; the topic is the specific experience about which you choose to write.
Choosing the right topic will direct the way you answer the question or address the issue in the prompt. It will also help you to make your essay unique to yourself and your experiences.
Reflect on Your Experience
It’s important to avoid merely summarizing your experiences. Go a step further and reflect on the experience and what you learned or wish you had done differently. This showcases your critical thinking skills.
Use Humor with Caution
You don’t want your essay to be dry, but you also ought to be cautious about the type of jokes you include. Remember, everyone’s sense of humor is different. Avoid jokes that are crude, insensitive, or could easily be taken out of context.
The sooner you start working on your college essay, the better. Don’t wait until the night before the deadline to start brainstorming topic ideas.
Start writing the essay early and write multiple drafts.
This gives you plenty of opportunities to try out multiple ideas and figure out what topic and format work best for delivering your ideas.
While you want to paint yourself in a positive light in your college essay, you don’t want to come across as arrogant or as though you’re bragging.
This isn’t a place to list your awards and accomplishments — there’s another spot for that on your college application.
Answer the Question
Make sure you’re answering the question posed in the prompt. Don’t let yourself get distracted and off-topic.
Remember, the admissions officer has to read a lot of these essays. They don’t have time to hunt for your answer.
Let Someone Else Edit
Avoid editing your own essay. No matter how good of a writer you think you are, you’ll surely miss things when editing your own work. Have a friend, a teacher, or tutor look over it to check for grammatical errors, unclear wording, and other issues.
Bonus Tips for Getting Accepted to College
A good college essay is important, but it’s not the only thing you need to get accepted.
Here are some other tips that will help you increase your chances of getting into the college of your dreams:
- Focus on keeping your grades as high as possible — this helpful article dives deeper into the importance of good grades
- Take challenging classes — but not so many that you become overwhelmed and can’t pass them
- Take practice tests for the ACT or SAT
- Get involved at school or in your community
- Get recommendations from teachers or guidance counselors
Be sure to keep all your college-related information organized, too.
Have a separate binder or folder for your transcripts, essay prompts, essay drafts, and letters of recommendation. That way, you won’t have to worry about tracking something down the night before the application deadline.
Looking for More Education Advice?
Now that you know how to write a college essay that separates you from other applicants, it’s time to get to work!
Remember, though, that a good essay is not the only thing you need to get into college. Keep these other college acceptance tips in mind as you begin the application process and you’ll have a much better chance of getting in.
Are you ready to take the next step and head off to college? Or, are you still on the fence about whether or not college is for you?
If you fall into the latter camp, be sure to check out some of the other articles on our site, especially this article on the importance of investing in education. It might just change your mind.