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Admission Essay Tips

Share your ideas on how to write your College or University Admission Essay.


abnormalalien's picture

Be Creative

Reviewers read so many of these essays around admission times that you want to stand out from the rest of the students. Although the admission essay may not seem to be as important as test scores, overall grades, and recommendations, a lot of universities use these essays to evaluate which students will thrive in the college environment. Believe it or not, this one short essay could make the difference between going to the school of your dreams and being stuck at your last resort!

java602's picture

Essay Tips

Most colleges require students to include an admission essay along with their application materials. The admission essay has the ability to either make or break your acceptance to a college.

Colleges receive thousands of applications. For this reason, you want to keep your essay on the shorter side; no more than three double-spaced, typed twelve point font pages. However, make sure that your essay is at least two hundred words long. A college wants potential students to demonstrate their ability to present and develop ideas, and an essay that is too short can be just as damaging to your application as one that is too long.

The admission essay should also demonstrate a level of creativity. Colleges are looking for essays that pop and stand out from the thousands of other that they are assigned to read. Ask your English teacher for assistance if you find that your essay seems too generic.

Make sure that your essay is one hundred percent error free. Colleges will see a typo as careless and even a tiny error will cause colleges to look down on you and your entire application.

The admission essay is hugely important part of a college application, but it can also be your ticket to stacks of acceptance letters.

jessi246's picture

Making Your Entrance Essay Sparkle

Let’s be honest with ourselves, guys. Those application reviewers have been at it for weeks. They’re bleary eyed, tired of reading, and they just want to be done. They’ll skim over the cute clips about your name, personality, and high school experience and go straight to the meat of your application: the essay. This is where you have your one chance to shine, to open the eyes of your reviewers and make them pay attention.

            You’re not going to get there without a fantastic essay. You need to be different from the thousands of other essays they’ve read, answering the same question. Ask yourself one or two: How do you stand out? What makes you unique? What can you write down that will jump off the page and make their eyes pop? Make a list of qualifications you have that are interesting or different and that will make those judging your application to take a second look. Incorporate these into your essay.

            It’s also crucial that you write well. You can have all the skills, extracurricular experience, and the highest GPA in the world, but if your essay is poorly written, they won’t buy it. Writing is a basic skill, and without proper grammar and spelling, it’s almost impossible to convince those readers that you’re worth their time. You don’t have to be a best-selling author to succeed, but you do need to make sure your application is free from errors. Read over it three times, silently and then aloud, backwards and forwards. Then have your family read it. I promise, it will help. 

JamieS86's picture

 I mentioned this in a blog

 I mentioned this in a blog post, but it's worth repeating: don't use inspirational quotes from famous people like Gandhi. I think it is one of the most overused methods in admission essays and as several people here have pointed out, you want to make your essay stand out. If you absolutely have to go with a quote, make it someone unconventional, like George Carlin.

Another way to make yourself stand out is with humor. As Jessi pointed out, committees have been reading these for weeks at a time. If you give them something to laugh at, they will appreciate it.

TiffanyHayes's picture


Another great thing to try and include in your college essay is humor. This essay is the only chance you have to make a different, unique impression. Along with your aspirations, and all your accomplishments and your passions for learning, (which should very well be included) you should attempt a little bit of humor. People like to smile, they remember smiles, they will remember that you not only impressed them, but you had the personality and wherewithall to realize that college isn't about being a super serious, never smiling prude, but about making lasting impressions in general.

Capslock077's picture

Be Honest

Just be completely honest with them and make sure that they see who you really are.  There are tons of these that get read everyday by various admissions counselors.  They have to skim, but they are very effective at doing so.  It is important for you to be able to show who you are in a very succinct manner so that they want to bring you into their learning environment.  It is very important to be simple.  They don't need you telling them what they should do with their curiculum.  Tell them why you want to go there, why you are a good fit, and why you would make the university a better place.  These things will all but guarantee your acceptance.

closetsocialist's picture

The key to writing a good

The key to writing a good college essay -- and even a good essay in general -- is to just write it all out as if you were having a conversation with a close friend. Or yourself. Don't try to cover up who you really are to these people; reviewers can see right through the bullshit.

Don't try to sound intelligent; misplaced big words and absurdly long sentences make you look like an idiot. Don't use any quotes; if you have to resort to quotes, it shows you don't know how to engage the reader on your own. Don't ask questions; no, I didn't know 'x,' but I really don't care and I don't want to read an answer you think perfectly defines you in the eyes of our university.

And that's what application essays are all about: Defining yourself. You don't want to be another typical USA College student. You want to stand out above the rest. You certainly want to abide by the college's mission, but you ultimately want to prove that you're unique and will bring something to the university community. Something Ted from California or Amy from New Jersey haven't brought yet. Reviewers want to see a mind at work that can be shaped into something powerful by the pillars of the university you are applying to attend. They want... originality.

TiffanyCan's picture

proofread and rewrite

Your college essay may be the most important writing you have done. Be sure to proofread and rewrite it. I had several professionals, such as my high school English teacher, read my essay and critique it.  I took their suggestions and incorporated their ideas into my own.  I was nervous about my essay because there was so much depending on it. I initially chose to apply to only one university, but since that first application I transferred to another college. I tailored my essay to meet the individual requirements of the institution while maintaining a true sense of my self.

jsherm101's picture

Every university and its

Every university and its admission's officers have their own variety of interests and goals that they incorporate in their process of accepting and denying students. I can tell you for a fact through the best method (by far) to accomplish an essay task the best and most effective way is to just be honest and simple in language. While we learn in class ( for years) the variety of language and methods of producing English works, in the end, the admission's officers can't tell who you are such a filter, and would much prefer an honest essay for five hundred words than a similar essay using some sort of developed language that is, in reality, nothing about you.

Ashlynn Hall's picture

Be yourself!

One of the most important things to keep in mind when writing any sort of paper is to be yourself. I don't mean slop  off with your spelling and your grammar. I mean, try not to be something that you are not. It is very apparent in anyone's writing when they are reaching way out over their own heads to try to impress. Of course, you always need to be professional and try to keep your audience in mind. Another important thing is to stay true to yourself, try to hit on all of the finer points of YOU.

BeHereNow's picture

True to Yourself

I like the advice about being true to yourself. Fakeness comes through, especially in writing. And while grammar and spelling are important to pay attention to, it's equally important to find your own voice. If I try to write in someone else's voice, it's going to read as someone trying too hard. But when I can find my own voice, and have that come through clearly, directly and still mind the general rules of writing- I find those end up being my best works. I would imagine the same is true for everyone. But it's usually easier said than done...

Ashlynn Hall's picture

Writing about Yourself

BeHereNow wrote:

I like the advice about being true to yourself. Fakeness comes through, especially in writing. And while grammar and spelling are important to pay attention to, it's equally important to find your own voice. If I try to write in someone else's voice, it's going to read as someone trying too hard. But when I can find my own voice, and have that come through clearly, directly and still mind the general rules of writing- I find those end up being my best works. I would imagine the same is true for everyone. But it's usually easier said than done...

I've been noticing a trend, both in high school students and in college students. Half of them has trouble writing about THEMSELVES. They are assigned with a paper such as, "What experiences do you have" or "What your opinion is," and they can't seem to do it. I've found several homework help websites, where students go and ask people to write one of these papers for them. I think to myself, "This is completely about you. If someone asks you what your favorite color is, do you have to ASK someone?" I find it very sad and pathetic, to say the very least. In my senior year, we were asked to write a letter to the judges of our portfolios. This was a one-page paper all about ourselves. The first think I hear from my classmates is, "This is really hard." I was shocked.

BeHereNow's picture

Know thyself

Yeah, that's pretty sad. The most ancient advice is to "know thyself."  Didn't it say that over the temple at Delphi? Don't quote me on the source, I could be wrong. Anyway, I guess these people find it intimidating to write about their personal experiences. Or maybe they have no clue about who they are, what they like or what they want out of life? I'd be pretty ashamed if I had to ask someone else to write a paper for me, but to ask someone to write a first-person essay ABOUT me? That's ridiculous. Maybe the act of writing itself intimidates people.  

Ashlynn Hall's picture

The Blame Game

BeHereNow wrote:

Yeah, that's pretty sad. The most ancient advice is to "know thyself."  Didn't it say that over the temple at Delphi? Don't quote me on the source, I could be wrong. Anyway, I guess these people find it intimidating to write about their personal experiences. Or maybe they have no clue about who they are, what they like or what they want out of life? I'd be pretty ashamed if I had to ask someone else to write a paper for me, but to ask someone to write a first-person essay ABOUT me? That's ridiculous. Maybe the act of writing itself intimidates people.

I could understand if these people wanted to enlist the help of someone to help them with the writing of the paper, but it does kill me a little inside when they want the paper written for them. I don't think there is anyone to blame in this situation other than themselves. They can try to blame their teachers, or their parents, but it is their own shortcomings that would lead them to take this radical approach. I've noticed that a LOT of people will blame their teachers and their professors if they can't suck it up and work on an assignment. My brother has often done this when I am trying to help him do homework.

Ashlynn Hall's picture

Getting Started

Sometimes, people have a lot of trouble getting started when they are asked to write something. One thing that would benefit a student when writing an admission essay would be to write a list of all of their positive experiences, their good qualities, what they have accomplished in life, and what they want to accomplish in life. This brainstorming will provide you with subjects that you can hope to cover over the course of the essay. Really sit down and analyze the prompt to figure out what they want from you. Most of all, think about what they WANT to hear. Don't just say "I haven't done anything with my life." Instead, say something positive, like "Although I have not done anything "impactful" in my life, I hope to make a significant impact in the near future."

ViCairo's picture

The Essay

They eat you alive, these essays, the reviewers. They eat you alive and basically tell you straight with the point, whether or not you are one of the few and the valued. You get a lot of comments about standing out, and a lot of comments about being different. This is true, but I'm sure you're tired of reading that part, the thing you need to do is hook them; from line one, many people have difficulty doing this, hooking, reeling, catching, because they don't want to be different. Well, subconsciously, many people don't necessarily want to be different. You have read essays - college essays before - and found them interesting; you have seen how they're formatted, how the applicant tells it, so has everyone else. When you start typing, you fail to see that sometimes your essay starts following a similar trend to what you've read, mashed up with others, when you realize it, it becomes one of the most distressing things you come across. 

Step back. 

I'm going to tell you something you really don't want to do but probably should. Make your essay as boring as possible, list it out, state the facts, tackle the grammar and fix the spelling, fix the punctuation, and read it over making sure it's a flawless essay, then, talk. Weird as it sounds, start talking, start rephrasing, make this essay you, not sure what you sound like? No problem, that's why I'm telling you to start talking, start interpreting it, not everyone knows from the very beginning in an essay to the end how they sound. 

If you cannot think of anything to put on the essay start being funny, I have five fingers, well don't put that on the essay but make a bullet point, I can move, I can walk, what have I done with my legs, run right? Eventually, you will make a list. You have things you have accomplished, picking from that, the incredible feats, there's an essay about you in your words, from your perspective. 

SarahFord94's picture

Admissions Essay

Admissions essays are more important than most people realize. When you write your essay try to keep in mind that your essays are basically your interview. This may seem daunting but try and think of it as an opportunity to showcase yourself without being nervous or making mistakes.

            Before you start it will be helpful to make a list of all the things that you think are most important about you. For your first draft don’t worry as much about the technical part of the writing. Your main concern will be making sure that when Admissions reads your essay they will get a real sense of who you are as a person. To make sure of this have someone who knows you really well and someone who doesn’t read your essay. After this go back through and make any technical corrections.

            The next most important thing is to remember that the people reading your essay will also be looking at potentially thousands of other applicants as well. Make sure that you have an interesting opening that will be sure to catch their attention. The counselor at UC Berkeley even told me that after a while if the openings are extremely boring or generic they tend to not even finish the essay.

            So inclusion, please take the essay very seriously because it can be the deciding factor in whether or not you get admitted.

Ashlynn Hall's picture

Gussying it up

Sometimes, you have no choice other than to try to add a little bit of pizazz to your essay. I know that I have almost no community service under my belt. However, a lot of applications do not require you to have community service. You really do have to know how to hit on your strong points. If they ask for community service, and you don't really have any, explain things that you do around the home, and in your daily life that is just as important. Sometimes, colleges need to know that you know yourself, and that you are being the best that you can be.

SarahFord94's picture

My admissions essay

I’m having a bit of trouble getting through my essay. It seems that my own advice is still not helping me structure exactly what I want to say. My main idea that I’m trying to go for is that a lot of adults seem to think that High School is the best that there will ever be. I’m trying to go for a looking forward to the rest of life and what I want to get out life feel. I’m having a really hard time with the opening I think that I can write the rest of the essay if I can just get the first paragraph right.

Does anyone have any suggestions? Instead of posting them to this forum, I’d appreciate if any ideas that you have could be emailed to me at If you email me please indicate in the subject box that you’re somebody from mycollegepal. If you have any thoughts on the subject please include them. I might also be interested in having someone read my essay once it’s completed. I want to make sure that someone who doesn’t know me can still see my personality coming through and that my essay gives a good idea of who I am.

shelbymary's picture

Answer the prompt and have it proofread!

There are a few very important things to consider when writing your college admissions essays. The first, and probably the most important, is to carefully read the prompt and answer exactly what it asks of you. It's very easy to get sidetracked and to write something that may seem like it flows well, but even if it's the most fantastic essay in the world, if it doesn't answer the prompt, it's no good. Make sure to be specific and clear as to how your topic ties back to the prompt so as to demonstrate that you know exactly what you're doing.

The second most important thing to do when writing your college admissions essays is to make sure they are proofread by as many people as possible. When I wrote my essays, I went in to my AP Literature and Composition teacher every day after class and had her go through the latest version of my essay and highlight any mistakes she could find. In addition, I went to other English teachers and had them proofread it as well so I could compare notes to see what changes I should and shouldn't make. And on top of that, I printed out about ten copies of my essay and passed it around a few of my classes to have some classmates weigh in their opinions. They weren't as detailed or valuable as those of my professors, but they still helped! Don't be shy about showing your essays to anyone who can help; even if it's not your best work, your teachers and friends are there to help you polish your work so you can send in the best work possible!

iracquel's picture

When working on your college

When working on your college admissions essay, try to be as unique as possible, and try to set yourself apart from all the other applicants. When I was writing my college admission essay, I first of all thought  of all the things that make me different from other people. I took into consideration my experiences and I justified to myself how those experiences were unique to me. I think this is the first step towards writing a good and refreshing essay for college.

My reason for emphasizing on originality is because, I try to understand what the college admissions personnel is going through. Imagine, a school like MIT or even a smaller school like Hofstra University for example. The admissions personnel has to go through essays of an average of say 2000 applicants. It is obvious that each of the applicants is different and as such, it is only expected that each applicant presents different content. However, if the applicants do not have original material, the admissions people are likely to get bored ....or something like that :) To get into the school of your dreams, you have to show the admissions team that you are different and that you deserve to be in that school because of the various experiences in life that qualify you to join such a college. You won't be in the admissions office to defend yourself, so let your writing speak for you as much as possible. Make the most out of the limited space you have and market yourself as the best choice for the school....through your words. Words are powerful...yes, powerful enough to get you to the college of your dreams :)

PYETwentyTwelve's picture

Who else knows you better than yourself

First thing is to start jotting down things about yourself because later when the essay has to look neat and more professional before presenting to your college it won't take long for the final essay to be completed.  Of course one should have a couple of people read it out loud and help with your grammar, organization of your paper and punctuation if this isn't your area of expertise.  Not being too fancy on your essay should not come into play, keeping it simple and flowing should do the trick.

Make sure you understand from your perspective college what they are expecting to see in your essay, you need to know when the essay is due and try to get it submitted at least a day before the due day, that will impress those individuals that have to look at many essays coming across their desks.  Always make sure you're clear about the instructions, that will show you know how to follow them.  Communicate with your college about the essay because this shows interest and it will be noted as the review process of your essay begins.  Staying focused and writing from your heart along with showing you have some writing skills will be a plus for you and goes a long way.  Don't make writing your essay a chore but definitely get it done in a timely manner so start jotting down information about yourself because when it come time to sit down and write it out you don't want to leave out anything just refer back to your notes.


murkyzephyr's picture


When writing a college essay, someone should try to make themselves appear as valuable and admissable as possible--and the easiest and most powerful way to do this is to be honest with your experiences, to choose one or two to talk about, and to explain why those experiences make you a sufficient candidate for admission in your college of choice. Colleges want to see from each applicant that they have the life experience to make a difference, the motivation to keep going through adversity (as all colleges are imperfectly arranged, and so every student will face adversity during their time there), the intelligence required to master the material presented to them in the classrooms, and the socialization necessary to thrive in a campus environment made up of usually very different and usually strong-willed people. If you can communicate two or more of the above (experience to make a difference, motivation to keep going, intelligence to take classes, socialization to get along), you're usually in good shape in the college's eyes--very few, if any, experiences can readily communicate a sense of familiarity with the world, ingelligence, socialization, and motivation--but if you can think of one from your past that combines two, three, or even four of them, you're in a good position to write your essay. 

murkyzephyr's picture

multiple types of experience

The essay should also take care to explain and convey why the applicant is well-suited to the university and vice versa. If someone is high in intelligence but greatly lacking in socialization, they will likely excel in the classes but contribute little to the broader campus environment, benefiting only the university's statistics rather than the actual university (though, to be sure, any number of highly intelligent students can make significant contributions through this alone, it is far preferable to most universities to combine this skill and its beneficial effects with other skills and their own related positive effects). Someone highly skilled at socialization but low in intelligence would present similar problems to the admissions committee, and deciding whether to admit this person would largely depend on whether they're willing to sacrifice the average intelligence of the university, and all that implies, for the social benefit of the university--the inverse of the choice presented by the highly intelligent yet socially inept applicant. The same sorts of analysis can be done on the other types of experience, and can reach the same conclusion--the presentation of multiple forms of experience is probably the most important segment of the essay, since combining two or more creates an individual who seems much more likely to contribute across a variety of domains (like admitting two or more students for the "price" of one). 

murkyzephyr's picture

importance of bridging

Multiple types of experience also create a bridging effect, where students can generally switch from one campus domain to another, either from classwork to socialization, or by communicating motive to their fellow students, and so on. Admitting a student capable in multiple domains means a greater chance of students either currently admitted or students the university is considering admitting becoming better-versed in the other domains during their time at the university. For example, someone skilled in motivation and well versed in the ways of the world can create campus organizations or academic societies which benefit the entire campus--even if its members end up being either all of the intelligent-skill domain or of the socialization-skill domain, neither one of those students would likely become acquainted with the other or become better-versed in the domain other than that which they came to college with, and would therefore not grow other than in the sense of becoming more fine-tuned in their own existing realm of expertise. As such, students capable of bridging the gaps between other students are highly sought-after by universities, and so presenting a functional connection between multiple types of experinece should benefit students considering how to write their essays. 

murkyzephyr's picture

solid, but expandable

Honesty is of course important, probably the most important component of the essay. But because of this, honesty is mostly in the background--admissions officials will probably assume the essays are all honest and, for the most part, unembellished in ways which significantly change the content of the essay. Someone isn't going to write about how they skydived into a volcano, for example. But the most important thing past honesty to do is to write something which communicates your value to the university, so you should be communicating your readiness for all the duties and opportunities your college can offer to you and to other students. For example, if your school has an academic focus, you should be writing something which communicates your readiness for that particular segment of academics your school focuses on, either by distinguishing yourself from the other applicants who are all similar in personality or by showing your unique or strong readiness for the programs which everyone must engage in or which most people generally choose and which the college generally expects people to choose (and so expects and chooses people based on their readiness for the program). The same thing is true for schools with a service orientation, and so on. 

murkyzephyr's picture

better detail

If you wanted to apply to a college which had a strong mathematics and engineering focus, for example, you might want to discuss why you're interested in mathematics and engineering--though without saying as much. A story about something which sparked your interest in the field might be useful, but so would a story about how you used your existing expertise in a scenario people encounter every day--for example, telling a story about how you used engineering concepts to pack a suitcase, in great detail, may convey the depth to which engineering colors your mind and thought process. On the other hand, a completely different story might set you apart from the hordes of other applicants also writing similar essays. If the rest of your academic record is strong, the essay might be a crucial differentiating factor between you and other applicants. Telling a story about anything but engineering, to use the case above, would be beneficial towards this end, be it a poignant story about the people in your life, or ideally, one or two people you've met along the way, or a sweeping opinion on academia and why fields other than engineering ought to be studied by engineers--as long as the essay routes back to you and your experiences, the story is up to you. 

murkyzephyr's picture

truth in simplicity

There is a certain truth in simplicity--after all, what could someone possibly be hiding behind plain language?--and simplicity is a potent strategy for writing essays. There are, however, linguistic turns which can better communicate the plain and simple truth--memories can be complicated and nuanced, and being straightforward with admissions officers involves telling a story as simply as possible, and no simpler. A story about an experience you had, for example, should communicate all the realities of the experience--how you felt, what you experienced, the thought process following the event, or even during and leading up to the event if that information would better contextualize the event, your response, and how it changed you. A story about a series of experiences, or an arc which results in a realization of who you've become, for example, should fully explain each of the nuances of each event, but not dwell too long on any individual event at the risk of losing the sense of progression and wholeness of the entire story and arc. At the very most, you should pare down the truth and nuance to non-redundant elements in terms of understanding the story--two realizations a moment apart could understandably be condensed into one or the other, so long as the story focuses on the end result rather than the granular parts of the story. 

murkyzephyr's picture

mostly true

This is mostly true--admissions officers will be tired and probably a bit sloppier with essays than they should be if they work longer hours than recommended, but even if this is the case, they will still read every essay, even if it takes them less than 2 minutes to read the entire thing the first time over. If the essay is bland and tired, it's probably not going to be selected even if they spent hours on every essay, so this is a secondary point to whether the essay is good or not. Making the essay more snappy will help in keeping their attention through the first round, but they may not like the essay anyway or may like it enough to push it through to the second round, then judge it based on a longer read and find it lacking. At the end of the day, the essay should be solid and well-written, truthful and simple, and explain why you are who you are and why that person wants to attend that school, and why the school should want the applicant--if these things are the case, their skim will tell them the essay is good enough to make it to the second round and beyond. 

murkyzephyr's picture

generally difficult

It is generally difficult to write about yourself, in any context. Writing about yourself means accessing memories you thought private your entire life, and weaving them into a consistent and compelling narrative. Unearthing these memories can prove difficult in itself, but the real problem can be when assessing which memories to use, and which are important in the context of the admissions officers' priorities and modes of thought about applicants. This presents the second problem, which is the sense of exposure students can feel and even confront when writing about themselves for the purpose of others' evaluation. In this sense, the writing process becomes about more than accessing long-dormant memories, and begins to reflect the concept of exposing one's own thoughts and very self to a distant, strange admissions committee. From the point of view of a student who's only ever experienced self-exposure in their religion, their community, or to a journal, this can be quite intimidating and the prospect of writing about himself or herself becomes less and less important in light of the fact that others, who hold the student's future in their hands, will be evaluating their every word and determining whether his or her personal life and experiences are sufficient, or in the perspective of the student, "good enough."