what to include in a college admissions essay

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How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application

what to include in a college admissions essay

What does it take to land in the “accept” (instead of “reject”) pile?

How can you write an essay that helps advance you in the eyes of the admissions officers and makes a real impression? Here are some tips to get you started.

  • Start early.  Do not leave it until the last minute. Give yourself time when you don’t have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to work on the essay.
  • Keep the focus narrow.  Your essay does not have to cover a massive, earth-shattering event. Some people in their teens haven’t experienced a major life event. Some people have. Either way, it’s okay.
  • Be yourself.  Whether writing about a painful experience or a more simple experience, use the narrative to be vulnerable and honest about who you are. Use words you would normally use. Trust your voice and the fact that your story is interesting enough in that no one else has lived it.
  • Be creative.  “Show, don’t tell,” and that applies here — to an extent. The best essays typically do both. You can help your reader see and feel what you are describing by using some figurative language throughout your piece.
  • Make a point. As you finish your final body paragraphs ask yourself “So what?” This will help you hone in on how to end your essay in a way that elevates it into a story about an insight or discovery you made about yourself, rather than just being about an experience you had.

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We’ve all heard about the dreaded “college essay,” the bane of every high school senior’s existence. This daunting element of the college application is something that can create angst for even the most accomplished students.

  • AA Amy Allen is a writer, educator, and lifelong learner. Her freelance writing business,  All of the Write Words , focuses on providing high school students with one-on-one feedback to guide them through the college application process and with crafting a thoughtful personal essay. A dedicated poet, Amy’s work has also been published in several journals including  Pine Row Press ,  Months to Years,  and  Atlanta Review .

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Tips for Writing an Effective Application Essay

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How to Write an Effective Essay

Writing an essay for college admission gives you a chance to use your authentic voice and show your personality. It's an excellent opportunity to personalize your application beyond your academic credentials, and a well-written essay can have a positive influence come decision time.

Want to know how to draft an essay for your college application ? Here are some tips to keep in mind when writing.

Tips for Essay Writing

A typical college application essay, also known as a personal statement, is 400-600 words. Although that may seem short, writing about yourself can be challenging. It's not something you want to rush or put off at the last moment. Think of it as a critical piece of the application process. Follow these tips to write an impactful essay that can work in your favor.

1. Start Early.

Few people write well under pressure. Try to complete your first draft a few weeks before you have to turn it in. Many advisers recommend starting as early as the summer before your senior year in high school. That way, you have ample time to think about the prompt and craft the best personal statement possible.

You don't have to work on your essay every day, but you'll want to give yourself time to revise and edit. You may discover that you want to change your topic or think of a better way to frame it. Either way, the sooner you start, the better.

2. Understand the Prompt and Instructions.

Before you begin the writing process, take time to understand what the college wants from you. The worst thing you can do is skim through the instructions and submit a piece that doesn't even fit the bare minimum requirements or address the essay topic. Look at the prompt, consider the required word count, and note any unique details each school wants.

3. Create a Strong Opener.

Students seeking help for their application essays often have trouble getting things started. It's a challenging writing process. Finding the right words to start can be the hardest part.

Spending more time working on your opener is always a good idea. The opening sentence sets the stage for the rest of your piece. The introductory paragraph is what piques the interest of the reader, and it can immediately set your essay apart from the others.

4. Stay on Topic.

One of the most important things to remember is to keep to the essay topic. If you're applying to 10 or more colleges, it's easy to veer off course with so many application essays.

A common mistake many students make is trying to fit previously written essays into the mold of another college's requirements. This seems like a time-saving way to avoid writing new pieces entirely, but it often backfires. The result is usually a final piece that's generic, unfocused, or confusing. Always write a new essay for every application, no matter how long it takes.

5. Think About Your Response.

Don't try to guess what the admissions officials want to read. Your essay will be easier to write─and more exciting to read─if you’re genuinely enthusiastic about your subject. Here’s an example: If all your friends are writing application essays about covid-19, it may be a good idea to avoid that topic, unless during the pandemic you had a vivid, life-changing experience you're burning to share. Whatever topic you choose, avoid canned responses. Be creative.

6. Focus on You.

Essay prompts typically give you plenty of latitude, but panel members expect you to focus on a subject that is personal (although not overly intimate) and particular to you. Admissions counselors say the best essays help them learn something about the candidate that they would never know from reading the rest of the application.

7. Stay True to Your Voice.

Use your usual vocabulary. Avoid fancy language you wouldn't use in real life. Imagine yourself reading this essay aloud to a classroom full of people who have never met you. Keep a confident tone. Be wary of words and phrases that undercut that tone.

8. Be Specific and Factual.

Capitalize on real-life experiences. Your essay may give you the time and space to explain why a particular achievement meant so much to you. But resist the urge to exaggerate and embellish. Admissions counselors read thousands of essays each year. They can easily spot a fake.

9. Edit and Proofread.

When you finish the final draft, run it through the spell checker on your computer. Then don’t read your essay for a few days. You'll be more apt to spot typos and awkward grammar when you reread it. After that, ask a teacher, parent, or college student (preferably an English or communications major) to give it a quick read. While you're at it, double-check your word count.

Writing essays for college admission can be daunting, but it doesn't have to be. A well-crafted essay could be the deciding factor─in your favor. Keep these tips in mind, and you'll have no problem creating memorable pieces for every application.

What is the format of a college application essay?

Generally, essays for college admission follow a simple format that includes an opening paragraph, a lengthier body section, and a closing paragraph. You don't need to include a title, which will only take up extra space. Keep in mind that the exact format can vary from one college application to the next. Read the instructions and prompt for more guidance.

Most online applications will include a text box for your essay. If you're attaching it as a document, however, be sure to use a standard, 12-point font and use 1.5-spaced or double-spaced lines, unless the application specifies different font and spacing.

How do you start an essay?

The goal here is to use an attention grabber. Think of it as a way to reel the reader in and interest an admissions officer in what you have to say. There's no trick on how to start a college application essay. The best way you can approach this task is to flex your creative muscles and think outside the box.

You can start with openers such as relevant quotes, exciting anecdotes, or questions. Either way, the first sentence should be unique and intrigue the reader.

What should an essay include?

Every application essay you write should include details about yourself and past experiences. It's another opportunity to make yourself look like a fantastic applicant. Leverage your experiences. Tell a riveting story that fulfills the prompt.

What shouldn’t be included in an essay?

When writing a college application essay, it's usually best to avoid overly personal details and controversial topics. Although these topics might make for an intriguing essay, they can be tricky to express well. If you’re unsure if a topic is appropriate for your essay, check with your school counselor. An essay for college admission shouldn't include a list of achievements or academic accolades either. Your essay isn’t meant to be a rehashing of information the admissions panel can find elsewhere in your application.

How can you make your essay personal and interesting?

The best way to make your essay interesting is to write about something genuinely important to you. That could be an experience that changed your life or a valuable lesson that had an enormous impact on you. Whatever the case, speak from the heart, and be honest.

Is it OK to discuss mental health in an essay?

Mental health struggles can create challenges you must overcome during your education and could be an opportunity for you to show how you’ve handled challenges and overcome obstacles. If you’re considering writing your essay for college admission on this topic, consider talking to your school counselor or with an English teacher on how to frame the essay.

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College admissions

Course: college admissions   >   unit 4.

  • Writing a strong college admissions essay
  • Avoiding common admissions essay mistakes
  • Brainstorming tips for your college essay
  • How formal should the tone of your college essay be?
  • Taking your college essay to the next level
  • Sample essay 1 with admissions feedback
  • Sample essay 2 with admissions feedback
  • Student story: Admissions essay about a formative experience
  • Student story: Admissions essay about personal identity
  • Student story: Admissions essay about community impact
  • Student story: Admissions essay about a past mistake
  • Student story: Admissions essay about a meaningful poem

Writing tips and techniques for your college essay

Pose a question the reader wants answered, don't focus exclusively on the past, experiment with the unexpected, don't summarize, want to join the conversation.

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  • How to Write a College Essay

College admissions experts offer tips on selecting a topic as well as writing and editing the essay.

what to include in a college admissions essay

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Students can go online to review essay requirements for the colleges they want to apply to, such as word limits and essay topics. Many students may start with the Common App, an application platform accepted by more than 1,000 schools.

For college applicants, the essay is the place to showcase their writing skills and let their unique voice shine through.

"The essays are important in part because this is a student's chance to really speak directly to the admissions office," says Adam Sapp, assistant vice president and director of admissions at Pomona College in California.

Prospective college students want their essay, sometimes called a personal statement, to make a good impression and boost their chances of being accepted, but they have only several hundred words to make that happen.

This can feel like a lot of pressure.

"I think this is the part of the application process that students are sometimes most challenged by," says Niki Barron, associate dean of admission at Hamilton College in New York, "because they're looking at a blank piece of paper and they don't know where to get started."

That pressure may be amplified as many colleges have gone test optional in recent years, meaning that ACT and SAT scores will be considered if submitted but are not required. Other schools have gone test-blind and don't consider such scores at all. In the absence of test scores, some admissions experts have suggested that more attention will be paid to other parts of an application, such as the essay.

But just as each applicant is unique, so are college admissions policies and priorities.

"Being test optional hasn't changed how we use essays in our selection process, and I wouldn't say that the essay serves as a substitute for standardized test scores," Barron wrote in an email. "A student's academic preparation for our classroom experience is always front and center in our application review process."

On June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court ruled against college admissions policies that consider an applicant's race. The ruling, though, does not prohibit students from writing essays on how their race has affected them, which experts say could significantly affect how students approach this portion of their applications.

Essay-writing tips offered by experts emphasize the importance of being concise, coherent, congenial, unique, honest and accurate. An applicant should also flex some intellectual muscle and include vivid details or anecdotes.

From brainstorming essay topics to editing the final draft, here's what students need to know about crafting a strong college application essay.

Getting Started on the College Essay

How long should a college essay be, how to pick a college essay topic, writing the college essay, how the affirmative action ruling could change college essays, editing and submitting the college essay.

A good time for students to begin working on their essays is the summer before senior year, experts say, when homework and extracurricular activities aren't taking up time and mental energy.

Starting early will also give students plenty of time to work through multiple drafts of an essay before college application deadlines, which can be as early as November for students applying for early decision or early action .

Students can go online to review essay requirements for the colleges they want to apply to, such as word limits and essay topics. Many students may start with the Common App , an application platform accepted by more than 1,000 schools. Students can submit that application to multiple schools.

Another option is the Coalition Application, an application platform accepted by more than 130 schools. Students applying through this application choose from one of six essay prompts to complete and include with their application.

In addition to the main essay, some colleges ask applicants to submit one or more additional writing samples. Students are often asked to explain why they are interested in a particular school or academic field in these supplemental essays , which tend to be shorter than the main essay.

Students should budget more time for the writing process if the schools they're applying to ask for supplemental essays.

"Most selective colleges will ask for more than one piece of writing. Don't spend all your time working on one long essay and then forget to devote energy to other parts of the application," Sapp says.

Though the Common App notes that "there are no strict word limits" for its main essay, it suggests a cap of about 650 words. The Coalition Application website says its essays should be between 500 and 650 words.

"While we won't, as a rule, stop reading after 650 words, we cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention for as long as you'd hoped it would," the Common App website states.

The word count is much shorter for institution-specific supplemental essays, which are typically around 250 words.

The first and sometimes most daunting step in the essay writing process is figuring out what to write about.

There are usually several essay prompts to choose from on a college application. They tend to be broad, open-ended questions, giving students the freedom to write about a wide array of topics, Barron says.

The essay isn't a complete autobiography, notes Mimi Doe, co-founder of Top Tier Admissions, a Massachusetts-based advising company. "It's overwhelming to think of putting your whole life in one essay," she says.

Rather, experts say students should narrow their focus and write about a specific experience, hobby or quirk that reveals something personal, like how they think, what they value or what their strengths are. Students can also write about something that illustrates an aspect of their background. These are the types of essays that typically stand out to admissions officers, experts say. Even an essay on a common topic can be compelling if done right.

Students don't have to discuss a major achievement in their essay – a common misconception. Admissions officers who spoke with U.S. News cited memorable essays that focused on more ordinary topics, including fly-fishing, a student's commute to and from school and a family's dining room table.

What's most important, experts say, is that a college essay is thoughtful and tells a story that offers insight into who a student is as a person.

"Think of the college essay as a meaningful glimpse of who you are beyond your other application materials," Pierre Huguet, CEO and founder of admissions consulting firm H&C Education, wrote in an email. "After reading your essay, the reader won't fully know you – at least not entirely. Your objective is to evoke the reader's curiosity and make them eager to get to know you."

If students are having trouble brainstorming potential topics, they can ask friends or family members for help, says Stephanie Klein Wassink, founder of Winning Applications and AdmissionsCheckup, Connecticut-based college admissions advising companies. Klein Wassink says students can ask peers or family members questions such as, "What are the things you think I do well?" Or, "What are my quirks?"

The essay should tell college admissions officers something they don't already know, experts say.

Some experts encourage students to outline their essay before jumping into the actual writing, though of course everyone's writing process differs.

The first draft of an essay doesn't need to be perfect. "Just do a brain dump," Doe says. "Don't edit yourself, just lay it all out on the page."

If students are having a hard time getting started, they should focus on their opening sentence, Doe suggests. She says an essay's opening sentence, or hook, should grab the reader's attention.

Doe offered an example of a strong hook from the essay of a student she worked with:

"I first got into politics the day the cafeteria outlawed creamed corn."

"I want to know about this kid," she says. "I’m interested."

The key to a good college essay is striking a balance between being creative and not overdoing it, Huguet says. He advises students to keep it simple.

"The college essay is not a fiction writing contest," Huguet says. "Admissions committees are not evaluating you on your potential as the next writer of the Great American Novel."

He adds that students should write in the voice they use to discuss meaningful topics with someone they trust. It's also wise to avoid hyperbole, as that can lose the readers' trust, as well as extraneous adverbs and adjectives, Huguet says.

"Thinking small, when done right, means paying close attention to the little things in your life that give it meaning in unique ways," he says. "It means, on the one hand, that you don’t have to come up with a plan for world peace, but it also means thinking small enough to identify details in your life that belong only to you."

The Supreme Court's ruling on affirmative action has left some students feeling in limbo with how to approach their essays. Some are unsure whether to include racial identifiers while others feel pressure to exclude it, says Christopher Rim, CEO and founder of Command Education, an admissions consulting company.

"For instance, some of our Asian students have been concerned that referencing their culture or race in their essay could negatively impact them (even moreso than before)," Rim wrote in an email. He noted that many students he works with had already begun crafting their essays before the ruling came. "Some of our other students have felt pressure to disclose their race or share a story of discrimination or struggle because they expect those stories to be received better by admissions officers."

Some of the uneasiness stems from what feels like a contradictory message from the court, Rim says. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., said the ruling shouldn't be construed "as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise." But he added that colleges may consider race only if it's tied to an applicant’s individual experiences or qualities, such as demonstrating courage against discrimination.

Personal essays shouldn't serve as a way for universities to ask students about their race as a means to admit them on such basis, Roberts added.

Rim says he expects there to be a lot of confusion from parents and students as they navigate that line when writing their essay. He says his guidance will vary with each student depending on their specific situation.

"For a student from an immigrant family, sharing their racial and cultural background may be integral to understanding their identity and values and therefore should be included in the essay," he says. "On the other hand, a student who has never meaningfully considered ways in which their race has shaped their life experience and worldview should not push themselves to do so in their essay simply because they believe it will better their chances."

While admissions officers try to learn about students via the essay, they are also gauging writing skills, so students want to make sure they submit top-notch work.

"The best writing is rewriting," Sapp says. "You should never be giving me your first draft."

When reviewing a first essay draft, students should make sure their writing is showing, not telling, Huguet says. This means students should show their readers examples that prove they embody certain traits or beliefs, as opposed to just stating that they do. Doing so is like explaining a joke to someone who's already laughed at it, he says.

"Let’s say, for example, that the whole point of a certain applicant’s essay is to let admissions officers know that she thinks outside the box. If she feels the need to end her essay with a sentence like, 'And so, this anecdote shows that I think outside the box,' she’s either underestimating the power of her story (or the ability of her reader to understand it), or she hasn’t done a good enough job in telling it yet," Huguet says. "Let your readers come to their own conclusions. If your story is effective, they’ll come to the conclusions you want them to."

After editing their essay, students should seek outside editing help, experts recommend. While there are individuals and companies that offer paid essay help – from editing services to essay-writing boot camps – students and families may not be able to afford the associated fees. Some providers may offer scholarships or other financial aid for their services.

The availability and level of feedback from free essay advising services vary. Some college prep companies offer brief consultations at no charge. Free essay workshops may also be available through local high schools, public libraries or community organizations. Khan Academy, a free online education platform, also offers a series of videos and other content to guide students through the essay writing process.

Colleges themselves may also have resources, Barron notes, pointing to pages on Hamilton's website that offer writing tips as well as examples of successful admissions essays. Likewise, Hamilton also holds virtual panel discussions on writing admissions essays.

Students have other options when it comes to essay help. They can ask peers, teachers, school counselors and family members for help polishing an essay. Huguet says it's typically wise to prioritize quality over quantity when it comes to seeking feedback on essays. Too many perspectives can become counterproductive, he says.

"While it can be valuable to have different perspectives, it's best to seek out individuals who are experts in the writing process," he says. "Instructors or professors can be helpful, particularly if they possess subject expertise and can provide guidance on refining arguments, structure and overall coherence."

Proofreaders should not change the tone of the essay. "Don't let anyone edit out your voice," Doe cautions.

And while proofreading is fair game, having someone else write your essay is not.

When an essay is ready to go, students will generally submit it online along with the rest of their application. On the Common App, for example, students copy and paste their essay into a text box.

Sapp says even though students often stress about the essay in particular, it's not the only thing college admissions officers look at. "The essay is the window, but the application is the house," he says. "So let's not forget that an application is built of many pieces."

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12 Strategies to Writing the Perfect College Essay

College admission committees sift through thousands of college essays each year. Here’s how to make yours stand out.

Pamela Reynolds

When it comes to deciding who they will admit into their programs, colleges consider many criteria, including high school grades, extracurricular activities, and ACT and SAT scores. But in recent years, more colleges are no longer considering test scores.

Instead, many (including Harvard through 2026) are opting for “test-blind” admission policies that give more weight to other elements in a college application. This policy change is seen as fairer to students who don’t have the means or access to testing, or who suffer from test anxiety.

So, what does this mean for you?

Simply that your college essay, traditionally a requirement of any college application, is more important than ever.

A college essay is your unique opportunity to introduce yourself to admissions committees who must comb through thousands of applications each year. It is your chance to stand out as someone worthy of a seat in that classroom.

A well-written and thoughtful essay—reflecting who you are and what you believe—can go a long way to separating your application from the slew of forgettable ones that admissions officers read. Indeed, officers may rely on them even more now that many colleges are not considering test scores.

Below we’ll discuss a few strategies you can use to help your essay stand out from the pack. We’ll touch on how to start your essay, what you should write for your college essay, and elements that make for a great college essay.

Be Authentic

More than any other consideration, you should choose a topic or point of view that is consistent with who you truly are.

Readers can sense when writers are inauthentic.

Inauthenticity could mean the use of overly flowery language that no one would ever use in conversation, or it could mean choosing an inconsequential topic that reveals very little about who you are.

Use your own voice, sense of humor, and a natural way of speaking.

Whatever subject you choose, make sure it’s something that’s genuinely important to you and not a subject you’ve chosen just to impress. You can write about a specific experience, hobby, or personality quirk that illustrates your strengths, but also feel free to write about your weaknesses.

Honesty about traits, situations, or a childhood background that you are working to improve may resonate with the reader more strongly than a glib victory speech.

Grab the Reader From the Start

You’ll be competing with so many other applicants for an admission officer’s attention.

Therefore, start your essay with an opening sentence or paragraph that immediately seizes the imagination. This might be a bold statement, a thoughtful quote, a question you pose, or a descriptive scene.

Starting your essay in a powerful way with a clear thesis statement can often help you along in the writing process. If your task is to tell a good story, a bold beginning can be a natural prelude to getting there, serving as a roadmap, engaging the reader from the start, and presenting the purpose of your writing.

Focus on Deeper Themes

Some essay writers think they will impress committees by loading an essay with facts, figures, and descriptions of activities, like wins in sports or descriptions of volunteer work. But that’s not the point.

College admissions officers are interested in learning more about who you are as a person and what makes you tick.

They want to know what has brought you to this stage in life. They want to read about realizations you may have come to through adversity as well as your successes, not just about how many games you won while on the soccer team or how many people you served at a soup kitchen.

Let the reader know how winning the soccer game helped you develop as a person, friend, family member, or leader. Make a connection with your soup kitchen volunteerism and how it may have inspired your educational journey and future aspirations. What did you discover about yourself?

Show Don’t Tell

As you expand on whatever theme you’ve decided to explore in your essay, remember to show, don’t tell.

The most engaging writing “shows” by setting scenes and providing anecdotes, rather than just providing a list of accomplishments and activities.

Reciting a list of activities is also boring. An admissions officer will want to know about the arc of your emotional journey too.

Try Doing Something Different

If you want your essay to stand out, think about approaching your subject from an entirely new perspective. While many students might choose to write about their wins, for instance, what if you wrote an essay about what you learned from all your losses?

If you are an especially talented writer, you might play with the element of surprise by crafting an essay that leaves the response to a question to the very last sentence.

You may want to stay away from well-worn themes entirely, like a sports-related obstacle or success, volunteer stories, immigration stories, moving, a summary of personal achievements or overcoming obstacles.

However, such themes are popular for a reason. They represent the totality of most people’s lives coming out of high school. Therefore, it may be less important to stay away from these topics than to take a fresh approach.

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Write With the Reader in Mind

Writing for the reader means building a clear and logical argument in which one thought flows naturally from another.

Use transitions between paragraphs.

Think about any information you may have left out that the reader may need to know. Are there ideas you have included that do not help illustrate your theme?

Be sure you can answer questions such as: Does what you have written make sense? Is the essay organized? Does the opening grab the reader? Is there a strong ending? Have you given enough background information? Is it wordy?

Write Several Drafts

Set your essay aside for a few days and come back to it after you’ve had some time to forget what you’ve written. Often, you’ll discover you have a whole new perspective that enhances your ability to make revisions.

Start writing months before your essay is due to give yourself enough time to write multiple drafts. A good time to start could be as early as the summer before your senior year when homework and extracurricular activities take up less time.

Read It Aloud

Writer’s tip : Reading your essay aloud can instantly uncover passages that sound clumsy, long-winded, or false.

Don’t Repeat

If you’ve mentioned an activity, story, or anecdote in some other part of your application, don’t repeat it again in your essay.

Your essay should tell college admissions officers something new. Whatever you write in your essay should be in philosophical alignment with the rest of your application.

Also, be sure you’ve answered whatever question or prompt may have been posed to you at the outset.

Ask Others to Read Your Essay

Be sure the people you ask to read your essay represent different demographic groups—a teacher, a parent, even a younger sister or brother.

Ask each reader what they took from the essay and listen closely to what they have to say. If anyone expresses confusion, revise until the confusion is cleared up.

Pay Attention to Form

Although there are often no strict word limits for college essays, most essays are shorter rather than longer. Common App, which students can use to submit to multiple colleges, suggests that essays stay at about 650 words.

“While we won’t as a rule stop reading after 650 words, we cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention for as long as you’d hoped it would,” the Common App website states.

In reviewing other technical aspects of your essay, be sure that the font is readable, that the margins are properly spaced, that any dialogue is set off properly, and that there is enough spacing at the top. Your essay should look clean and inviting to readers.

End Your Essay With a “Kicker”

In journalism, a kicker is the last punchy line, paragraph, or section that brings everything together.

It provides a lasting impression that leaves the reader satisfied and impressed by the points you have artfully woven throughout your piece.

So, here’s our kicker: Be concise and coherent, engage in honest self-reflection, and include vivid details and anecdotes that deftly illustrate your point.

While writing a fantastic essay may not guarantee you get selected, it can tip the balance in your favor if admissions officers are considering a candidate with a similar GPA and background.

Write, revise, revise again, and good luck!

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College Application Essay Format Rules

what to include in a college admissions essay

The college application essay has become the most important part of applying to college. In this article, we will go over the  best college essay format for getting into top schools, including how to structure the elements of a college admissions essay: margins, font, paragraphs, spacing, headers, and organization. 

We will focus on commonly asked questions about the best college essay structure. Finally, we will go over essay formatting tips and examples.

Table of Contents

  • General college essay formatting rules
  • How to format a college admissions essay
  • Sections of a college admissions essay
  • College application essay format examples

General College Essay Format Rules

Before talking about how to format your college admission essays, we need to talk about general college essay formatting rules.

Pay attention to word count

It has been well-established that the most important rule of college application essays is to  not go over the specific Application Essay word limit .  The word limit for the Common Application essay is typically 500-650 words.

Not only may it be impossible to go over the word count (in the case of the  Common Application essay , which uses text fields), but admissions officers often use software that will throw out any essay that breaks this rule. Following directions is a key indicator of being a successful student. 

Refocusing on the essay prompt and eliminating unnecessary adverbs, filler words, and prepositional phrases will help improve your essay.

On the other hand, it is advisable to use almost every available word. The college essay application field is very competitive, so leaving extra words on the table puts you at a disadvantage. Include an example or anecdote near the end of your essay to meet the total word count.

Do not write a wall of text: use paragraphs

Here is a brutal truth:  College admissions counselors only read the application essays that help them make a decision .  Otherwise, they will not read the essay at all. The problem is that you do not know whether the rest of your application (transcripts, academic record, awards, etc.) will be competitive enough to get you accepted.

A very simple writing rule for your application essay (and for essay editing of any type) is to  make your writing readable by adding line breaks and separate paragraphs.

Line breaks do not count toward word count, so they are a very easy way to organize your essay structure, ideas, and topics. Remember, college counselors, if you’re lucky, will spend 30 sec to 1 minute reading your essay. Give them every opportunity to understand your writing.

Do not include an essay title 

Unless specifically required, do not use a title for your personal statement or essay. This is a waste of your word limit and is redundant since the essay prompt itself serves as the title.

Never use overly casual, colloquial, or text message-based formatting like this: 

THIS IS A REALLY IMPORTANT POINT!. #collegeapplication #collegeessay.

Under no circumstances should you use emojis, all caps, symbols, hashtags, or slang in a college essay. Although technology, texting, and social media are continuing to transform how we use modern language (what a great topic for a college application essay!), admissions officers will view the use of these casual formatting elements as immature and inappropriate for such an important document.

How To Format A College Application Essay

There are many  tips for writing college admissions essays . How you upload your college application essay depends on whether you will be cutting and pasting your essay into a text box in an online application form or attaching a formatted document.

Save and upload your college essay in the proper format

Check the application instructions if you’re not sure what you need to do. Currently, the Common Application requires you to copy and paste your essay into a text box.

There are three main formats when it comes to submitting your college essay or personal statement:

If submitting your application essay in a text box

For the Common Application, there is no need to attach a document since there is a dedicated input field. You still want to write your essay in a word processor or Google doc. Just make sure once you copy-paste your essay into the text box that your line breaks (paragraphs), indents, and formatting is retained. 

  • Formatting like  bold , underline, and  italics  are often lost when copy-pasting into a text box.
  • Double-check that you are under the word limit.  Word counts may be different within the text box .
  • Make sure that paragraphs and spacing are maintained;  text input fields often undo indents and double-spacing .
  • If possible, make sure the font is standardized.  Text input boxes usually allow just one font . 

If submitting your application essay as a document

When attaching a document, you must do more than just double-check the format of your admissions essay. You need to be proactive and make sure the structure is logical and will be attractive to readers.

Microsoft Word (.DOC) format

If you are submitting your application essay as a file upload, then you will likely submit a .doc or .docx file. The downside is that MS Word files are editable, and there are sometimes conflicts between different MS Word versions (2010 vs 2016 vs Office365). The upside is that Word can be opened by almost any text program.

This is a safe choice if maintaining the  visual  elements of your essay is important. Saving your essay as a PDF prevents any formatting issues that come with Microsoft Word, since older versions are sometimes incompatible with the newer formatting. 

Although PDF viewing programs are commonly available, many older readers and Internet users (who will be your admissions officers) may not be ready to view PDFs.

  • Use 1-inch margins . This is the default setting for Microsoft Word. However, students from Asia using programs like Hangul Word Processor will need to double-check.
  • Use a standard serif font.  These include Times New Roman, Courier, and Garamond. A serif font adds professionalism to your essay.
  • Use standard 12-font size. 
  • Use 1.5- or double-spacing.  Your application essay should be readable. Double spaces are not an issue as the essay should already fit on one page.
  • Add a Header  with your First Name, Last Name, university, and other required information.
  • Clearly   separate your paragraphs.  By default, just press ‘ENTER’ twice.

Sections Of A College Admissions Essay

University admissions protocols usually allow you to choose the format and style of your writing. Despite this, the general format of “Introduction-Body-Conclusion” is the most common structure. This is a common format you can use and adjust to your specific writing style.

College Application Essay Introduction

Typically, your first paragraph should introduce you or the topic that you will discuss. You must have a killer opener if you want the admissions committees to pay attention. 

Essays that use rhetorical tools, factual statements, dialog, etc. are encouraged. There is room to be creative since many application essays specifically focus on past learning experiences.

College Application Essay Body

Clearly answering the essay prompt is the most important part of the essay body. Keep reading over the prompt and making sure everything in the body supports it. 

Since personal statement essays are designed to show you are as a person and student, the essay body is also where you talk about your experiences and identity.

Make sure you include the following life experiences and how they relate to the essay prompt. Be sure to double-check that they relate back to the essay prompt. A college admissions essay is NOT an autobiography:

Personal challenges

  • How did you overcome them?
  • How or how much do past challenges define your current outlook or worldview? 
  • What did you learn about yourself when you failed?

Personal achievements and successes

  • What people helped you along the way?
  • What did you learn about the nature of success

Lessons learned

  • In general, did your experiences inform your choice of university or major?

Personal beliefs

  • Politics, philosophy, and religion may be included here, but be careful when discussing sensitive personal or political topics. 
  • Academic goals
  • Personal goals
  • Professional goals
  • How will attending the university help you achieve these goals?

College Application Essay Conclusion

The conclusion section is a call to action directly aimed at the admissions officers. You must demonstrate why you are a great fit for the university, which means you should refer to specific programs, majors, or professors that guided or inspired you. 

In this “why this school” part of the essay, you can also explain why the university is a great fit for  your  goals. Be straightforward and truthful, but express your interest in the school boldly.

common app essay format, essay sections 1

College Application Essay Format Examples

Here are several formatting examples of successful college admission essays, along with comments from the essay editor.

Note: Actual sample essays edited by  Wordvice professional editors .  Personal info has been redacted for privacy. This is not a college essay template.

College Admission Essay Example 1

This essay asks the student to write about how normal life experiences can have huge effects on personal growth:

Common App Essay Prompt: Thoughtful Rides

The Florida turnpike is a very redundant and plain expressway; we do not have the scenic luxury of mountains, forests, or even deserts stretching endlessly into the distance. Instead, we are blessed with repetitive fields of grazing cows and countless billboards advertising local businesses. I have been subjected to these monotonous views three times a week, driving two hours every other day to Sunrise and back to my house in Miami, Florida—all to practice for my competitive soccer team in hopes of receiving a scholarship to play soccer at the next level. 

The Introduction sets up a clear, visceral memory and communicates a key extracurricular activity. 

When I first began these mini road trips, I would jam out to my country playlist and sing along with my favorite artists, and the trek would seem relatively short. However, after listening to “Beautiful Crazy” by Luke Combs for the 48th time in a week, the song became as repetitive as the landscape I was driving through. Changing genres did not help much either; everything I played seemed to morph into the same brain-numbing sound.  Eventually, I decided to do what many peers in my generation fail to do: turn off the distractions, enjoy the silence, and immerse myself in my own thoughts. In the end, this seemingly simple decision led to a lot of personal growth and tranquility in my life. 

The first part of the Body connects the student’s past experience with the essay prompt: personal growth and challenging assumptions.

Although I did not fully realize it at the time, these rides were the perfect opportunity to reflect on myself and the people around me. I quickly began noticing the different personalities surrounding me in the flow of traffic, and this simple act of noticing reminded me that I was not the only human on this planet that mattered. I was just as unimportant as the woman sitting in the car next to mine. Conversely, I also came to appreciate how a gesture as simple as letting another driver merge into your lane can impact a stranger’s day. Maybe the other driver is late for a work interview or rushing to the hospital because their newborn is running a high fever and by allowing them to advance in the row of cars, you made their day just a little less stressful. I realized that if I could improve someone else’s day from my car,  I could definitely be a kinder person and take other people’s situations into consideration—because you never know if someone is having one of the worst days of their lives and their interaction with you could provide the motivation they need to keep going on . 

This part uses two examples to support the writer’s answer to the essay prompt. It ends the paragraph with a clear statement.

Realizing I was not the only being in the universe that mattered was not the only insight I attained during these drives. Over and over, I asked myself why I had chosen to change soccer clubs, leaving Pinecrest, the team I had played on for 8 years with my best friends and that was only a 10-minute drive from my house, to play for a completely unfamiliar team that required significantly more travel.  Eventually, I came to understand that I truly enjoy challenging myself and pushing past complacency . One of my main goals in life is to play and experience college soccer—that, and to eventually pursue a career as a doctor. Ultimately, leaving my comfort zone in Pinecrest, where mediocrity was celebrated, to join a team in Sunrise, where championships were expected and college offers were abundant, was a very positive decision in my life. 

This part clearly tells how the experience shaped the writer as a person. The student’s personality can be directly attributed to this memory. It also importantly states personal and academic goals.

Even if I do not end up playing college soccer, I know now that I will never back down from any challenge in my life; I am committed to pushing myself past my comfort zone. These car rides have given me insight into how strong I truly am and how much impact I can have on other people’s lives. 

The Conclusion restates the overall lesson learned.

College Admission Essay Example 2

The next essay asks the reader to use leadership roles or extracurricular activities and describe the experience, contribution, and what the student learned about themselves.

As I release the air from the blood-pressure monitor’s valve, I carefully track the gauge, listening for the faint “lub-dub” of  Winnie’s heart. Checking off the “hypertensive” box on his medical chart when reading 150/95, I then escort Winnie to the blood sugar station. This was the typical procedure of a volunteer at the UConn Migrant Farm Worker Clinic. Our traveling medical clinic operated at night, visiting various Connecticut farms to provide healthcare for migrant workers. Filling out charts, taking blood pressure, and recording BMI were all standard procedures, but the relationships I built with farmers such as Winnie impacted me the most.

This Introduction is very impactful. It highlights the student’s professional expertise as a healthcare worker and her impact on marginalized communities. It also is written in the present tense to add impact.

While the clinic was canceled this year due to COVID-19, I still wanted to do something for them. During a PPE-drive meeting this July, Winnie recounted his family history. I noticed his eyebrows furrow with anxiety as he spoke about his family’s safety in Tierra Blanca, Mexico. I realized that Winnie lacked substantial information about his hometown, and fear-mongering headlines did nothing to assuage his fears. After days of searching, I discovered that his hometown, Guanajuato, reported fewer cases of COVID-19 in comparison with surrounding towns. I then created a color-coded map of his town, showing rates across the different districts. Winnie’s eyes softened, marveling at the map I made for him this August. I didn’t need to explain what he saw: Guanajuato, his home state, was pale yellow, the color I chose to mark the lowest level of cases. By making this map, I didn’t intend to give him new hope; I wanted to show him where hope was.

The student continues to tell the powerful story of one of her patients. This humbles and empowers the student, motivating her in the next paragraph.

This interaction fueled my commitment to search for hope in my journey of becoming a public health official. Working in public health policy, I hope to tackle complex world problems, such as economic and social barriers to healthcare and find creative methods of improving outcomes in queer and Latinx communities. I want to study the present and potential future intervention strategies in minority communities for addressing language barriers to information including language on posters and gendered language, and for instituting social and support services for community youth. These stepping stones will hopefully prepare me for conducting professional research for the Medical Organization for Latino Advancement. I aspire to be an active proponent of healthcare access and equity for marginalized groups, including queer communities. I first learned about the importance of recognizing minority identities in healthcare through my bisexual sister, Sophie, and her nonbinary friend, Gilligan. During discussions with her friends, I realized the importance of validating diverse gender expressions in all facets of my life.

Here, the past experience is directly connected to future academic and professional goals, which themselves are motivated by a desire to increase access among communities as well as personal family experiences. This is a strong case for why personal identity is so important.

My experiences with Winnie and my sister have empowered me to be creative, thoughtful, and brave while challenging the assumptions currently embedded in the “visual vocabulary” of both the art and science fields. I envision myself deconstructing hegemonic ideas of masculinity and femininity and surmounting the limitations of traditional perceptions of male and female bodies as it relates to existing healthcare practices. Through these subtle changes, I aim to make a large impact.

The Conclusion positions the student as an impactful leader and visionary. This is a powerful case for the admissions board to consider.

If you want to read more college admissions essay examples, check out our articles about  successful college personal statements  and the  2021-2022 Common App prompts and example essays .

Wordvice offers a full suite of proofreading and editing services . If you are a student applying to college and are having trouble with the best college admissions essay format, check out our application essay editing services  (including personal statement editing ) and find out  how much online proofreading costs . 

Finally, don’t forget to receive common app essay editing and professional admissions editing for any other admissions documents for college, university, and post-doctoral programs.

what to include in a college admissions essay

Step-by-Step Guide on How to Write a College Essay

Child writing in notebook

Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 10/31/23

Learning how to write a college essay is crucial for the application process. Follow along to learn how to write a college admission essay.  how to write a college essay’

Female student typing essay on laptop

Writing a stellar college admission essay is essential for adding personal charm to your application and showcasing unique qualities beyond test scores and transcripts. Consider its length and structure when crafting an impactful essay. 

This can significantly increase your chances of admission, especially when competing with applicants of similar credentials. Your college essays should illustrate your personality, commitment to learning, and eagerness to contribute to the college community. 

Furthermore, it provides an opportunity to demonstrate soft skills such as compassion, leadership, and creativity, leaving a lasting impression on admissions officers.

How to Choose a Topic for an Essay?

Writing an essay can be difficult, especially if you don’t know what to write about. To help you choose a topic , there are a few things to keep in mind. 

Select a captivating topic that appeals to both you and the reader. Remember, your essay serves as a persuasive case for your admission, so it should address the key questions: why you're a strong candidate and the contributions you'll make to the campus and community.Write about something that compels you to be introspective and genuine.

A great essay unveils a personal revelation you've never shared before, revealing an authentic side of yourself.

Craft a narrative that reflects ongoing personal growth and learning; life is a continuing journey without a clear ending. The best college essays don't conclude but leave the reader wanting more.

Opt for a time-relevant theme. While you can touch on earlier life moments, it's essential to demonstrate how current events shape you. For example, the pandemic and social justice movements have profoundly impacted today's world. Ignoring these topics may convey a lack of awareness and sensitivity, which can deter admissions officers.

How to Structure a College Admissions Essay

A college admissions essay does not necessarily have to follow the standard English essay format: five paragraphs, including an introduction and conclusion. However, specific requirements differ between each college . Below we’ll outline how a college admissions essay should typically be structured.

female student taking notes from laptop

College admissions essays usually do not require a title. Some students, however, choose to include a title because it’s the first thing the admissions committee will read, and it’s another chance to capture interest, demonstrate personality, and reframe their essay as a whole. 

A title is purely optional. If you choose to incorporate a title, here are some tips :

  • Make sure your title is evocative , something that could be humorous, a play on words, or retell a moment of your life. Ensuring your title is interesting can be an effective way to draw in your reader and make them excited to read your essay. 
  • Avoid using vague language in your title to keep the reader engaged. If you can’t think of a gripping title, consider submitting your essay without one.

Number of Paragraphs

Unless otherwise noted from the college application requirements, the number of paragraphs is up to you. 

Some essays can be four paragraphs, while others use eight. 

However, your essay, like every other one you have written (and will write in college), will require an introduction and a conclusion . It must adhere to the word limit, which will be discussed below.

Essay Templates

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all template that you can follow when writing your college admission essay. You are allowed, however, to use basic structures when writing your essay that can work for any prompt. 

You should also pay attention to any college application essay formatting guidelines your school provides.

13 Tips to Write a College Admission Essay

Here are 13 tips for writing college essays to help you get admitted ! These insider tips will help give you the competitive edge you need to write a stellar essay!

1. Read the Instructions Carefully

While this may seem redundant, remember that you must read the instructions carefully. If you do not follow the guidelines, it tells the admissions officer you will likely disregard instructions in your classes once admitted. Always read the instructions carefully and make notes so you are prepared to create your first draft.

2. Start With a Compelling Introduction

Writing is hard, but great writing is achievable if you follow the right path. Any journalist will tell you that the best way to get the readers’ attention is to have a great introduction. Admissions take a short time to review your essay, so start with a vivid introduction to engage them.

3. Use Your Inner Voice 

Authenticity is greatly valued in post-secondary institutions, as it shows your quality of thinking. Avoid shaping your essay around popular phrases or ideas that have been used many times before; try to base it on your genuine beliefs. 

Connect it to your skills, ambitions, and existing knowledge on the matter and how it will help you in your future endeavors. 

4. Avoid Clichés

Contrary to popular belief, the killer of an otherwise excellent essay is the famous quote. We get it; Winston Churchill is an excellent source of inspiration! However, you must understand the sheer volume of essays and repetitive themes that admissions committees are reading. Instead, consider your reader's perspective.

Ask yourself, what’s something the admissions committee has never seen before? You’re halfway there already because they have never met you! Your unique experiences and qualities make you stand out, so lean into your own words rather than someone else’s. 

5. Be Authentic, Not Generic

You’ve probably read a newspaper article at some point. You will notice that the writer fades their voice behind the facts, leaving you without any information on the author. 

When writing your college admissions essay, you should do the exact opposite. You do not want to be one of the thousands of applicants who fail to make an impression. 

Instead, you want the admissions officer to say: “This is an actual person who wrote this, someone with feeling and depth.” Being vulnerable and putting your personality into your essay is a great way to achieve this; be honest, personable, and stay true to your authentic voice. (Also, avoid cliches like famous quotes!)

6. Give Good Examples to Support Your Ideas

Ultimately, your college essay is a chance for admissions committees to understand the inner workings of your mind. While showcasing your soft skills, it can be challenging to sound credible. That’s why you need to support your story with anecdotal evidence.  

The idea here is to avoid simply stating how great you are. Instead, include details of your story and examples to develop your ideas. In other words: show, don’t tell! For instance, rather than stating, “I’m an excellent leader,” tell a story about a time you demonstrated leadership and express what you learned. 

7. Select a Prompt That Works in Your Favor

The Common Application, and a few schools, will give you a list of prompts to help you tell your story. 

These prompts are useful starting points and invite students to think about challenges they’ve overcome or experiences that have made them grateful. It’s an opportunity to display your growth, strength, and what makes a candidate who they are.

8. Tell Your Story

Remember that your college admissions essay isn’t any ordinary paper, it’s a story. Be mindful of readability and construct your essay to maintain interest throughout the entire essay. Think of the classic methods of storytelling: your essay should have an intro, a body, a climax, and a clear conclusion without needing to explain over.

Most importantly, every good story has a message. For example, in the classic story of Cinderella, the main takeaway is that kindness (demonstrated through Cinderella’s actions) will be rewarded while selfishness (demonstrated through the evil stepmother and siblings) will not. 

What’s your takeaway? What’s important to you, and why? 

9. Be Exciting – Don’t Be Boring

Trying to act like an intellectual know-it-all is exhausting and a huge turn-off for college admissions. You need to be unique to get noticed. Write like you are a strong-minded individual. Use beautiful, descriptive language mixed with your typical casual language. Then, put emotion into your words to make your essay come alive!

10. Don’t Be Repetitive 

Your admissions essay is the place to express yourself, not repeat the points of your resume that the admissions committee has already seen. Instead of repeating yourself, go deeper. 

Consider what makes you a great candidate beyond your grades. Are you a leader? Are you passionate about the school? Whatever it is, show it!

11. Use Proper Formatting

When it comes to how to format your essay , readability is key. Use a reasonable font, one that is easily legible and professional-looking. Instead of cramming your main ideas in the first paragraph, balance your essay points. 

Use soothing margins and declare the essay prompt and your answer in the introduction. Be consistent with spacing, indentation, and excellent spelling and punctuation. Also, be sure to follow citation rules as per the essay requirements (MLA, Chicago style, APA, etc.)

12. Edit. Then Edit Again

Of course, it’s important to edit your essay repeatedly. You can also have a friend, parent, or teacher help you before submitting your final version. Small grammar or spelling mistakes can be the difference between acceptance into a highly competitive program, so fire up the spell check!

13. Take Advantage of Resources

Though developing a strong college essay can be a long and tedious process, you don’t have to go through it alone. There is a wide range of online admission resources that you can access through various universities and nonprofit organizations. 

Examples of College Essays for Ivy League Schools

man writing essay on paper

Here are two examples of college essays to help you write your essay. Do not use our samples as your essay; it is only meant to serve as inspiration.

For more samples of essays, click here for 30 sample college essays that worked!

Essay Example 1

“A Path Towards Environmental Stewardship: My Journey to Columbia University
The delicate balance of our planet's ecosystems has always fascinated me. Growing up, my father's research on global warming ignited my curiosity and awakened a passion within me to make a positive impact on the planet's future. Now, as I stand at the precipice of my college journey, I am certain that pursuing an Environmental Science major is the path I must tread.
My interest in environmental science began at home, witnessing my father's tireless efforts to understand and combat the pressing issue of global warming. As a geoscientist, his dedication to research and his unwavering commitment to finding sustainable solutions inspired me greatly. Through conversations with him, I developed a deep understanding of the urgency to protect our planet and a burning desire to be part of the solution.
My high school education exposed me to the power of scientific inquiry. Courses in biology, chemistry, and physics helped me appreciate the intricate mechanisms that sustain life on Earth. As I delved deeper into environmental science, I realized that my passion lies not only in the study of ecosystems but also in understanding the human impact on our planet. It became clear to me that, armed with scientific knowledge, I could effect meaningful change by promoting sustainability and inspiring others to adopt eco-conscious practices.
Columbia University has long been at the forefront of environmental science research and education. The university's commitment to creating sustainable solutions and addressing global environmental challenges resonates deeply with my aspirations. Columbia's interdisciplinary approach, combining the sciences, policy, and social impact, aligns perfectly with my desire to explore the multifaceted nature of environmental issues. I am eager to learn from esteemed faculty members, engage in cutting-edge research, and collaborate with passionate peers who share my vision.
Beyond its academic excellence, Columbia University offers a vibrant community that thrives on diversity, inclusivity, and intellectual curiosity. I am drawn to the opportunity to engage in meaningful discussions and debates with fellow students who come from various backgrounds and cultures. I believe that this diverse tapestry of perspectives will broaden my understanding of environmental challenges and enrich my overall college experience.
At Columbia, I envision myself not only as a student but also as an advocate for environmental stewardship. I am excited to take advantage of the university's extensive resources and extracurricular opportunities to actively contribute to the cause. Whether it is organizing awareness campaigns, participating in research initiatives, or collaborating with local communities, I am determined to make a tangible difference. I believe that Columbia University's platform will empower me to transform my passion for the environment into actionable solutions.
As I embark on my college journey, I am confident that pursuing an Environmental Science major at Columbia University is the perfect step towards realizing my aspirations. The opportunity to learn from distinguished faculty, immerse myself in a diverse and intellectually stimulating community, and contribute to solving environmental challenges fills me with anticipation. With my father's inspiration guiding my path, I am ready to embrace the educational and personal growth opportunities that Columbia offers, transforming my passion into a lifelong commitment to environmental stewardship. Together, we can create a sustainable future for generations to come.”

Why this essay works: The writer clearly highlights their passion, and immediately delves into the initial discovery of their interest. He takes the reader on a journey through time, beginning with witnessing his fathers impactful work and continuing through his high school education.

The writer also does an excellent job of including school-specific knowledge. He clearly highlights why he is interested in attending Columbia and notes how he will contribute to Columbia’s student culture. 

Finally, the applicant ends on a high note by affirming his interest in Columbia University and looking toward the future. Your essay should highlight where you intend to go after your degree to let the admissions committee know how serious you are about completing your education to the best of your ability. 

Essay Example 2

“Why do these academic areas appeal to you?”
“Following my call to public service which started when I first heard Barack Obama speak, I plan to run for office in the future, and the areas of ethics, politics, and economics plus political science will provide the quintessential lens through which I can prepare for becoming an elected official.
In today’s page of our proverbial history book, it’s critically important to study the voices of the unheard throughout history, as well as the laws that have enabled such structural violence - in order to ensure that it never happens again. To that end, I’m currently reading  “A Black Woman’s History of the United States.”
Beyond the borders of these United States, global affairs appeals to me because of the varied ways in which education is approached around the world. During high school, I interviewed 15 students from different areas worldwide - UK, India, and Vietnam - to learn about global educational differences. My conclusion? The rate-limiting factor for education is a hyperfocus on traditional Socratic rote memorization and testing rather than real-world application. In our digital world laden with mobile applications, perhaps the solution is technological implementation. Only time and further research opportunities (at Yale) will tell…”

Why this essay works : The writer uses a personal story to answer the prompt and relates it to their interests. They also use effective storytelling to guide the reader through their journey of developing their interest in public service without overdoing it. 

Access 185+ More Sample College Essays Here

https://www.quadeducationgroup.com/tools/college-essay-examples-database  

College Admission Essay Creation FAQs

Still have questions? Here are some answers to FAQs.

1. Can I Use the Same Essay for Different Schools?

Yes. You must first research each school’s essay questions or prompts. Most schools use a common list of prompts, but others have their application requirements. It would not hurt to tweak your essay for colleges based on the topics provided. For example, the length of college essays typically varies between schools.

2. Why Shouldn't I Write About My Awards Or Accomplishments?

Your academic achievements and credentials will appear in different parts of your applications, so relying on them in your essay would be redundant. Remember, your essay must add insight to your application and reveal your thoughts, motivations, and who you are as a person. 

3. When Should I Start Planning My College Essay? When Should I Write My College Essay?

It is advised students should use the summer before their senior year to reflect on their experiences and determine what they would like to share with the admission committee. Ideally, you should complete the first draft of your essay by the start of school in September, which will allow you to focus on your senior year.

4. What Makes A Good College Essay?

A good college essay makes an impact on the reader. Your essay should demonstrate your unique personal experience, values, and perspective. Avoid cliches; the only way to write a memorable college essay is to maintain originality and authenticity. 

You can also use formatting tools to make your essay stand out, such as beginning the essay with a question or using descriptive language to paint a picture of a significant person, place, or thing. Just make sure whatever method you choose is compliant with the college application essay format rules outlined by your target schools

5. What Do Colleges Look For in Essays?

Your college essays aim to show who you are beyond your academic achievements. Colleges are looking for what makes you a great candidate and how you’ll add to their community, but mainly they want to get to know you! That’s why it’s important to be authentic and avoid listing achievements they’ve already seen. 

6. What Should I Avoid When I Write My College Essays?

When writing college essays, there are many things you should avoid , such as:

  • Irrelevant information
  • Poor grammar 

Tailor each essay to the specific college, avoid controversial topics, and be cautious with humor. Aim for a balanced, authentic writing style. 

7. How Long Should a College Application Essay Be? 

Colleges often specify a word count for admission essays. If not specified, you can inquire about the limit. It's generally good practice to stay within the word count. Slightly exceeding (one to three words) may be acceptable, but be cautious. 

Final Thoughts

Now that you know how to write a college essay, it will be a breeze. Colleges want to know the person applying for their school, and the essay is the best way to humanize you!

Access 190+ sample college essays here

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8 Things To Include In Your College Admission Essay

Madeleine Karydes

Madeleine Karydes

Lead admissions expert, table of contents, make it unique and personal, pick one area in your life, and focus on it, ensure you write about the best version of yourself, include traditions and culture that shape you, research, research, research, write only the truth, vocabulary matters, grammar and spelling must be correct, have your essay read by someone else you trust.

Stay up-to-date on the latest research and college admissions trends with our blog team.

8 Things To Include In Your College Admission Essay

More than any other part of the application, your admission essay is intended to give the college admission team a look at your personal life, goals, and achievements. This article reviews eight things to include in your admission essay to increase your chances of being accepted into the college of your choice. We hope you find this checklist helpful as you start drafting!

And of course, remember that we’re here to help if you get stuck. Deciding on what colleges to apply for, then beginning the application process, can bring much-added stress in your life. With the proper support, however, that stress does not need to reflect in your writing.

So, let’s get started. Your high school counselors may have shown the dos and don’ts of writing a college application essay. However, they may not have taken you through the entire process. Not to worry, Empowerly offers college counseling to work with you through the entire journey.    

To give you a glimpse into our services, we are sharing the eight things to include in your college admission essay:

The committee in charge of admission wants to know who you are. Talk about your personality, passions, values, achievements, goals, and what motivates you. If given a topic to write on, ensure you shine through it. Your uniqueness is the most important part of the application!

Writing an in-depth essay about yourself can feel overwhelming, considering all the information you could cover. Instead, focusing on an area that expressly gives well-detailed information helps craft a structure that is easier to read. Essentially, it produces more clarity than packing so many options in one essay.

Select a single activity, passion, or project to which you can relate and produce the best write-up. If you need help, we offer college counseling services to help fully express your train of thought.

The admission committee wants to read about the strong, positive information that makes you who you are. You should be able to write about experiences that have brought out a part of your character, built your mindset, or become an important lesson. Demonstrate qualities that will make you a great addition to their campus.

Schools are always searching for diverse perspectives to add to the cultural richness of their intellectual landscape. Feel free to include stories of your family emblem, heritage, tradition, and culture if you feel they have shaped you. Acknowledging and celebrating these aspects of your history is key.

Read up about the school you are applying to. These details demonstrate passion and interest in your future! Not only that, citing specific programs or clubs in order to talk about what you will bring to the table is very compelling to admissions officers looking to build a strong freshman class.

It doesn’t matter if you exaggerate the details or go as far as plagiarizing; if you are caught, you will be immediately rejected. It’s not worth writing anything other than the truth. Besides, you do have a chance of winning their hearts by showing your honesty and authenticity.

First, you’ll want to avoid using the same word in multiple places, unless it’s the focus of your essay. Following that, however, you won’t benefit from using words that you choose out of the thesaurus at random, without reason. And finally, your essay should not include uncommon slang, niche scientific phrases, or overly flowery language that confuses the meaning of your sentences.

You can write conversationally, but if the grammar and spelling are not correct, it will reduce the overall effect of your essay. Incorrect spelling can happen by mistake, but proofreading should correct it. Show that you care enough to review your essay and put your best foot forward.

Good job completing your essay draft! The next step is to have it read by someone knowledgeable enough to give objective responses. That means you want to find someone who can pinpoint errors, notice if certain paragraphs are rambling, and can tell you if the impression is not what you were going for. With this feedback, you want to be certain your application is the best reflection of your work.

Of course, at Empowerly , we offer services that include college counseling, reading your admission essay, making all necessary corrections, and giving you the best pre-college experience. So if you don’t have a good essay editor in mind, you can always reach out to us.

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College apps can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to do it alone. empowerly college counseling is in it with you., related articles.

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The 5 Things Colleges Want You To Include in Your Admissions Essay

Your college application essays – and you’ll probably write more than a few of them – may be as short as 150 words or up to a few pages. It can be one of the most stressful parts of the application process because it’s the most open-ended.

And those words can mean the difference between a “yes” and a “no” from the college you’ve been dreaming of.

Admissions essays are designed to tell an admissions committee – the folks responsible for deciding who gets in to a particular college or university – how students are different from each other. These people read hundreds of essays from students with similar experiences, so when it comes to your essay…

You need to stand out.

WATCH: Wyzant<5

Wyzant Under Five  is a video series featuring tutors on Wyzant doing what tutors do best:  fitting a ton of learning into a short time!

We challenged tutor  Nick S, The College Guy  to tell us the five things top-tier colleges want to see in your admissions application essay. Watch it below, and check out all the other videos in Wyzant<5.

The One Thing ALL Colleges Want to See in Your Application Essay is Good Writing

You can write conversationally, but your grammar, spelling, and word count still need to be correct .

Remember: good writing is invisible. It’s about what you’re saying , not how impressively you say it. 

When you’re in the middle of something truly great, you don’t sit there saying “Gee, this sure is well-written.” You just read it. 

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While the SAT has had a constant presence in the college admissions process for over 60 years now, it has by no means been consistent in its presentation. The way it tests students’ reading and writing skills bears little resemblance…

Be clear, be focused, and be honest . Don’t worry about saying “the right thing”; worry about saying “the you thing”. Schools read enough of these to recognize when someone is just saying what they think they’re supposed to say. 

Be creative and push the boundaries, not just for the sake of being different but because you don’t fit into any one box.

Colleges Want to Understand Your Motivations

They want to see that you have a plan and the drive to bring it to life.

The more specific you can be about your plan, the better. Colleges know that people with a plan tend to be the most motivated, the most effective, and the most resilient. Don’t just say you want to study psychology or computer science. Say that you want to “learn about the psychological effects of ingroup bias so you can apply them to marketing”, or that you want to “study software analytic methods for optimizing peer-to-peer lending”.

The beautiful part of plans is that they can change. And, in reality, they nearly always do. Colleges know this as well.

You’re not binding yourself to any one trajectory for your future by being specific in what you would like to explore.

You’re simply demonstrating that you have a course, and that you can adjust over time.

Be sure to stay on message

Your essays should all contribute in some way to show how you plan to pursue your stated goals. For your personal statement, be sure your essay reflects the way that your chosen topic has propelled you towards your chosen path. Think of your essay like a string connecting your past and your future.

Go Ahead and Brag

Your drive and motivation will likely be reflected in your past accomplishments. Don’t be afraid to talk about those experiences and show that you have the chops to make your plan a reality. 

Ideally, your past accomplishments relate to your future goals, but, even if they don’t exactly, showing enthusiasm, experience, and commitment goes a long way.

Most Schools Want to See that You Contribute to Your Community

As much as you’ll take away from your college experience, you’ll also give a great deal.

This doesn’t only mean volunteering and formal extracurriculars at school. You probably contribute to your community in a lot more ways than you realize. Do you help friends and classmates to study? Do you make people laugh?

After you finally get your acceptance letters and head to campus next fall, you’re going to be part of a huge community that will expect a lot from you academically and personally. No school wants a student who hides in their dorm waiting to collect a degree. Schools want students who will put themselves out there and make the university a better place.  

Remember: those with the most to offer are the ones who offer the most to other people. And, if you need a selfish reason for doing it, the more you give, the more you get. Show colleges that you’re one of the people with the most to offer.

Colleges Also Want to See Diversity of Experiences

As important as it is to stay on message, it’s also important to balance it out with other aspects of your experience, so colleges don’t see you as one-dimensional.

Thinkers, leaders, and doers take ideas from anywhere they can get them. Show schools that you’re willing to explore far-ranging and surprising places in order to learn and improve.

Sharing quirks or a sense of humor is a great way to show that you’re not a robot, but sharing information about your background that makes you who you are can also help bring your personality to life for an admissions committee.

You’re Different Than Every Other Applicant

Whether you realize it or not, you are unique in important ways from every single other applicant applying to the school of your dreams. It’s your job to discover and express what makes your background unique.

what to include in a college admissions essay

Try to think beyond ethnicity, religion, and geography. These are certainly important parts of who you are, but what combination of influences meet in you and you alone?

Observe your friends, family, and other people in your community. How are you alike? How are you different? This can help to get you started thinking about what makes some of the people close to you who they are and, in turn, what that means about you.

And Lastly…Remember to Be Succinct

Admissions officers are human. If you send them a Tolstoy novel of information about every gold star you’ve gotten since 2 nd grade and excuses for why each and every tiny thing didn’t go perfectly, they’re going to feel overwhelmed and unmotivated to read your application when they still have 200 to get through that night. 

Don’t worry about saying “the right thing”; worry about saying “the you thing”.

Keep it concise. Keep it focused .

This is as much for your own sake as it is for theirs! By choosing your words and application materials carefully, you will stay focused on your message better and present an overall more cohesive picture of you as an applicant.

Both your personal statements and school-specific essays should have one, single, cohesive point. It’s often best to express this thesis statement directly right at the beginning of your essay. If you don’t know what your thesis is, you’re not done with your essay.

Sometimes it takes a few tries and a few drafts before you narrow in on what you really want to say. But, when you find it, make sure you can express it in a single sentence.

Get More College Admissions Help

Five important things you should consider in your own college admissions essays will get you started, but for the rest of your college admissions journey, connect with a tutor on Wyzant, and check out all the other videos in Wyzant<5 .

Nick Sennot

For 10 years, Nick has been a leading test prep expert and essay specialist in sunny Southern California. He’s the author of the legendary “College Guy” curriculum and the tutor of choice for students who are committed to getting into the college of their dreams. Year in and year out, his students earn admission to Stanford, MIT, Georgetown (his alma mater), Duke, Northwestern, and other top-ranked institutions. Request Tutoring from Nick

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  4. Tips for Writing an Effective Application Essay

    When writing a college application essay, it's usually best to avoid overly personal details and controversial topics. ... An essay for college admission shouldn't include a list of achievements or academic accolades either. Your essay isn't meant to be a rehashing of information the admissions panel can find elsewhere in your application ...

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    Be on the lookout for words and phrases like "maybe," "sort of," and "I think" that might undercut that tone. At the same time, though, make sure to follow application guidelines about format and length. If the essay has a suggested 650-word maximum, your application will stand out—not in a good way—if you turn in 250 words. 6.

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    Wyzant Under Five is a video series featuring tutors on Wyzant doing what tutors do best: fitting a ton of learning into a short time! We challenged tutor Nick S, The College Guy to tell us the five things top-tier colleges want to see in your admissions application essay. Watch it below, and check out all the other videos in Wyzant<5.

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    Option 4: End on an action. Ending on an action can be a strong way to wrap up your essay. That might mean including a literal action, dialogue, or continuation of the story. These endings leave the reader wanting more rather than wishing the essay had ended sooner. They're interesting and can help you avoid boring your reader.

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