How do I Write a College Application Essay?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 August 2019
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Writing a strong college application essay depends on numerous factors. Some essays have extremely specific prompts, which the student must follow closely for best results. Others give only general guidance and might suggest students discuss their previous accomplishments, strengths as a student, and goals in future learning, for example. The best outcome for an essay that is prompted is to follow prompts, conforming to any style, length or other requirements. The more loosely constructed essay is usually best written by following some general guidelines discussed here.

For the minimally directed college application essay, students should follow normal guidelines required for creating any essay. The essay should be composed of an introduction, several body paragraphs and a conclusion, and is usually considered a personal essay. The first few sentences of an intro are intended to catch the reader's attention in some novel or interesting way. The last sentence or two of the first paragraph introduces the essay’s main points.

Students should then take into account any prompts, no matter how general, that the college application essay paperwork provides. If students must write about interests, goals, or strengths and weaknesses, these prompts give a structure the student can follow. It could be easy to give a paragraph to each of these subjects, thus creating a five-paragraph essay. With less guidance, students should determine the subjects they plan to cover, and decide how many paragraphs or subjects they’ll discuss. This decision creates the backbone and structure of the essay.


At this point, students can just write, or many prefer some prewriting. They may want to take each topic and determine what points they’ll make and what examples they’ll give. In most college application essay types, each topic gets a single paragraph, though this isn’t the case in longer essays that grad schools might request.

Writing is best when it is specific and backed up by personal examples. A writer could write: “I have strong writing skills,” or “My strong writing skills are evidenced by the two school awards I’ve received for composition.” Alternately, simply stating fondness for reading doesn’t really say much. Talking about a love of reading philosophy, especially anything about existentialism, creates a fuller, more accurate picture of who the writer is.

More generic and less specified writing is unmemorable and leaves little impression on the reader. Knowing this helps writers determine what claims to make about themselves and how to add color and detail to each claim. This can help in prewriting activities when organizing paragraphs, or during the act of composition and rewriting.

The first draft of a college application essay shouldn’t be the final one. Most essays are improved by multiple edits to tighten sentences, add paragraph transitions, and correct punctuation, grammar or spelling errors. Another necessary type of editing examines structure to ascertain that the body paragraphs align with the introductory statement and that each paragraph focuses on one idea. Students should also consider working with teachers, peers, parents, or anyone else willing to read and make suggestions. With careful editing and rewriting, it is hoped these essays are noticed for their quality and organization, instead of for their non-specificity or frequent mistakes.



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