Essay Tips

Getting Started

 Writer’s block? If you have writer’s block try writing first thing in the morning before you have seen or read anything. Your mind is still fresh from dreaming and has not been influenced by anything/anyone yet.  This technique is often utilized by the most seasoned writers.

 Begin by taking a closer look at your life.  While you might not think that your life is interesting enough to write about, you are wrong. Everyone has something to share. Think about your struggles, adventures, successes and failures. One college admissions dean recounts an amazing essay written about tofu. This student compared herself to tofu because she was imbued with the flavors of many people she had mixed with in life. So, if all else fails, pick a personality trait and relate it to something in the world.

 Think about how other people might describe you.  Brainstorm a list of personality traits and think about how you might elaborate on one.

 Think about the things in life that are important to you.  Brainstorm a list of things that are important to you and think about why they are important and how they shaped who you are.

● Wait to revise.  Don’t worry about revising your essay as you go. Get all of your ideas and thoughts on paper before worrying about revision


● Tell a good story. Your essay should be about events in your life rather than abstract ideas. Use the elements of story writing, including action, sensory detail and dialogue.  

● Sound like a 17 or 18 year old. Colleges do not expect your essay to sound like an adult wrote it. Don’t be formal if you’re not formal. If you’re funny, be humorous. Colleges are trying to get a sense of what you’re like; stay with your natural 17 or 18-year-old voice.  

● Write about YOU. The essay is a chance for you to have your two minutes with the admissions office. Your topic should be the one thing you want them to know about you. The one thing that they will not get from all other aspects of your application.  

● Be specific.  Remember, your audience knows nothing about your topic because the topic is always YOU. Being vague is not effective. You only have 500-600 words to tell your story.

 Remember your audience. What is the school looking for in an applicant? Don’t forget that your topic should be something that is desirable to the colleges you are applying to.  

 Have a point to your story.  Make sure it is easy to see what your point is. 

 Make sure that there is a clear beginning, middle and end.  Use the introduction to draw them in, tell your story and wrap it up with a clear conclusion that reminds the reader of the main point of your essay.

 Edit your essay.  Make sure somebody else reads over your essay. Never submit an unedited college essay. However, YOU are the ultimate proofreader and should be happy with the finished product and feel as though your voice was heard. Check contractions (say do not instead of don’t), homophones (to vs. two vs. too) and references (don’t mention the wrong school name).

 Be clear, coherent and concise. You want to use the essay to show colleges that you are a talented writer. Make sure you are using the writing skills you have learned throughout high school to produce a polished writing sample. 


● Don’t expect that your first attempt at the essay will be your last.  Accept that this is a work in progress and give it the time it needs to develop into something you are proud of. 

● Don’t wait until last minute to start your essay.  You should start working on it as soon as possible. As mentioned before, this can be a lengthy process.

● Don’t let anyone else write your essay for you.  Colleges can tell an essay written by a high school student and an essay written by your mother or father. While it is great to ask for help editing your essay, it is not okay to have something else do the writing for you.

● Don’t focus on any of your friends, family members or significant others. This essay is about YOU and while we know you love your friends and family, they are not the ones the colleges are looking at accept. You are.  

 Don’t write about a sport unless you have a unique spin. There are millions of soccer, basketball and football players out there so if you can’t tell a unique story relating to this topic then pick a new one.   

 Don’t get too political. The person who reads your essay may hold opposing views and feel very passionately about THEIR view. 

 Don’t use old book reports or school papers. This is not what colleges are looking for. They can tell the difference between at English paper and a college essay.  

 Don’t let your essay take a “poor me” tone.  While many of you have suffered through personal tragedies, these are only good essay topics if you can make them about YOU and the impact that the personal tragedy had on you. It should not be about the suffering alone. It is also a good idea to think of something positive that came out of the tragedy.

 Don’t read sample essays until you are finished with yours.  It will be too tempting to steal their ideas and that will only hurt you. Colleges will notice if your essay does not seem genuine. 



Brainstorming Exercises

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1. Top 5 Things I Want Colleges To Know About Me
2. Top 5 Words I Would Use To Describe Myself
3.Top 5 Experiences That Stand Out In My Mind
4. Top 3 Activities & People Who Have Influenced Me

Breaking Down A College Essay

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Personal Experience
Anecdote | Story
How You Grew As A Person
How It Relates To Your Life Today
Change Your Life

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