It’s college essay writing time! The college essay is an important portion of your application, and unlike your grades and test scores, much of how it’s structured and presented is up to you. This can make it a great opportunity to show off your personality and your passions, but it can also make essay writing a daunting process, especially at the start. So, how to write your essay? Here are a few tips on what to do…and what not to do.


  • Choose a subject that’s meaningful to you. Your college essay is all about you! Pick a topic that means something to you. Alternatively, if you’re applying to a college that has preset essay questions, use examples and concepts that have a genuine significance to your life. Sincerity shows! If your essay gives your admissions officer a good sense of your character, it’ll make a great impression.

  • Keep it concise. While it’s easy to get carried away when you’re passionate about a topic, remember to keep your essay tightly written and concise. College essays have a strict word limit, and it’s important you stay within it. Be sure to include your most important points, then add elaboration where it suits, so that you don’t get caught with an essay that’s too long but missing key points.

  • Proofread, proofread, proofread! This is great advice for writing all essays, but college essays in particular. While your computer can perform basic spelling and grammar checks, more sophisticated grammatical, word choice, and phrasing issues are all in your hands. Be sure to proofread multiple times, and give yourself a little time between readings. Sometimes you’ll catch something new after a little time away from your essay. Seeing it with fresh eyes gives you new ideas to improve it.


  • Use gimmicks. In the race to stand out, many students will be tempted to try gimmicks in their essays. College admissions officers have stories of essays written backwards that need to be held up to a mirror, or essays structured as choose-your-own-adventure stories, to name a few. This is a technique that’s absolutely to be avoided. Admissions officers are human; they read hundreds of essays every year. Making them find a mirror to read your essay, or untangle a multiple-option essay-story, will frustrate them more than anything—something you never want to do.

  • Rush yourself. The sooner you get started on writing your college essay, the better. A good college essay is often the product of not only extensive outlining and proofreading, but rewrites and even restructuring. Giving yourself plenty of time ensures that you can have multiple drafts. Only hand your essay in when you know it’s the best it can be.

  • Try to psych out the admissions officers. Many students are tempted to write what they think their college of choice wants to see. This is a losing battle, though, as nobody can read an admissions officer’s mind. More importantly, by writing what you think the admissions officers want to see, you’re not writing something true to you. And an essay written from a place of personal meaning will always be stronger than one you have to force.

And remember, if you’re struggling to write your college essay, it’s always a good idea to ask for help! Whether from a teacher, a friend who’s already into college, or a professional like our experts at A-List, some help from a trusted source is always a good idea to make your college essay shine!