Admissions counselors receive application after application, and they want to know if you will fit in well at their school. To do this, they look to college application essays to discover your interests, values, habits, passions, and views about life. How do you write a good college essay?

Writing an essay that truly reflects you is an important step in the college admissions process and will help match you with your best-fit college

1. Show Your Passion

Make sure the topic that you choose for your application essay is one that you are passionate about, one that matters deeply to you. If you’re fighting for words, you probably have the wrong topic. Once you decide what important event, moment, or phenomenon in your life to write about, a draft should flow out of you fairly instinctively. Are you passionate about a specific cause or movement? What about an activity or subject? Admissions officers can recognize passion. Choose a topic that makes you excited—something you could talk about nonstop. They will be able to see the difference.

But passion doesn’t mean you shouldn’t edit. Write out your first draft instinctively and then go back, proofread, and make necessary edits to keep your essay concise. 

2. Be Specific

Details, details, details. The best way to be specific is to add details that bring the story to life. Put the admissions department in your shoes and use details to make it an essay they will remember. 

I was a chubby two-hundred-and-thirty pounds and slower than the corn borer beetles that plague local farmers, but I wanted to be a football player. 

Adding specific details to your essay makes it your story, not someone else’s. 

3. Show, Don’t Tell

Show your reaction to the situations you describe in your essay, don’t just tell about them. Do what you can to make your reader feel it with you. 

On that first hot day, those strangers and I began to run plays they had learned at summer camp. “Ed, get in there at left tackle.” I stood, bewildered. “You do know what a left tackle is, don’t you?” Red crept into my face as my teammates began to laugh. Tears fell beneath my helmet as I realized that I was unaware of basic football terms and impossibly overweight. 

This means not just relaying what happened, but showing how you felt and the impact that your experience had on your life. Make the person reading your essay feel the emotions you felt. Pick an emotion you want them to experience as they read your essay and work to translate it into your writing.

4. Less Is More 

Choose a narrow subject that you know well and succinctly write about it. While you do want to provide specific details in your college application essay, you also don’t want to go so in-depth that your reader can’t wait for your essay to be done. Keep it simple and remember that less is more. 

Don’t write about your entire high school football career. Choose a specific game or tell how you grew throughout a single season. Fewer, more powerful words are better than a lengthy essay that has little impact. 

5. Use Humor in Your Application Essay

A little levity goes a long way. If you’re naturally a funny person, it’s okay to show it. These admission folks read about 20 to 25 applications daily, 12 to 15 hours a day, so add a bit of humor to your application essay to help them smile. Make them laugh out loud, and you’ve hit a bull’s-eye! Just be your humble, human self, and you should get some smiles. A word of caution: humor at the expense of someone else can be risky. 

Here’s an example of using humor well: 

I stagger out of bed. After donning the latest in farming fashion (ripped jeans, a tattered t-shirt, and rubber boots), I join my dad in the morning chores. We work side-by-side, dumping buckets of feed to silence the ear-splitting squeals of the pigs. They devour every morsel, their demanding squeals replaced by satisfied chomping sounds. But for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. As the stomachs of the pigs are filled, other parts are emptied. So my dad and I continue our work, beginning the odorous task of cleaning pigpen after pigpen. The awful aroma hangs upon us, a pungent pig perfume that can only be removed by countless handfuls of antibacterial soap and bottles of the strongest scented shampoo.

Topic Ideas for Writing Good College Essays

If you aren’t sure what to write about in your college essay, here are a few ideas to get you started: 

  • Hobbies and non-school pursuits that engage your heart and mind 
  • A social cause that you hold dear
  • An event (personal, local, national or international) that has touched you 
  • An academic subject that sparks your interest. How has it led to experiences or study outside of school?
  • A special trip you took. If you’re writing about a trip, show how your experiences affected you, and why they were meaningful to you. 
  • Obstacles that you’ve overcome. Write about your obstacles with hope and an eye for showing self-growth. Show how your misfortune is a part of you but can’t define you.

College essays reveal your perception of yourself and your interests—and share that with the college admissions team. Your essay is vital. Poor college application essays can undo thirteen years of impressive academic achievement. A fabulous essay can get you in or get you that big scholarship. Remember these five keys to write a good college essay and show colleges what makes you stand out from other applicants.

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