How do you write a great college essay that makes colleges notice you? Use these five keys to spice up your college essays. 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.

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—and win scholarships.

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. 

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 bring stories to life—and make you and your story memorable. 

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. 

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. 

4. Less Is More 

Choose a subject that you know well and write succinctly about it—the fewer words the better. Brevity equals clariy. Further, you may not exceed the essay’s word limit. While you do want to provide specific details in your college application essay, avoid repetition. Every word matters. Keep it simple—less is more. 

5. Use Humor 

A little levity goes a long way. If you’re naturally a funny person, 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.

And one more thing: start with an extremely engaging opening sentence and paragraph. You only have moments to grab and keep their attention.

Topic Ideas for College Application Essays

If you aren’t sure what to write about in your college application 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. Has it led to experiences or study outside of school? The best essay material goes beyond the courses you took.
  • 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, and show what makes you stand out from other applicants.