How Do You Write a Good College Essay

Your college essay is not like any other essay you have ever written and doesn’t follow the same structure from the essays you have previously written in high school. This essay is all about you. It should be conversational and thought-provoking – and it can make you be remembered when being considered for acceptance to the college of your dreams. Between the pressure and the uncertainty about structure, it is no surprise you are wondering how to write a good college essay! Here are some tips on how to create an essay that will tell your story and stand out in the minds of college admissions counselors.

Represent the Real You in Your Essay

Your college essay has to be a representation of who you are. This essay is representative of how you think, and what is important to you, possibly, even, experiences that exhibit your growth and have made you into the person you are today. It can be funny, serious, thought-provoking, painful yet bright. The one thing you need to know about your personal statement is that there are no two that are alike and it is personal to the core. Before we get into the content and structure of your essay, below are some critical thoughts to guide you through writing it.

What Makes a Successful College Essay

Showing a side of yourself that isn’t found anywhere else in the application
Demonstrating your personality, style, and sense of self
Conducting true self-reflection
It is written in your voice and written to the best of your ability – I cannot stress this one enough!
A parent offering encouragement and support for their child to be themselves

What a College Essay Is Not Supposed to Be

It is not a literary masterpiece
It is not a report, research or graded paper
It is not written in a style that exceeds the capabilities of the student
It is not an illustration of how well the essay coach or parent can write
It is not an over-edited piece that sounds like the insights and voice of an adult
It is not a group effort or family project
It is not a time for a parent to be critical of their child – It is OK to offer supportive information and suggestions that they may have forgotten

What College Admissions Representatives Are Noting

They read thousands of essays every year and can tell when a well-meaning adult has taken a heavy hand and the writing reflects someone other than the student
They know when they are not getting a true reflection of the student
The above may very well hurt the student, perhaps even give them a reason to wonder what else on the student’s application has been driven by someone else

Pick an Essay Topic

First, let me start off by saying that the essay prompts do not really matter. Why do I say that? Certainly looking at the essay prompts can provide you some reflection and think about what you may want to write about, but our essay coaches at Signature College Counseling start with a conversation, getting to know the student. Everyone has a story. Everyone has growth. Everyone has something personal that they can convey to the reader, a piece of you that brings the rest of your application to life. Once we have the topic we start the creative process for you to write your essay and then when your essay is completed, you can fit any essay you write into one of the prompts. Simple as that!

Most college admissions counselors are looking for a point of differentiation in an applicant’s essay. They read thousands of them! Yours must spark their interest and make them want to read on. As you write, put yourself in the place of the reader. Is the topic interesting? Different? Does it illuminate something unique about you? Does it show a reason for the admissions team to read and remember your essay when they are considering your admission to their school?

Outline the Essay

So now that you have your topic, now you have to construct. Like a building, a good essay begins with a solid foundation. Take your time to think this through and brainstorm or outline, whichever works best with your way of thinking and being creative, of what experiences and thoughts support your topic. Write it all down, even if some of what you brainstorm won’t make it into your essay. More is better!

Create the Hook, “Show” the Story, and Conclude it by Tying it All Together

Start your essay with the hook, the sentence that will catch the reader, and want them to read on to see where the story is leading. Many times we say to our students that you start in the middle of the story leaving the reader to wonder, where are they going, I want to know more. For some essays, you then bring the reader back in time and begin the story, so to speak. What does this mean? Sometimes, there are sub-stories within a story that may appear to be totally irrelevant, but as you take the reader through the story it begins to tie together, ending with the conclusion that brings it home, feeling whole and expressing exactly what you want to convey.

Show the reader vs. telling them your story so they can feel what you feel, the joy, the pain, the anguish, the sadness, the elation. I look forward to reading the essays when they are close to being done. I put myself in the position of the admissions counselor asking myself do I feel the story, does it provoke emotions and am I walking next to the writer and understand what they are conveying? If it’s a yes, it’s a go! If it’s not, we go back to the drawing board.

Proofread Again, and Again, and Again

Some admissions counselors won’t even read essays if they have typos, spelling errors, or grammar issues and, at the very least, it leaves them with a bad taste, remembering the error and not your story. So, this review is critical for your college essay. Print it, read it out loud, mark it up. You will notice many more errors or ways you want to phrase something when you verbalize your essay than if you just read it to yourself. Have someone else read it, like a parent, teacher or coach, so you get an outside perspective. Don’t be defensive about their feedback; they are just trying to help. And remember, you are very close to this creative work and an outside perspective can be extraordinarily helpful.

Get Started on that College Essay Early!

Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. It is what I live my life by and try to impart to our students. Relax and get started! There is no time like the present. Take-away lesson: start early! Too many students wait too long to write their essays. Writing a good college essay is a process that should not be done in one sitting. The essay evolves over time, so give it its due. At Signature College Counseling, we help students stay on track and on schedule so that our students don’t wait until the last minute. This enables them to write an essay they can be proud of and know it is what they want their colleges to understand about them. We have heard many horror stories of 11th-hour essays. Trust me: you don’t want to be in that position.

College essays can be a challenge, but these basic essay writing tips can not only make the process less daunting but also incredibly fulfilling when your work of art expresses exactly what you want the college admissions counselor to see and know about you. Good luck, and get going on your college essay!

Looking for help with writing a good college essay or the college admissions process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey from search, and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.