Tips for Writing a College Application Essay

Writing your college admissions essay can be quite daunting. Where do you even start? What topic should you write about? How long should it be? While there are many different ways to approach college essay writing, the tips below will help you break down the essay into a more manageable process.

1. Understand the Essay Prompt

Each year, the Common Application provides students several prompts from which to choose. Be sure you review each one and understand what it asks you to address in the essay. Click here for this year’s prompts. Understanding the prompt ensures that your essay stays focused and relevant. If you already have an idea of what you would like to write about see which of the Common App prompts fit your topic.

2. Brainstorm Ideas to Write About

Once you understand the prompt you plan to answer, take time to brainstorm some ideas. Start with your experiences, achievements, or an important lesson you’ve learned. You can also consider specific moments that impacted you so as to shape your identity or future goals. This can be humorous, serious, heart wrenching, an experience that you want to share, your growth…..The world is your oyster! At this point in the essay writing process, it’s less about perfectly organized thoughts, and more about jotting down everything that comes to mind. Organization comes later.

3. Choose Your Story

Once you complete your brainstorming, review your ideas and choose the one that best resonates with you. When you choose your story, don’t forget to ask yourself why you’re choosing this story. Why is it important to share it? What does it say about you? The key is to choose a story you’re comfortable sharing and that highlights your unique qualities. The goal is to provide admissions officers insight into who you are. Help them see you and imagine you on their campus. This is one of the places where your application will come to life and take on its personality.

4. Write a Compelling Introduction

Sometimes called the hook, your introduction should grab the reader’s attention from the start. Admissions readers can review 1000s of essays each year. Find a clever opening to engage the reader so they’ll want to continue reading. A strong opening can help set the tone for the rest of your essay.

5. Add Details

Remember why you chose this story for your essay and be sure to share specific examples and vivid details. Show, don’t just tell. For instance, if you’re writing about leadership experience, describe a particular moment when you made a significant impact. Don’t be afraid to use all your senses in describing your experience.

6. Conclude Your Essay with Impact

Your conclusion is your last chance to leave a lasting impression. Consider connecting your story back to your future aspirations and how the experiences you’ve described have prepared you for college. Tie it back to your hook that you started with. It never hurts to end on a positive and hopeful note.

7. Reread and Revise

Writing the first draft is just the beginning. Drafting a great essay is a process. Reread and revise your essay a few times. You may want to set it aside for a day or two and then review it with fresh eyes. Did you answer the prompt? Are there grammar or spelling errors to correct? Read it out loud to yourself. Does your voice shine through? Consider asking a trusted teacher, parent or friend to review your essay and provide you with some feedback.


Starting your college application essay can be challenging, but by following these tips, you can write an authentic essay that captures your unique story. Be honest, be yourself, and let your personality shine through. Happy writing!

Looking for help with your college admissions journey? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications 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 through Zoom, over the phone and by email.