College Application Essay

11 minute read
College Application Essay

In college or university applications, essays are an excellent way to demonstrate your interests and express personal strengths. Student-written documents, such as college application essays, which are required as part of the graduate application, can differ depending on the university, programme, and level of study. The essay requirements may include a personal statement, a statement of purpose, and a diversity statement. Other written documents required include writing samples, which may vary depending on the programme and level of study. To assess the applicant holistically, some universities have added newer components such as video essays.


How to Write a College Application Essay?

The prompts for application essays could be open or semi-structured. The structure of an open application essay is relatively free to design. The university will ask you a series of questions in a semi-structured essay, and keywords must be addressed in the narrative. Universities may require multiple short essays on topics such as short and long-term career goals, leadership experience, the need for an MBA at this point, ethical dilemmas, and decision-making for business school applications.

Step 1: Reflect

Consider your academic, professional, and personal lives. 

Your first step should be to create a personal inventory of the successful and unsuccessful experiences that have shaped your life, both academically and professionally. Second, you should examine your professional and personal experiences to determine why you chose a particular academic or career path. This exercise will assist you in personalising application essays as well as contextualising your academic and professional trajectory. Use your essays to explain setbacks and share your experience-based learning. Avoid the trap of a dull and boring recitation of your own experiences.

Posing questions to yourself and seeking answers is the simplest way to analyse and reflect on your life situation. What is the reason for my specialisation choice? What significant academic experiences have I had in my life that have reinforced my subject/disciplinary interests?

Step 2: Write

In your essay, bring your ideas together.

You must write in your own voice, be original, and be careful not to reproduce or copy another person’s ideas in order to maintain writing integrity. Plagiarism or academic dishonesty can now be easily detected using online software. Quotes that are unrelated to the rest of your essay should be avoided. If you want to use a quote, contextualise it and give credit to the original author.

It would be ideal for you to begin with a structure to aid in the management of ideas and the flow of words. You could also free-write your thoughts and then organise them later. Both of these approaches have advantages.

Step 3: Balance the Content

The graduate statement of purpose or application essay should contain an appropriate amount of information on various aspects of the applicant’s profile. You should try to balance information on academic and professional experience, technical skills, goals, current interests, the reason for graduate education, school selection, and any other information such as setbacks and career changes. Overemphasis on any one aspect of your statement of purpose may tip the scales and cause the reader to lose focus. Prioritizing ahead of time will ensure that you write the appropriate amount of information under each category.

Students frequently overstate their technical knowledge and skills while failing to include details about interpersonal skills gained through their experiences. While mentioning your technical knowledge and skills is important, it is also important to contextualise them and share learning, impact, and outcomes.

Step 4: Check the Tone and Timeline

The timeline of your activities is reflected in an essay. Unless previous activities played a significant role in your decision to pursue graduate education, it is best to include more recent experiences. Students usually play it safe and use a chronological timeline to project their experiences, which helps the reader avoid confusion. Be selective about what you want to highlight if you have a long career and diverse project experiences.

The tone of the purpose statement is usually serious and professional. Include anecdotes and personal experiences to enrich the narration and show’ rather than ‘tell’ about your accomplishments. Evidence in the form of action, rather than a list of activities, will make the essay more interesting and lively.

The statement of purpose should clearly articulate your thoughts. Avoid using overly verbose or bombastic language. Students should use technical jargon sparingly and avoid abbreviations. Write your sentences in the active voice, keep them short, and let them flow logically so that you can clearly communicate information about yourself. Choose either American or British English and use the language consistently.

You should proofread your essay to ensure that there are no errors and that it is consistent. Each time, proofread with a different focus. The first proofread could concentrate on structure, ideas, and tone, the second on grammar, and so on. Check your essay several times to ensure everything is clear and consistent. Take a break between drafts of editing. You might be surprised to learn that there is a better way to approach something you wrote earlier. One exercise you could try is reading the essay aloud to check for grammar and flow.

Importance of College Application Essay

During the admissions process, many schools place a strong emphasis on the college application essay. Although universities look at other factors such as GPA and recommendation letters, an excellent personal essay for college can help you stand out from the crowd. If your GPA and test scores are similar to those of other applicants, an essay can help you stand out.

According to a 2018-19 National Association for College Admission Counseling study, 56.4% of admissions counsellors reported that their institutions gave the college application essay “considerable” or “moderate” weight when making admission decisions.

The report also discovered that admissions essays were given the most weight at private schools and more selective colleges.

How long should a College Application Essay be?

Though the Common App, which students can use to apply to multiple colleges, states that “there are no strict word limits” for its main essay, it recommends a word count of around 650.

“While we will not generally stop reading after 650 words, we cannot guarantee that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention for as long as you’d hoped,” the Common App website states. The word count for institution-specific supplemental essays is much lower, typically around 250 words.

How to Pick a College Essay Topic

Picking a college essay topic can be a daunting task, but it’s also an opportunity to showcase your personality, experiences, and interests to the admissions committee. Here are some steps to help you choose a compelling college essay topic:

  1. Reflect on your experiences: Begin by thinking about your life experiences, both inside and outside of the classroom. Consider significant moments, challenges you’ve faced, achievements, or any experiences that have had a profound impact on you. This could include personal growth, cultural experiences, volunteering, or extracurricular activities.
  2. Brainstorm ideas: Take some time to brainstorm different ideas and jot them down. Think about what sets you apart from other applicants and what you can bring to the college community. Consider your passions, values, strengths, and areas of growth.
  3. Choose a meaningful topic: Look for a topic that is personally meaningful to you. Your passion and genuine interest in the subject will come through in your writing and make your essay more engaging. Remember that the purpose of the essay is to provide insight into your character and demonstrate your ability to reflect and articulate your thoughts.
  4. Highlight your uniqueness: Consider aspects of your background, experiences, or perspectives that make you unique. Admissions officers are interested in understanding your individuality, so try to find a topic that allows you to showcase your distinctive qualities.
  5. Show your growth: Reflect on challenges or setbacks you have faced and how you have grown as a result. Colleges are interested in applicants who demonstrate resilience, adaptability, and a capacity for personal development. Choose a topic that highlights your ability to overcome obstacles or learn from failure.
  6. Consider the prompt: If there is a specific prompt provided by the college, make sure your topic aligns with it. Think about how you can address the prompt while still maintaining an authentic and compelling narrative.
  7. Test your ideas: Once you have a few potential topics in mind, discuss them with family members, teachers, or mentors. Getting feedback from others can help you gauge the strength and impact of your ideas.
  8. Stay true to yourself: Ultimately, choose a topic that resonates with you and allows you to express your authentic self. Avoid writing about what you think the admissions committee wants to hear and focus on showcasing your genuine voice, values, and aspirations.

Editing and Submitting the College Essay

Once you have written your college essay, it’s important to go through the editing process to ensure your essay is polished and presents your best work. Here are some steps to help you edit and submit your college essay:

  1. Revise for content and structure: Read through your essay and evaluate the overall structure and flow. Check if your ideas are presented in a logical order and if the essay effectively conveys your message. Look for any gaps in your reasoning or areas where further clarification is needed.
  2. Clarify your thesis or main idea: Ensure that your essay has a clear thesis statement or main idea that is evident throughout. If necessary, make adjustments to strengthen your central argument or focus.
  3. Trim unnecessary information: Review your essay for any repetitive or irrelevant information. Remove any details or examples that do not contribute to the overall message or detract from the clarity of your essay.
  4. Strengthen your arguments: Make sure your arguments are well-supported and backed up with relevant evidence or examples. Add more specific details or explanations where necessary to make your points more persuasive.
  5. Check grammar and spelling: Proofread your essay carefully for grammatical errors, punctuation mistakes, and spelling errors. Use spell-check tools and consider reading your essay aloud to catch any awkward phrasing or unclear sentences.
  6. Seek feedback: Ask a trusted teacher, mentor, or family member to review your essay and provide feedback. They can offer valuable insights and help you identify areas that may need improvement.
  7. Revise based on feedback: Consider the feedback you receive and make revisions accordingly. Be open to suggestions and use the feedback to refine your essay and make it stronger.
  8. Polish the introduction and conclusion: Pay special attention to your essay’s introduction and conclusion. These sections should grab the reader’s attention and leave a lasting impression. Ensure that they effectively set up your essay and provide a sense of closure.
  9. Proofread again: After making revisions, proofread your essay once more to catch any remaining errors or inconsistencies. It’s helpful to take a break before the final proofread to approach the essay with fresh eyes.
  10. Follow submission guidelines: Review the submission guidelines provided by the college or university and ensure that your essay meets all the requirements. Pay attention to word count limits, formatting guidelines, and any additional instructions.
  11. Submit your essay: Once you are confident in the quality and content of your essay, submit it according to the college’s specified method, whether it’s through an online application portal or by mail. Make sure to submit it before the deadline.

Do’s and Don’ts of College Application Essay

Here are some pointers for writing a college application essay that effectively conveys your personality while also helping you stand out from the thousands of other applicants.

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Do’s of College Application Essay

  • Present yourself in a way that goes beyond grades, recommendations, and test results. Consider what shaped your personality—perhaps a special relationship in your life, your most meaningful extracurricular activity, or a class or idea that changed the way you think. They want to know what makes you tick, how you might fit into their community, and how your unique qualities and experiences would contribute to their vibrant and interesting campus.
  • Make sure that your essay accurately represents you. Consider whether you are the only person who could have written this essay. Or could it have been written by anyone else in my senior class?
  • Create a narrative about yourself that has a beginning, middle, and end. Hook the reader with an intriguing opening paragraph—surprise them, teach them something they didn’t know, or share something vulnerable to pique their interest and make them want to read more. Finish with a strong conclusion that ties back to your opening or provides a compelling conclusion to your story.
  • Ask someone to proofread or provide feedback on your essay, but make sure it is written in your own voice and style. It will not serve you well to have someone else write your essay!
  • Maintain the required — or suggested — length. It is usually around 650 words. This demonstrates your ability to follow instructions. Furthermore, good writers can stick to a word limit while still conveying their message.
  • Pay close attention to the formatting. If you write your essay in a word processing programme (such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs) to use spellcheck or other features, make sure to double-check it after copying and pasting it into the application. Because different combinations of word processing and web browsers can cause errors, some of the original formatting may be lost.

Don’ts of College Application Essay

  • Avoid writing about anything fake, phoney, or outrageous.
  1. Humour and creativity can be effective when used in moderation. Remember that you don’t know your reader’s sense of humour, which may or may not be the same as yours.
  2. Don’t be controversial or sensational for the sake of being controversial or sensational; however, it’s acceptable to take a risk if you’re sharing a unique point of view or a particularly strong conviction that you hold dear.
  3. You’re not drafting a legal brief for the Supreme Court or attempting to persuade an audience to support your point of view. Instead, you’re attempting to introduce yourself to the admissions committee.
  • Avoid using words that are not part of your everyday vocabulary. Be yourself once more.
  • Unless you’re using your college admissions essay to expand on an activity or academic opportunity that was especially meaningful to you, don’t repeat information available in other parts of your application.
  • Avoid rehashing your resume or writing about your entire life. It is unnecessary to list every award and semester you made the honour roll, but sharing how you felt when a beloved yet demanding English teacher told you that you were his best student has more potential.

When colleges have to choose between applicants with similar qualifications, a powerful, well-written essay can make a difference and elevate an applicant in the eyes of an admission committee.

Students can also use the essay to demonstrate that they have carefully considered why they are a good fit for the college to which they are applying. They can demonstrate their dedication to learning as well as their eagerness to contribute to the college community.


How do you start off a college essay?

Begin with an attention-getter. The “hook” or “grabber” sentence in your essay should be the first sentence. This sentence “hooks” or “grabs” readers’ attention, causing them to want to read more. This first sentence should provide rich details, pique the reader’s interest, or otherwise stand out from the rest of the paragraph.

What should I write about for my college essay?

Even a seemingly cliched topic, such as a book you read, a friendship you formed, or a memorable moment with your family, can make for an excellent essay topic that demonstrates your communication skills as well as the personal qualities that colleges seek.

Is a 500-word college essay good?

In general, 500 words or less is a good length for a college essay. In fact, it’s a fairly standard word limit length. (For the record, that’s about a page and a half double-spaced.)

If you want to get help writing your SOP, you can contact our Leverage Edu specialists to assist you with the same. Call us immediately at 1800 57 2000 for a free 30-minute counselling session.

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