How to Write a Great College Essay: What Colleges Really Want

Though many deadlines for college admissions have passed, some places at a lot of great schools still remain to be claimed. Additionally, for those who plan on applying for spring admission to a program, there is still plenty of time left to write a stellar admissions essay. But figuring out how to write a great college essay can be tricky if you don’t know what colleges really want.

Here are a few ways to catch and keep the attention of your college admissions reader:

Show Your Curiosity

Colleges have a stake in your education. Think about it. Who do you think they would rather admit to their school—someone who shows an appetite for learning, or someone who doesn’t seem to have any passion? An applicant that shows a willingness, even an eagerness, to learn also shows great potential for not only graduating but also for achieving a lot after graduation. That’s the kind of person that every school wants to be associated with. In a way, they want to claim at least partial responsibility for your success.

Write In a Way That Sounds Like You

You’re a teenager applying for college. Write like one. There’s no easier way to guarantee that your essay goes to the bottom of the pile than by sounding disingenuous or like you’re trying too hard. A few ways you can ensure that your essay sounds like you:

  1. Get rid of the thesaurus. If you don’t use a word in everyday speech, it won’t sound natural in your essay, and you might even use it to mean something that it doesn’t.
  2. Read your essay aloud. This is a great way to figure out what sounds good and what doesn’t. If it doesn’t roll off your tongue, then it doesn’t sound like you.
  3. Let someone you trust read your essay. Family and friends know you best, so ask them if what you’ve written sounds like you.

Besides, wouldn’t you rather get into your dream school by sounding like yourself than by sounding like someone else?

Choose a Topic You Actually Care About, Not Something You Think Sounds Good

Continuing with the theme of authenticity, one of the biggest mistakes that college applicants make is choosing a topic (if given a choice) that they don’t really care about. They might think that it sounds good or reflects well on them, but the lack of interest almost always shows in the writing itself.

Find Examples of a Good College Essay

There exist countless examples of successful college essays on the internet. To be a good writer, you also have to be a voracious reader, and the same holds true for college essayists. Find four or five essays that won their writers admission to multiple schools and think about what made them work so well.

Tell a Story

Your essay won’t do too well if it can’t hold your reader’s attention, and it is a well-known fact that stories are excellent for sparking interest. Personal memories or anecdotes that illustrate the main points you want to make are often an excellent way to open your essay. They show the reader who you are with concrete examples, which are easier to retain in the memory than abstract concepts.

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