How to Write a college application essay

Written By Corinna Mansfield

Don’t worry about your college application essay – you’ve got this! Writing a college application essay can be a daunting task. Have no fear — we are here to help! Congratulations! You’ve made it through secondary school! The hard part is over. Writing your college application essay doesn’t need to be a source of stress for you. Many students have come to me with questions about how to get started or how to get over their writer’s block.
Here are some helpful tips and guidelines to get you through these hurdles:


The first thing you need to do is to brainstorm about yourself. Reflect on your life. What is the best book you’ve ever read? Why did you like it so much? What places in the world hold meaningful importance for you? Why are you applying to this school and why are you a good fit for this institution? What life-changing experiences have you had? What are some personal challenges you’ve overcome and how did you do that? You can use helpful prewriting tools such mind maps, lists, and outlines to start taking stock of skills and experiences. Make an inventory of that makes you unique.


Once you have an inventory, you can start to ask yourself some important questions. College admissions professionals will be looking not only for your narrative, but also for your insights about yourself. Use sensory descriptions to show how those experiences made you feel. What did you see, smell, taste, touch? Be sure to do some real research about the school allow that to come out in your writing.


Remember that you are not just telling a story about your life to a stranger, you are marketing yourself to an institution. With this in mind, it might be helpful to brand yourself with a tagline at the beginning of your essay. This gives an admissions professional an instant understanding of who you are and can spark interest for further reading. For example and essay that starts with a tagline such as “Internationally minded and future focused” lets your readers know that you are worldly and possibly well traveled, as well as a person who is hopeful about their future. Keep your background information short. It is good to let people know some things about your personal history, but only if they are relevant to the prompt you are answering, or if they provide insight into your personal motivations for your answer. Be sure to be gracious and thoughtful in your closing statements. If attending this institution is particularly important to you, have you made that clear?


Choose your words carefully. Be sure to include humour only where appropriate and stay away from sounding too conversational. It’s fine to speak about yourself in the first person, however, you must remember that this is a college essay, not a diary entry.

Time Management

Most of the students who come to me have procrastinated and waited until the last minute for a variety of reasons. The importance of time management should not be underestimated. Start writing early, this way you can write, rewrite and write again as needed. Having more time also gives you the chance to set your essay aside for a day or two and then come back to it with a fresh perspective.

 Always refer back to the prompt

Students are often tempted to recycle some of their writing from other applications. This is something you should avoid. Essay prompts should be treated as unique questions which deserve unique answers. Crafting your answer for each application will help you write thoughtfully with authentic reflection. Keep in mind that this is an opportunity to show how you are personally aligned with this institution or programme. Think about how the prompt you have been given has been crafted. What is it that they are trying to find out about you? How will you show with your writing that you fully understanding the question?

 Get someone else to read or listen to your essay

It is best to ask someone with experience. Teachers, school counsellors, tutors, or someone who has gone through the application process can offer helpful advice and insight. They have a different perspective than you, and they may be able to offer changes or ideas you may never have thought of on your own. Reading your essay aloud and even recording it and playing it back to yourself is also recommended. This is a good way to hear how your “writing voice” sounds. It’s also a good way to catch any grammatical or syntactical errors.

And finally…so what?

This is a question that I always ask my students. Asking the “so what?” question after every paragraph will help you to develop more reflective and critically analytical insights to add to your writing.


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