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How to Write a College Essay A Complete Guide & Examples

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How to Write a College Essay. A Complete Guide & Examples

The college essay can make or break your application. It’s your chance to provide personal context, communicate your values and qualities, and set yourself apart from other students.

A standout essay has a few key ingredients:

A unique, personal topic
A compelling, well-structured narrative
A clear, creative writing style
Evidence of self-reflection and insight

To achieve this, it’s crucial to give yourself enough time for brainstorming, writing, revision, and feedback.

In this comprehensive guide, we walk you through every step in the process of writing a college admissions essay https://www.awn.com/users/best-colleges-african-students – https://www.awn.com/users/best-colleges-african-students.

Why do you need a standout essay?

While most of your application lists your academic achievements, your college admissions essay is your opportunity to share who you are and why you’d be a good addition to the university.

Your college admissions essay accounts for about 25% of your application’s total weight一and may account for even more with some colleges making the SAT and ACT tests optional. The college admissions essay may be the deciding factor in your application, especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurriculars.

What do colleges look for in an essay?

Admissions officers want to understand your background, personality, and values to get a fuller picture of you beyond your test scores and grades. Here’s what colleges look for in an essay:

Demonstrated values and qualities
Vulnerability and authenticity
Self-reflection and insight
Creative, clear, and concise writing skills

Start organizing early

It’s a good idea to start organizing your college application timeline in the summer of your junior year to make your application process easier. This will give you ample time for essay brainstorming, writing, revision, and feedback.

While timelines will vary for each student, aim to spend at least 1–3 weeks brainstorming and writing your first draft and at least 2–4 weeks revising across multiple drafts. Remember to leave enough time for breaks in between each writing and editing stage.

Create an essay tracker sheet

If you’re applying to multiple schools, you will have to juggle writing several essays for each one. We recommend using an essay tracker spreadsheet to help you visualize and organize the following:

Deadlines and number of essays needed
Prompt overlap, allowing you to write one essay for similar prompts

You can build your own essay tracker using our free Google Sheets template.

Choose a unique topic

Ideally, you should start brainstorming college essay topics the summer before your senior year. Keep in mind that it’s easier to write a standout essay with a unique topic.

If you want to write about a common essay topic, such as a sports injury or volunteer work overseas, think carefully about how you can make it unique and personal. You’ll need to demonstrate deep insight and write your story in an original way to differentiate it from similar essays.

What makes a good topic?

Meaningful and personal to you
Uncommon or has an unusual angle
Reveals something different from the rest of your application

Brainstorming questions

You should do a comprehensive brainstorm before choosing your topic. Here are a few questions to get started:

What are your top five values? What lived experiences demonstrate these values?
What adjectives would your friends and family use to describe you?
What challenges or failures have you faced and overcome? What lessons did you learn from them?
What makes you different from your classmates?
What are some objects that represent your identity, your community, your relationships, your passions, or your goals?
Whom do you admire most? Why?
What three people have significantly impacted your life? How did they influence you?

How to identify your topic

Here are two strategies for identifying a topic that demonstrates your values:

Start with your qualities: First, identify positive qualities about yourself; then, brainstorm stories that demonstrate these qualities.
Start with a story: Brainstorm a list of memorable life moments; then, identify a value shown in each story.

Outline your essay

After choosing your topic, organize your ideas in an essay outline, which will help keep you focused while writing. Unlike a five-paragraph academic essay, there’s no set structure for a college admissions essay. You can take a more creative approach, using storytelling techniques to shape your essay.

Two common approaches are to structure your essay as a series of vignettes or as a single narrative.

Vignettes

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