Notice how I didn’t say “the” essay, but “your” essay. This was quite purposeful, because writing a college application essay is all about you. The essay is the purest reflection of yourself that you put on your application; it is what brings your personality to life and can truly make or break your application.

Once you’ve got the prompts for your essay, whether they are the Common Application essay prompts or supplemental essay prompts, read them. I don’t just mean skim them, but read, analyze, contemplate, and internalize the prompts. Understanding what the prompt means and what it wants you to write is the first step to writing a great essay.

After reading the prompts, try to brainstorm how you would respond to each one. Think of simple ideas; they don’t need to be fully formed, just sort of loose thoughts. And above all, make sure to WRITE THEM DOWN (So many times I’ve gotten ideas and then forgotten them because I didn’t scribble them somewhere). Connect with the prompts through your ideas, really see if any of them inspire you.

The prompts for the Common Application are pretty generic and can seem uninspiring. If the prompts cannot get you started with ideas, do some of introspection. Think about what you want admissions counselors to think of you; what aspects of who you are and how you think do you want to show off? The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to have an interesting tale or story to catch an admissions reader’s interest. Your goal is to simply express who you are through any means possible. You can write about cats for all they care, but as long as you do it in your own “voice”, that is all that matters. The content of the essay (the plot, characters, narration) as well as the style and structure (formal and informal tone, humor, wittiness, etc.) both show the reader who you are and why you think and act the way you do. This essay is all yours, so take control of it.

Once you have all of your ideas, go through them and find the ones that you want to write more about. You can then flesh them out and see how things go as you begin to make your first draft.

Some pro tips:

  • Make drafts and/or additional different essays regarding different ideas. You should spend time editing your essay or even writing new ones till you feel good about it. Make TONS of drafts.
  • Have other people give you feedback and adjust your essays if you feel like you need to according to the responses you get. DO NOT let someone else ideas and edits alter your voice!
  • Avoid clichés, stereotypes, and the common essay topics. These include the death of a relative, the sob story, the unexpected lesson story, the “went on a trip to Africa” eye-opening story, the sports success story, the feel good life lesson story, and a few others. Try to make your story unique and best reflect you.

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