Writing the Application Essay

One of the Most Important Steps to Getting into College

College hopefuls face a series of tests on the path toward higher education.  Finances and credit are tested by budgeting challenges and financial aid pursuits.  Admission to colleges and specific university programs requires aptitude and proficiency testing.  SAT and ACT placement exams prove daunting for determined students with their sights set high on prestigious academic programs.  And right when they are appreciated least, university admissions applications test students’ writing abilities with essay questions designed to expose candidates’ character and commitment.  If this sounds like a nightmare to you, then you might want to review your spelling, grammar, punctuation, and basic rules of sentence structure.

Essay topics fall across a broad range of subjects that are not always what you’d expect from college admissions offices.  Current events are fair game, as well as standard queries about education and life-changing experiences, but creative queries challenge applicants’ ability to think on their feet.  Pop culture finds its way into some schools’ essay questions, as well as philosophy and applied logic.  Be prepared for whatever your admissions office throws at you – study these useful tips.writing the college application essay

Brand Yourself

Everyone is capable of filling- in the blanks on a college application, but college admissions essay questions pose unique challenges.  The first step to essay success is to embrace the requirement as an opportunity to share details about yourself, rather than as a chore or obligation.  Factual data only goes so far in explaining your academic past and plans for the future, so use the essay portion of your application to illustrate your goals and strengths.

The tone of your college entrance essay should be genuine and uniquely your own, but your approach must remain academic and professional.  Play to your abilities, without being overly self-promotional.  Avoid protracted references to your past accomplishments and accolades: Focus instead on providing thoughtful and relevant responses to the questions asked.  A certain glimpse of your particular humanity is acceptable, but too casual a tone undermines the competent and studious image you are striving to project with your essay.

Crafting a memorable image for essay readers establishes your individual brand, and makes it easier for college administrators to see your value as a student.

Be Original

Some colleges generously allow students to select their own admissions essay question subject areas.  Selecting an Essay Topic can have distinct advantages over responding to a canned question.  If you have a say in the topics you’ll tackle, choose comfortable subject matter that serves your strengths as a writer and student.

By design, entrance essays place your intellect on display for college admissions officials.  Use the opportunity  to craft a coherent essay that draws readers in and supports your ideas with logical points.  By controlling the tone of the essay, you have the ability to paint whatever picture you want your reader to see. Use persuasive writing to make your essay case, but remember you are also selling yourself.  Weave in genuine glimpses into your thought process throughout the article, so that readers walk away with a sense for your originality.

Proofreading, Rewriting, and Editing

Good pieces of writing don’t come easily.  Spelling mistakes, bad sentence structure and garbled points of view stick out prominently in academic papers. Grammar and punctuation are not improvisational areas when writing admissions essays. Treat your essay like an employment application for the job of professional student, by putting your best foot forward in all areas that might come under scrutiny of college admissions offices.

Always spell-check your submissions and avoid slang or overly casual language.  For help crafting a smoothly flowing piece that is structurally sound, refer to a reputable style guide, such as the MLA Style Manual or the Chicago Manual of Style; two widely recognized instructional sources.

Rewrite and revise, and then enlist proofreaders whose writing abilities and opinions you respect.  A fresh perspective from reviewers who are less familiar with the material helps you determine whether your points are coming through clearly to your readers.

Colleges request essays of various lengths, so remain mindful of what your parameters are.  Admissions officials do not view excessively long and wordy submissions favorably.  Commonly, essays are required to contain a minimum of 250 words.  If this is your assignment, the piece should probably run around 500 words or less.  If you are in the eight and nine hundreds, you’ve gone too far and need to do some editing.  In the end, your essay should be a concise composition that contains meaningful information about the topic at hand.


It almost goes without saying: The content of your essay must be 100% original – without exception.  There is no “right” answer to your college admissions essay question, so “borrowing” or copying someone else’s work doesn’t make sense.  Essay topics are designed to stimulate thoughtful and revealing responses, so that school officials can determine how you fit in on their campuses.

There is no better and quicker way to get rejected from the college application process than to use material in your essay that has been borrowed without permission or improperly cited. It’s plagiarism, and makes a strong negative statement about the character of the individual who cannot craft a genuine essay without cheating.

Some colleges pay search companies to look for plagiarism. Well known plagiarism prevention services used by academic institutions include TurnItInBot and Copyscape, which compare submitted student content with existing work.  Don’t smudge your reputation at the dawn of your college career by stealing someone else’s work – duplicate content stands out, and will be detected.

Paid Services

Paid services exist that promise an “original” essay for $10. Obviously, the effort put forth for ten bucks is not one you want to share with college admissions officials.  The whole point of the essay process is to promote candor and add humanity to your academic transcript.  Don’t squander the opportunity with a sub-par cookie-cutter paper that frustrate readers, or makes no impression at all.

However, professional editing services might be of value to students applying for competitive programs.  Education is highly specialized, so being an expert in your field does not necessarily mean you are also a great writer.  If composition is not your strength, contract with a professional editor to hone your drafts.  Well-conceived points that are not articulated properly undermine your college admissions essay, so editing services are worthy investments toward college acceptance.