Do’s and Don’ts for Writing a Standout College Essay

For US college admissions the essay is one of the most important components of the application. Colleges are inundated with qualified candidates with great SAT, ACT, or SSAT scores. The essay can often be the deciding factor that gets you accepted or rejected. It is important to keep the following points in mind to ensure you produce the best essay possible.

DO: Make the essay about yourself

Colleges are reading your essay to learn about YOU. Too many students make the mistake of spending too much space in their essay describing SAT scores, classes, organizations, or other things that they are a part of. It is great to include these things, but do not waste space on detailed descriptions. The vast majority of the essay should teach the reader something about who you are.

DON’T: Turn the essay into a resume

US college admissions are “holistic” and the essay is the best opportunity you have to show who you are beyond just a GPA and SAT or ACT scores. Your essay needs to add value and the only way it does that is by teaching the admissions committee something they don’t already know from your transcript or resume.

DO: Support your essay with examples

The clearest way to teach colleges something about you is with an example. Examples allow you to paint a picture for the reader. Broad, unsubstantiated claims about yourself won’t impress admissions officers and will make your essay hollow.

DON’T: Use clichés

Over the years admissions officers have received countless essays about “life changing” service trips to third world countries or about how someone’s life was changed by volunteering at a local soup kitchen. Essays like this are common and come across as contrived. It’s important that your essay is genuine and stands out from others.

DO: Have a point

The college essay is short, generally around 650 words. In an essay of this size it’s important to have one overarching theme with a unifying narrative. There shouldn’t be excessive tangents or side-stories. Don’t try to jam as much information or stories as possible into that short space. Instead focus on developing one idea as much as possible. Writing an essay like this requires significant planning and forethought.

DON’T: Try to do it all on your own

When planning and editing your essay, you should have as many people as possible look it over and give you feedback. One of the best ways you can ensure you write the best essay possible is by hiring a college admissions consultant. Admissions consultants have written and edited hundreds of essays and they can help you identify the good and the bad. If you’re a younger student, it is recommended that you hire a private tutor early. English tutors, SAT tutors, and ACT tutors can help you develop strong writing skills long before you begin the college admissions process and even help your application standout by preparing you for advanced classes like IB English.