How to Write a Great College Essay

Your college admissions essay is a key component of your college application. Unlike standardized test scores and grades, your essay gives your application a more human element. The power of a well-crafted college essay is not to be discounted, so use it to let your personality and background shine through. Here’s how to write a great college essay:

To write a great college essay, begin with brainstorming

Before drafting any portion of your essay, commit your ideas to paper. Jot down all the topics that come to mind for a potential essay—even those that may seem a bit outlandish. 

Next, let some time pass (at least 24 hours) before you revisit your list of ideas. With a fresh set of eyes, add more topics or eliminate others until, over time, you are left with the idea that will become your essay.  

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To write a great college essay, compose a strong opening

The opening of your college essay is critical. You must captivate your reader from the very start, perhaps through suspense, humor, or the like. The first few lines of your essay are the hook that determine whether your reader will continue on feeling bored or intrigued. 

To write a great college essay, aim to be different

The astounding volume of applications received by colleges has made it necessary for admissions counselors to get through many essays in a single day. If you want your essay to stand out amongst the vast competition, you must be different. Share a story that no one else could have told or discuss a random yet fascinating topic no other person has chosen. Always, however, steer clear of controversial or potentially offensive themes.  

To write a great college essay, be genuine

If you want your college essay to have compelling emotion, you must be genuine. Avoid making up stories—real life is more interesting than fiction. When you retell true events you lived through, your writing naturally reflects the feelings you experienced in each moment.   

To write a great college essay, spice up your vocabulary

A handful of advanced vocabulary words can give your essay an impressive touch. You do not need to add a three-syllable word to each line to produce such an effect; two or three well-used words in total is enough. If you have the perfect opportunity to include a word like “visceral” in your essay, seize it.

On the other hand, misused words, malapropisms, and typos can have a jarring effect on your reader. Before including an uncommon word in your essay, make sure to verify its definition and spelling. 

To write a great college essay, mind your punctuation

Punctuation is sometimes an overlooked factor in essay writing. And though it may not be the most important factor, it is assumed that a high school senior knows the basic rules of punctuation use. Proper punctuation may not earn you extra points, but improper punctuation can certainly cost you points. 

Give yourself a refresher course on how to use commas and periods, the most commonly used punctuation marks. Before including a less common mark such as a semicolon or an em dash, make sure you understand the rules that govern its use. 

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To write a great college essay, get feedback

Show your essay to at least two trusted people before you submit the final version. Ask for honest feedback, and be open to their suggestions. Rather than getting defensive, try to understand the reasons behind their criticisms. 

Be aware that you may need to revise your essay several times, but this is completely normal. Be patient, positive, and open to improvement. 

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Your essay is an essential component of your college application. To succeed on it, think of it as a process.  


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