Writing tips and techniques for your college essay

Tip #1

Pose a question the reader wants answered

This doesn’t mean you should literally pose a question in your essay, but you should certainly keep the reader wondering, “How is that going to turn out?” “What does she mean by that?” “How is this all going to tie back together?” To accomplish that, begin your essay with a hook that encourages the reader to want to find out more. You might write, for example, “I sat down in the back of the crowded auditorium without a clue that I’d soon be standing center stage.” This establishes a forward momentum right off the bat that makes your reader want to continue reading.

Tip #2

Don't focus exclusively on the past

Admissions look for essays where student highlights their growth and introspection, so your essay should focus on you learning and growing as a person. Don’t just brag or describe. Your essay should have a moment of revelation: what did you learn from your experience? How did it make you the person you are today? Colleges don’t want to read essays that are set exclusively in the past. They want students who are actively looking at their future so make sure that if you’re describing a past event, you connect it to who you are now and how it will impact you as a person moving forward.

Tip #3

Open up

When recounting an event or experience, make sure to include how it made you feel, how it changed the way you think, and whether it had an impact on your priorities and/or values. Readers connect more when you reveal a vulnerability than when you tout a strength.

Tip #4

Experiment with the unexpected

If it makes sense within the context of your essay, give your story a twist or reveal something unexpected, i.e. something readers wouldn’t have necessarily thought you’d do, think, or care about.

Tip #5

Don't summarize

Avoid explicitly stating the point of your essay. It’s far less effective when you spell it out for someone. Delete every single “That’s when I realized,” “I learned,” and “The most important lesson was...” It's unnecessary, unconvincing, and takes the reader out of the moment. Instead, let them read between the lines and interpret the meaning of your story on their own. You shouldn’t have to say anything like, “And that’s how I learned to stand up for myself,” because the admission's officer should already know. Oftentimes when you watch a movie, an actor’s expression, sigh, or closing of a door speaks louder than words. Your actions can be small, but they should be loaded with meaning, i.e. that you’re taking a stand, making a decision, giving something up, or taking a risk. It can be simply deciding to get up in the morning or to smile. It just needs to represent that you’ve made a decision, change, or risk.