How To Write The Best College Essay EVER!

high school student writes her college essayAfter 20 years of teaching kids to tackle the beast of the college essay, here are my tips for how you can write a terrific one in no time.

First, read the prompt.  Really.  Read it, so you know what you’re being asked to do, and then choose one prompt if the college (like the Common App) gives you a choice.

Then, and here’s the most important part: Have something to say.  Sounds simple, but it’s so critical.  You need to have a point, a message, an epiphany or an ah-ha moment–some lesson for the reader.  Soooo, what do you want to say?  Identifying this can take the most time but you must do so before you even think about starting to write.  If you try to write without a clear point, every sentence just limps along as if it had one injured leg.  If you *do* have a clear point in mind, then writing can come so easily it’s like pouring water from a glass, or so fast it feels like vomiting on the page.  That’s when it’s really great (usually).

Once you have a point that you want to make or share, then outline the essay. Think about how to start, develop and end it. You have a few choices for this but I’ll give you the main ones:

A. You can organize it chronologically.  First, this happened, then this, and now I’m… (and you might even want to add about in the future).

B. You can also start in the middle of the action (with you surrounded by turkeys at the food basket drive, or covered in paint at your elderly neighbor’s house, etc etc), and then flashback to when it all started and how, and then tell how it developed and got you to today, and finally where it’s taking you tomorrow. Always mention what you’ve learned.

This needs to be ONE clear story.  College admissions folks like to read a story and they don’t like to read your opinions and philosophies and beliefs. If there’s no plot to your essay, and no building action, then start over (and start with an outline).  It is also usually best if you are the main character in this essay since they are trying to get to know you, not your Dad or Grandma, etc.

Most kids know by now that you should avoid sports essays because they are ALL sound the same and if I have to read one more *I* might get sick.  Avoid horse essays because non-horse lovers just don’t feel it. Avoid mission trip essays because it’s so been done. Failing calculus has also been done, and showing how you handled your first B or D isn’t really exciting for the reader.

Awesome topics include: your passion, something you love to learn about, something you absolutely love to do (besides video games because those just make you look so so so bad), something you read, something that really made you change the way you think, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, taking care of others, and anything that shows you excited or compassionate.  One of my favorite topics of all time are you standing up for someone (just don’t come across as mean or fight-y).

If you stick to this path you should be safe.  For more tips, and for sample essays, see the CollegeMapper Essays page, and if you have questions, post them in our Forum.

You can do this, kid!  Millions of your peers survive it every single year, and I promise, you will, too.

Yay, college!


One Response

  1. Dear Susanna,
    I heard about you that that you are the best English teacher ever. Am wanting advise from you since am a just graduated student who is considering grad school. My Bachelor’s degree was in international relations and now wanting to pursue a degree in international development and public service. Can you please tell me how to write a scholarship winning essay? Am considering Chevening Scholarship in the UK. Am a south Sudanese by nationality and a graduate of Seattle Pacific University, Washington, USA.

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