3 Tips for Writing Your College Application Essay

EssayWriting a college application essay can be hard. Below are a few tips for the high school student staring at a blank screen, trying to write the perfect college application essay. Hopefully you find guidance so you find time to rest your eyes!

I’ll start off by saying I always loved to write. Yet, when I sat down to write my college application essay, I felt lost. How was I going to put myself onto the page, in a way that would make a college want me, in only 500 words? I stared at my computer and blank word document. I typed a sentence or two but, dissatisfied, deleted them. My mind, like the page, remained blank.

I started thinking about all of the things that I did in high school. I danced everyday after school, performed in the school plays and musicals, and helped to organize prom and other school functions. Yet, whenever I tried writing about these activities the words seemed cliché – as if they could be from any overachieving high school student. What made me different from everyone else? In order to convey what distinguished me, I needed to change my mindset.

I started thinking about memories – memories not of major steppingstone moments but, rather, small, special moments. I jotted the ideas down on the page. I remembered a time when my scene partner forgot all of his lines in the middle of a performance before a large audience and I had to think on my feet to get him back on track. I thought about awesome vacations with my family canoeing on beautiful rivers and hiking in Yosemite National Park. Then it hit me. These small memories all had a part in making me the person that I am. Much of what I did in high school “looked good for college” and was valuable, but it was already in my application and not what made me, me. Rather, I needed to focus on a few  small memories and anecdotes to show the admissions officers who I truly am and create the perfect essay.

The essay that I finally wrote for my college applications was called “A Ride Through the Mist” and told a story about riding my bike through the sprinklers. In it I emphasized not the plethora of activities I participated in but, rather, how liberating it felt to let all of that go and feel like a kid again. The moment I wrote about only lasted five minutes, but it showed who I was and not the millions of things that I did.

So, to the high school student staring at a blank screen, trying to write the perfect college application essay, this is my advice to you:

  1. Brainstorm some of your favorite memories. Why have these stuck with you? What do they mean to you and what do they say about who you are? Do you see a theme running through them?
  2. When writing about these memories, describe them in as much detail as possible. What color was the shirt you were wearing? Was it raining outside? How did you feel? The more you remember the more it means to you.
  3. Most importantly, be honest with yourself. Don’t write about what you think the college admissions board wants to hear. Write about something you really feel strongly about. Your passion and true self will shine through. That is what they want to see.

Let these tips guide you in writing your college application essays. Good luck!

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Danielle Kipnis is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor based in Miami. She is a native New Yorker who then majored in English and Dance at Northwestern University. At Northwestern, she founded the dance company Steam Heat. She now continues to dance, choreograph, and satiate her love for teaching through SAT prep.