Acing your College Application Essay: 5 Expert Tips to Make it Stand Out from the Rest

09/09/202111 minute read
Acing your College Application Essay: 5 Expert Tips to Make it Stand Out from the Rest

The college essay is one of the most critical parts of the application process. Applicants typically spend countless hours deciding what to write, outlining, drafting, writing, and editing their essays. While much of the college application is straightforward, the essay is one of the only places students can tell admissions officers about their unique and exciting attributes, their goals, and what they plan to do with their college education. While the essay writing process might be intimidating, we’re here to help break down the process and give you expert tips on making your essay stand out from the rest.

What is a College Application Essay?

A college application essay, sometimes called a personal statement, is part of the college application package. Most colleges and universities use the essay as a way to get to know applicants. Many colleges have unique essay requirements, often requiring one or more essays, while others make their essays optional or supplementary. Depending on the college, essays range from specific to open-ended.

Common Application Essay Prompts

The Common Application, one of the most universal college applications for undergraduate admissions, has its own general admissions essay. Applicants are given six writing prompts and must choose one for their essay. These essays allow students to tell colleges anything unique or interesting about themselves. Additionally, many institutions also ask for their own supplemental essays.

Read more about the 2020-2021 Common App Essay Prompts.

Supplemental Essays

If you’re planning on applying to the University of Chicago, be prepared for some exciting essay prompts. Here’s one of the supplemental essay options for the 2021-2022 application: “What if the moon were made of cheese? Or Neptune made of soap? Pick a celestial object, reimagine its material composition, and explore the implications. Feel free to explore the realms of physics, philosophy, fantasy…the sky is the limit!”

UCAS Personal Statement

Interested in applying to a UK university? You’ll submit a personal statement in the application sent to UCAS that includes what you hope to achieve in a UK university course, your hopes for the future, and what you’re applying to that particular university.

Read more about How to Write a UCAS Personal Statement: Top Tips From a Crimson Expert.

Crimson Education is the world’s leading college admissions consulting company. We provide fast and affordable professional essay review services. Our trusted admissions experts can help your essay stand out from the rest!

Why Do You Need to Write a College Application Essay?

Why Do You Need to Write a College Application Essay?

Unlike your grades or test scores, the college essay is one of the only places where your personality and voice radiate. While concise writing skills show that you can effectively answer a prompt, your response to the prompt highlights your unique character.

“The essays are important in part because this is a student’s chance to really speak directly to the admissions office”

- Adam Sapp, Assistant Vice President and Director of Admissions at Pomona College

How to Write a College Application Essay

How to write a college application essay

It’s daunting to sit down and write a college application essay. You’ve probably stared at a blank screen, wondering where to even begin.

Before you start writing:

  1. Review the application requirements, prompts, and supplemental prompts from every university you’re considering attending.
  2. Think about each topic and how it might relate to your background or a specific experience in your life.
  3. Rather than trying to fit your entire life story into the essay, consider a period, simple event, or piece of your childhood that gives the reader thoughtful insight into who you are as a person.

If you still can’t decide on an angle, consider asking others what they think makes you stand out or what’s unique about your personality or interests. That might spark a new idea or, at a minimum, get you thinking about the topics with a fresh perspective.

How to Format Your College Application Essay

There’s no right or wrong way to format your college application essay. You’ve written plenty of papers over the years. Think about your writing process. How did you start those essays? Did you create an outline or just start writing? Did you start with a hook or write it at the end?

How to Start Writing Your College Essay

If you’re still unsure how to start writing your college essay, just start writing. Don’t think, just write. It doesn’t even have to be the first draft. You’re just dumping ideas on a page, hoping a brilliant thought will jump off. Some of the best work starts this way!

How Long Should a College Essay Be?

The Common App essay needs to be between 250-650 words. Supplemental essays vary by college. Check each college’s requirements before getting started.

Download our free eBook on how to craft a winning college application essay.

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What Do Colleges Look for in a College Application Essay?

  1. Hard Work and Drive: Colleges want to see that you can work hard. It’s ok to talk about a time you failed, got back up, and kept going. It shows you’re not afraid of adversity, and you can learn from mistakes. 
  2. Curiosity about the World: Admissions officers want to see you’re not only academically curious but also curious about the world around you. Maybe you’re always looking for ways to improve a system or tinkering with a new invention. They want to see your love of learning in and out of the classroom. 
  3. Positive Contribution to Society: Have you done something that makes the world a better place? Maybe you’ve organized natural disaster clean-up or raised money to help underprivileged children? Admissions officers want to see that you’re looking beyond yourself and improving the world around you. 

The Essay That Got Me Into Harvard

5 Expert Tips to Make Your College Application Essay Stand Out from the Rest

how to make your college application essay standout

1. Don’t Be Afraid of a Common Topic

College essays have been around for decades. Choosing a unique topic is not only intimidating but extremely difficult. Instead of selecting a unique topic, pick one that excites you. As you read a topic, are you forming the essay in your head? Does a specific experience or hobby come to mind? Then, that’s your topic! Many applicants who think they have to choose a unique topic will miss the opportunity to showcase how they think and what they value because they are trying to write too “outside the box.” Your essay should be thoughtful and tell the reader more about YOU.

2. Use Your Authentic Voice

Use an authentic, conversational voice in your college application essay rather than using the academic voice you used on many of your high school papers. Don’t try to impress the admissions officers with big words and avoid derogatory words and cliche phrases. Be you. That’s what they want to read.

3. Word Count Matters, But It’s Not All that Matters

Some applicants feel like they need to use every word available. Others struggle to meet the minimum word count requirements. Most experts agree that the best college essays are about 500 words. If you’re close to that number and satisfied with your essay, stop writing. Admissions officers can tell if you’re adding fluff to fill space or giving minimal effort to your essay.

4. Edit and Edit Again

Every word counts when you only have 250-600 words. It’s important to be concise, coherent, and honest in your writing. That doesn’t always happen in the first draft. After you write the first draft, check and make sure your writing is showing, not telling. Are you giving examples instead of stating facts? Once you’re confident with your essay, try to find an expert to edit it. Ask a teacher, school counselor, or someone with an advanced degree to review the piece. Have someone check it first for content. They should make sure the essay doesn’t confuse them and they don’t have questions. Second, have someone edit it for spelling, grammar, style, and punctuation. Remember, there is a point where too much editing could hurt your essay. If edits remove your voice from the essay, you’ve edited too much!

5. Don’t Forget about the Supplemental Essays

Spend time perfecting your personal statement but not at the expense of the supplemental essays. If you’re applying to a highly selective college, you’re probably going to be writing at least one more essay. All of your essays help admissions officers see the real you. Don’t make the mistake of spending so much time on one that the others suffer.

Feel confident submitting your college application essay by getting it reviewed by a professional admissions expert.

Don't Do These 3 Things in your College Essay

1. Repeat information

You’ve already told admissions officers about your grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, and awards. Give them new information. Tell them something they don’t already know. They want to see what kind of student you will be and how you will contribute to their campus community.

2. Lose your audience with a dull first sentence

If you start your essay by explaining what it will be about, you’ve already lost your audience. The first sentence is the best opportunity to grab the reader’s attention. Jump right in! They’ll be excited to be part of the journey.

3. Be perfect

The real you isn’t perfect, so why would the person in your essay be perfect? Your essay is about a complicated person who makes mistakes and overcomes adversity. Colleges want to see authentic, flawed, hopeful, and determined YOU!

College Essay Examples

Ready to get started on your college application essay? Download our new How to write the perfect Personal Statement eBook.

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Crimson offers a wide range of educational support services that will help you tailor your education and application. Through our admissions support program, we walk with you through every part of the application process, including essay review, and help you stand out from the crowd!