How to Write an Authentic College Application Essay


As a high school senior who has just graduated, I am relieved that the lengthy college application process is over. However, the anxiety over college admissions is probably just beginning for incoming seniors who are starting to reach for their desired schools. These tips on how to write a solid college application essay will hopefully alleviate some of that stress and prove that the writing process is actually not as painful as it seems to be. 

When you begin to brainstorm topics, it may help to perceive the personal essay as a genuine portrayal of your character rather than a persuasive essay meant to earn an acceptance letter. Writers’ characters usually shine through in a narrative that conveys a true story from their lives. Students often struggle to scour their memories for a particular moment that encapsulates their entire essence, but the story itself is not necessarily what matters; instead, the most important aspect of the essay is the way in which writers tell the story. For instance, an event as simple as an unexpected visit from a relative can become a vivid story that provides insight into your defining qualities. One way to sketch your character is to demonstrate how you interact with others or how you solve problems. Another way to show admissions officers who you are is to explain what piques your interest, whether it is a passion project, an extracurricular activity, or a social issue. Make sure that your chosen topic is faithful to both your true character and your memories. Readers can spot any exaggerations or fabrications, and if you receive an interview, your interviewer may ask you for details on your chosen essay topic. 

The unfortunate truth is that your first draft will probably fail to meet your expectations. In fact, it may be so awful that you will wonder how you even passed your junior English class (or that may have just been me). Grammar, eloquence, and length are not factors you should worry about in your first draft. Focus on pouring your thoughts onto the paper or computer screen, no matter how trivial your musings may seem. Remember that it is doable to trim down a long essay, but it is harder to add substantive content to a short piece of writing. Once you have written your draft, take a minute to celebrate your first milestone in the process, then read it over to figure out the overall impression you want to convey. It may be tempting to delete the entire draft and consider a different topic, but try to keep the same topic for at least a few drafts. This will not only help you make progress, but it will also allow you to fully develop your ideas before making the decision to change topics. 

After writing one or more drafts, ask a family member, teacher, or any other reader to look over your essay. Ask them to write a list of characteristics that define you solely based on your essay and not their prior knowledge of you. As you look over the list, ask yourself if these are the character traits you want to convey to the admissions officer, and determine whether the list is missing some of your innate traits that you wish to include. You can discuss ways to integrate these qualities into your essay with your reader and experiment with different techniques to see what works. Try changing the structure of your essay or providing more detail to transport the reader to the moment that is the focus of your writing. This experimentation will probably make the process feel less like a chore and more like an artistic endeavor. 

When you are polishing your final draft, comb through your piece to find mistakes or awkward wording. To cut down your essay to fit the word limit, follow a piece of advice from Stephen King’s book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft that King received from his teacher, John Gould: “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story…When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.” You should take out any information that strays from the narrative or tries to plant an artificial epiphany in the reader’s mind. Your reader will probably be grateful that your story has quick pacing and no fluff if you follow this rule. 
Have faith in yourself when starting the college application process, and remember that the essay is just an opportunity to show your individuality. If you want to learn 10 more easy tips to write a college application essay, watch this video: