Essay Writing Tips

General Advice

  • The essay is your chance to show an admissions committee that you are more than your grade point average, test scores, and lists of activities—to reveal the individual behind the statistics.
  • Your essay should tell readers something about you that they wouldn’t learn from the rest of your application.
  • Your essay should leave readers feeling that you would be an asset to their school—that you are a person they would like to spend the next four years with.

Choosing a Topic

  • Instead of asking yourself “What are colleges looking for?” ask yourself “What do I have to say?”
  • Remember that you should be the main focus of your essay. Whatever topic you choose, your essay must shed some light on the kind of person you are now.
  • You do not have to write about a big or momentous topic. The best essays often focus on a small moment in time.

High School English Habits to Avoid

  • Do not write a traditional five paragraph essay with a formal introduction and conclusion. You are telling a story, so you should use a narrative style.
  • Do not try to sound impressive or scholarly. Write in the informal tone of voice you would use in a conversation with a favorite teacher.
  • Do not work from a formal outline. Writers discover what they are trying to say through the process of drafting and revising, which means that you cannot make decisions about organization until you have written a rough draft.

Tips for Writing a Strong Essay

  • Open with a “hook” that grabs the reader’s attention.
  • Use an organization that creates drama and suspense.
  • Include examples that make your essay come alive for readers.
  • Incorporate vivid sensory details.
  • Use dialogue for effect
  • Develop a voice that is distinctively yours.
  • Choose the plain word you know rather than the fancy word you found in a thesaurus.
  • Use strong verbs rather than flowery adjectives.
  • Avoid stilted transitional phrases such as “firstly,” “lastly,” and “thus.”
  • Include an insight about yourself or your world.
  • Remember that the strongest essays often have a narrow focus.
  • Allow time for multiple drafts; a story only comes alive through revision.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Revising

  • What is the main point or organizing idea of my essay? (Try stating it in a sentence or two.)
  • Does this essay show readers something about me now?
  • Could someone else have written about this topic in exactly the same way?