The college essay is, first and foremost, a tool used by admission officers to determine whether a student can write well and make use of critical thinking skills. It is also one of the best ways in which a college can get to "better know" a student's personality. This helps admission officers determine if the school will be a good fit for the prospective student. That said, knowing how to respond to the variety of essay questions or prompts provided by different schools might well make or break a student's chances of attending the school of his choice.

Who Are You?

Many colleges prompt prospective students with variations on the phrase: "Tell us about yourself." The response offers candidates a chance to sketch a portrait of themselves that speaks more to their identities than what can be revealed via test scores and transcripts. However, because the prompt is open-ended, students might make the mistake of producing rambling messes of essays that pack in too much information. With prompts like these, it's best to narrow one's focus, telling, perhaps, the story of one's life while highlighting two or three important or revelatory experiences.

Why Us?

It is not uncommon for colleges to ask: "Why do you want to attend this school (as opposed to somewhere else)?" Writing these kind of essays can be tricky, because the results tend to show whether prospective students have done their research on the school, or if their reasons for applying are arbitrary.

While it's important for candidates to demonstrate genuine interest in the college, flattery will ultimately backfire, according to CollegeBoard. Students are more likely to gain acceptance if they can articulate the specific reasons the college they're writing about is the best fit for them, according to The Princeton Review.

Whom Do You Admire?

Some colleges will attempt to better understand the character of their prospective students by asking them to write about someone they admire. While many write about genuinely heroic and awe-inspiring people like Abraham Lincoln and Rosa Parks, it's best for candidates to stay away from the most obvious choices unless the connections they feel to those individuals are especially strong. Instead, prospective students should consider which person has had the greatest influence on their lives, the choices they've made or the people they want to become. The more specific the details in these essays, the better.

Where Are You Going?

Colleges that want to examine the ambitions of their prospective students will often ask: "What will you be doing 10 years from now?" When writing the essay response, candidates can be creative and even downright honest about dreams that seem somewhat lofty. However, the question should still be addressed in a serious manner; silliness is rarely appreciated, according to The Princeton Review.

What's Been Meaningful?

Perhaps one of the more difficult essay prompts comes when one is asked to "write about something meaningful." The problem is likely the abstract nature of the word "meaningful," and many students end up writing essays brimming with otherwise uninspired platitudes. Prospective students should, again, take time to examine the experiences that have been most valuable to them, even if those experiences seem, at first glance, mundane or common. The specifics of the essay will tell admissions officers when a student is being genuine, and that honesty and insight can make all the difference.