How to Write a College Essay: The Complete Guide to Wow Admissions
How to Write a College Essay: The Complete Guide to Wow Admissions

If there exists a key to wowing admissions during the college application process, the college essay would be it. The essay is the only portion of your application where your unique voice and personality come into play. This is not your average essay. It's what will set you apart from every other applicant with similar academic achievements, so be ready to take advantage of the opportunity and make it the best essay you've ever written.

What is a College Essay?

Imagine if you could take your personality, all the things that make you the amazing, unique individual that you are, and shine a spotlight on the elements that are most integral to your truest self. Everything in that spotlight belongs in your college essay too.

A college essay is a personal statement that, if done correctly, captures the spirit of who you really are. College essays are part of the admission process for most colleges. No matter how impressive your academic record, test scores and recommendation letters may be, it is your personal essay that will deliver the ultimate wow factor to the college admissions committee.

Read more: How to Format a College Application Essay

How to Write a College Essay that Stands Out

Yours will certainly not be the only essay that the college admissions board reads, but if you stay true to yourself, it should be one of the more memorable ones. The first step in making your essay stand out is to stop doing what most other applicants do, which is worry too much about what the college wants to hear. The college essay is about you, not them. It is your opportunity to reveal those beautiful true colors of yours, and that will be nearly impossible to do if you are more focused on what others may want to hear than on what you actually want to say.

Dig deep when brainstorming a topic or personal experience to focus on. Give priority to experiences that had a profound impact on you or helped shape you in some meaningful way. Write about a personal challenge that you've overcome, something you're passionate about or an event that led to significant personal growth.

Maybe you have a unique talent or want to highlight a special memory from your past. Don’t shy away from opening up or injecting a dash of humor when appropriate, but avoid topics that are negative, offensive or involve illegal activities. Since it's hard to stand out when you do what everybody else is doing, you should also avoid common clichés like starting with a famous quote, writing about someone you admire or the ever-popular sports focus. If you write about what truly matters to you and what you are passionate about, you will succeed, because there is nobody else out there quite like you.

Read more: 10 Tips for Writing College Application Essays

How Many Words Should be in a College Essay?

The ideal length of your college essay is a marriage between any word count guidelines set by the college to which you are applying and the amount of space required to express yourself properly. Word count requirements vary from college to college, so check the specific guidelines and stay within them. Many essay experts argue that less is often more when it comes to college essays because the admissions board reads so many essays, but don’t be afraid to push your word count to its limit as long as you are filling that space with meaningful content. The consensus of what makes an ideal word count for a college essay seems to fall somewhere between 400 and 500 words.

Read more: How to Write a 250 Word College Essay

How to Write a College Essay Examples

Before you dive right into writing your college essay, spend a little time reading sample essays from students who have wowed admissions. Many colleges publish samples of personal essays that made favorable impressions on them. If you read through some of the many samples that are freely available online, you will find that the vast majority of them stand out because they effectively capture the personalities of the people who wrote them. Creativity, humor and evidence of self-awareness are common elements of essays that successfully wowed the admissions board at a variety of colleges.

In an effort to assist prospective students who are struggling with the college essay, Johns Hopkins University published a collection of essays that made a good impression on them. You can read these college admissions essays and generate some unique ideas of your own.

Read more: Sample College Admission Essay Questions