The Ultimate Guide to College Essays
Maximizing Your College Admission Chances

Tips and Techniques on how to write a stand out college application essay

When each component of the college application is vital to admission, the college essay is undoubtedly an essential component. While grades and test scores are important, the essay is the only part of the application where the student maintains complete control. A well-crafted essay showcases a student’s personality, voice, and unique experiences, which can distinguish them from other applicants. Successful essays also give admissions officers insight into a student's writing ability, critical thinking, and creativity. In short, a strong college essay can make a difference in the admissions process and help students stand out in a crowded and competitive pool of applicants.

        When to begin writing your college application essay

        The rule of thumb is to start as early as possible. Ideally, you should start reflecting on your essays during junior year of high school. At the very latest, the process should start the summer before a student’s senior year. Essays require time to conceptualize, craft, and revise. It is impossible to write a strong application essay in a short period of time: edits and planning are required to craft an essay that truly showcases a student’s voice and personal strengths. 

        The essentials of a strong college application essay

        To create a compelling college application essay that stands out to admissions officers, make sure to include the following key components in your writing:

        A strong hook

        The first sentence should command the reader’s attention and get them to want to continue reading.

        A compelling story

        The essay should be narrative focused and tell a story that reflects the student’s personal growth and values.

        Personal reflection

        The essay should not be a description of events, but also divulge how events impacted a student and cause them to mature. Reflection is an important part of an essay as it demonstrates a student’s maturity and self-awareness.


        The essay should be sincere and honest, and match the student’s voice. Do not lie or exaggerate. A fabricated essay is easy to spot.

        Concrete details

        Show don’t tell. A strong essay contains specificity and paints a clear picture of the story it is trying to tell.

        Cohesive structure

        The essay should be well-organized and possess a logical flow.

        Effective conclusion

        The essay should conclude in a way that ties the main ideas of the essay together and leaves a lasting impression on the reader. 

        Analyzing past successful college application essays

        Among past students, some successful examples include a touching narrative of how an estranged relationship with a family member was repaired, and a heartwarming story on how a cow emoji signified the student’s growth in self-confidence. A successful college essay was able to gain a student admission to top tier universities despite a weaker academic and extracurricular profile. In contrast, weak essays can undermine a strong academic and extracurricular profile as well.

        Guide to drafting your college application essay

        When drafting an essay, start with the below 4 steps.

        Step 1: Understand the Prompt

        The first step is to review and understand the prompt. Carefully read the prompt, and make sure you know what the prompt is asking. The essay should not be off-topic or unfocused.

        Read more about our UC Essay Prompts Explained and check out our UC Writing Prompt series where we will be dissecting each of the UC essay prompts in depth, providing examples, structure, and tips on how you can make your application stand out.

        Writing UC Prompt 1 Tips

        Leadership Experience Essay

        Don’t limit yourself to just thinking about your formal positions. Instead, consider specific moments in your life when you have demonstrated exceptional leadership and have changed for the better because of it...

        Writing UC Prompt 2 Tips

        Your Creative Side Essay

        Whatever it may be, this prompt isn’t just asking you to simply describe the creative activity that you do, but rather they are looking for how your thought process works in these moments and how that can be applied to future activities...

        Writing UC Prompt 3 Tips

        Greatest Talent Essay

        “What’s something you’re passionate about and how have you realized and developed that passion?”

        Writing UC Prompt 4 Tips

        Educational Experience Essay

        A good way to start brainstorming is to write down all the moments in your life where you can vividly remember learning something meaningful or feeling intellectually stimulated...

        Writing UC Prompt 5 Tips

        Significant Challenge Essay

        Your goal is to make the admissions officers feel the emotions that you felt while dealing with these struggles, whether they be frustration, grief, loss, or fear. If you convey this properly, you’ll be able to help your readers understand the accomplishment of overcoming these challenges...

        Writing UC Prompt 6 Tips

        Favorite Subject Essay

        You must provide specific examples that show that you - and only you - have this unique path to why you love this subject...

        Writing UC Prompt 7 Tips

        Improving Your Community Essay

        It’s important to also explain how your impact on this community affected you. What did you learn from the experience, and how will you apply that to the future?

        Writing UC Prompt 8 Tips

        How Do You Stand Out Essay

        The key to writing UC Prompt 8 is picking one specific example that demonstrates a vital part of who you are. ..

        Step 2: Brainstorm Ideas

        Next, brainstorm ideas for your essay. Think about your experiences, values, and goals. In particular, think about turning points in your life where you experienced change or growth. Often, it is good to seek guidance from others on how to curate your ideas.

        Step 3: Write the Essay

        After settling on an idea, it’s time to write the essay. Don’t worry about the essay being perfect - simply get your ideas on paper.

        Step 4: Revise the Essay

        Revision is the key component to writing a strong essay. Most essays undergo multiple revisions.

        Top 6 mistakes to avoid in your college application essay

        When writing college essays, avoid these common college essay mistakes to boost your college admission chances:


        1. Clichés

          Don’t use overused phrases and clichés. The essay will then seem generic.

        2. Bragging

          While it is good to highlight personal achievements, bragging can come across as arrogant and unappealing.

        3. Controversial topics

          Avoid controversial topics such as religion or politics, as it can offend the reader or make them uncomfortable.

        4. Grammatical errors

          Poor grammar, spelling, and punctuation makes the writer seem careless or sloppy.

        5. Rambling or off-topic writing

          Answer the prompt. Do not include irrelevant details.

        6. Lack of self-reflection

          Essays should not just be a list of events. Failure to include personal reflection can make an essay seem superficial and unengaging.

        By avoiding these mistakes, students can create a polished and compelling essay that will impress admissions officers and increase their chances of getting accepted into their dream school. Overall, a successful college essay should be a story that is authentic, personal, and insightful. 

        Conclusions & additional resources

        The college application process can be a daunting experience. At times, you may find yourself overwhelmed and not even now where and how to start with writing your college essay. You're not alone in feeling this way, in fact, a 2022 survey for college applications shows that 74% of more than 14,000 students and parents expressed that they feel high stress levels about their applications. You don't have to go through this stressful process alone. Our team of experts and experienced mentors can help make the writing experience as seamless and stress-free as possible. From brainstorming ideas to editing your final draft, we will be there to provide personalized guidance and feedback to help you create that stand out essay that accurately represents who you are and what you offer.

        Writing an excellent college essay takes time and effort, but it's worth it. If you need more help with writing your college essay, there are many resources available to you. Talk to your school counselor, English teacher, or a writing tutor for feedback and support.

        In particular, a personal guidance counselor will be helpful in crafting a successful essay. 
        Wishing you the best of luck! We hope this article was useful and will help you craft that standout college essay and achieve your academic dreams.


        The Ultimate Guide to College Essays
        7EDU Impact Academy 10 March, 2023
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