How to write a college entrance essay

Sadie Harper owner of Southern Ambition

In a shift to attract more students and make higher education more accessible, colleges today are waiving standardized test scores (SAT and ACT), or making them optional for those with low or mediocre test scores. If your test scores do not fall within the range of typical acceptances, then it’s best to rely on the other portions of your application, in keeping with the holistic view of the student, rather than simply evaluating you based on grades and scores. Prospective students have long been required to write a personal statement or essay, but modern applications have multiple essays which carry much more weight in the absence of your SAT or ACT submissions. The common app now gives standard questions to answer, which keeps things simple from the perspective of not having to write a completely fresh essay per college application (some colleges/universities and specific scholarship programs have separate essay requirements). However, how do you stand out from the crowd? Here are some ways to be memorable:

Being unique is vital

Imagine an admissions counselor sifting through tens of thousands of essay applications (UVA alone received 50K applications for fall 2022 incoming freshmen). That is what you are up against. Making your essay unique in this sea is of paramount importance to gaining attention and, ideally, acceptance to the school of your choice. One way to facilitate this is to work with someone familiar with navigating college entrance essays who can tease out important details and enable you to hone your topic to a razor-sharp edge. Entrance essays are short – 650 words or less – so you don’t have wasted space. This will go very quickly, and requires the need to eliminate unnecessary words, axe extraneous qualifiers, and trim overly verbose sentences.

For more tips on how to write a college essay, click here.

What to avoid

Avoid restating the question in your essay. This takes up valuable space that you could use to say something else. Also steer away from beginning your essay with “I want to attend this university because…” The admissions counselor reading your essay already knows that you want to attend; there is no need to point out the obvious. Instead, use that space to tell them who you are and why you are worth admitting. Otherwise, you stand a good chance of being deferred or passed over.

Answer the question

This seems a foregone conclusion and yet needs attention brought to it. Make sure each and every part of your college entrance essay clearly relates (or quickly brings the admissions team back to) why what you’re saying is the response to their question. Stick to one topic and one only. Seriously, ONE TOPIC. Less really, truly is more. And then be apparent in how this gives the information they’re looking for…without saying what is intrinsically understood and would waste your space with superfluous details. Show depth of thought and character. Show growth and personal evolution. Show a desire to use your education to benefit the world around you. 

For advice on how to create an outline, click here.

Contact me to create an outline for your common app answers and solidify your topics, for personal statements which showcase the best version of you to your scholarship program or college of choice.

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