College Essays: Everything You Need to Know About Getting Started

The college essay is one of the most important factors in colleges’ admissions decisions. The admissions essay is your opportunity to show admissions committees who you really are beyond your grades and SAT/ACT scores. It’s also a factor you have 100% control over—which is why it’s one of my favorite parts of the application process!

Now is the best time to devote yourself to working on your essays and making sure they sound like you. Rising seniors, our goal is for you to submit all of your applications by the end of September, so this is the perfect time to work on your essays and finish them before the school year starts. Rising juniors and younger, it’s never too early to start thinking about ideas! The more, the better!

Sometimes students (or their parents!) think that the college essay needs to tell their entire life story. But you’re typically given only 500-650 words to work with, so that’s simply not possible. Instead, you should tell one story that shows something interesting and personal about who you are. The essay is not a research paper, a resume, or a formal piece of academic writing. You can write in a fun, informal tone. It’s important for the essay to sound like you!

As you sit down to start your essays, give yourself plenty of time to brainstorm and free write. The topic that best represents who you are won’t necessarily be the first one that comes to mind. Spend a few days simply writing as much as you can. Explore the topics that you’re passionate about, and give yourself the time to write about several different ideas, memories, people in your life, and other topics that excite you. When in doubt, try writing about anything that makes you happy. Your energy and enthusiasm will naturally shine through in your writing.

Once you have a good amount of material to work with, you can begin looking for stories within the rough material you’ve written. Ask yourself, “What story can I tell about this idea?” You want to tell your story cohesively, with a beginning, middle, and end.

If you get stuck, remember your purpose: to show the reader who you are and what you are passionate about. You can be passionate about almost anything! Basically, tell us something about yourself that we wouldn’t know from your transcript, test scores, or resume.

Don’t forget! On July 15th at the Upper St. Clair Community & Recreation Center, we will be holding our annual College Essay & Application Workshop for rising seniors! The workshop will take place from 11:00-12:30. If you have not yet RSVPed, please reply to this email as soon as possible so that we know to save you a seat! At this very important workshop, we will discuss the nitty-gritty details of what makes a successful essay, we will look at sample essays together, and we’ll give you time to work on your own. We’ll also review the upcoming college application timeline so that you know what’s happening next!

Have fun writing! I can’t wait to see what you come up with.