Six Tips for Writing Your College Essay 

As the Class of 2019 is getting ready to start their senior year, we wanted to reflect on an important topic for the college admission process: the college essay. Early this summer, Notre Dame Preparatory School’s Counseling Department invited admissions professionals from Johns Hopkins University, Miami University, University of Maryland, College Park and Gettysburg College to share tips for writing a stand-out essay. We’ve summarized their advice, plus added some of our own, into these six tips.

#1. Be yourself!

Your admissions essay should show “the color and imagery of who you are.” This is an opportunity to tell your story and share what makes you tick. Do not be afraid to show your personality and write from the heart. If your essay includes a story about someone else, make sure you bring it back to you.

Having trouble getting started? Ask yourself what you want a school to know about who you are.

#2. Get an early start

Don’t procrastinate! These essays are relatively short (around 500 words), but that doesn’t mean you can wait until the last minute. Packing all of the important details you would like a college to learn about you into a small amount of space can be a challenge.

Plan to start with an outline of your ideas and work from there. Writing multiple drafts is okay. You may need to try a few different topics before you settle on the winning essay.

#3. Show, don’t tell

Simply stating facts about yourself or listing experiences is not nearly as powerful as demonstrating and reflecting on your actions.

For example, stating that you value service is good, describing types of service activities is better, but adding how service has impacted your life and changed your perspective of the world is best.

#4. Ask for feedback

Do not submit your essay without having at least one trusted person do a thorough review. Ask a reviewer to go beyond spelling and grammar and provide feedback on the content. Share what you are trying to say within your essay and ask for feedback to learn if the essay is conveying the intended message.

However, don’t forget our first tip! Your voice and story should still be present after the review process.

#5. When in doubt, go back to the prompt

The prompts are there for a reason. If you get stuck, refer back to the original prompt and start outlining ideas. Be creative, but make sure you’re answering the initial question.

#6. If it is a factor… do not neglect the supplemental essay!

Some schools will require supplemental essays. Do not let the word “supplemental” trick you into thinking the essay is less important. Many schools use them to discover why you are interested in what they have to offer.

Generally, there are two types of supplemental essays: the “why us?” essay and the intellectual exercise essay. The first helps the school determine why you are interested in them specifically (hint: do your research on the school first!) and the second helps the school learn how you think and problem solve.

Remember, the essay is one of many pieces of your college application package. You can think of the essay as one part of a complete package—schools want to know who you are and to see if there is a common thread throughout all of the applications materials.

This is a great opportunity to share who you are and what you are passionate about to your dream school(s). Take your time, ask for help, and most importantly: have fun telling your story!

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