Inside tips and advice from AcceptU's team of former admissions officers


How to start writing your college essay

July 17, 2020, Posted In Application Essay

The Common Application does not go live until August 1, but students should begin working on their admissions essays now. If students are applying to colleges or universities accepting the Common Application the essays will remain the same as last year. Those questions include:

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Students only need to answer one of these prompts – and the essay should be approximately 500 words, or one page single-spaced. Admissions officers will not count words! If it is 520 or 463 words, terrific. Only those essays typed into an application text box have a strict word or character limit; uploaded essays will not have any restrictions. With that said, admissions officers might not be likely to turn to the second page if the writing is not compelling – so it’s best to keep the word count to near 500 words.

To get started, students should brainstorm topics – no topic is too big or too small, and any topic (if written well) can make for an excellent essay. Students should remember that admissions officers want to know more about them – they want to know the people they are bringing to their campus community for four years.

It’s important that students answer the question asked. Students should be honest, forthcoming and use vocabulary that they would normally use – so that it sounds like their voice, as though they were speaking to the admissions officer. The essay can show any of the following: creativity, thoughtfulness, character, analytical thinking or insight.

Starting now is smart – as they will be busy students when senior year begins, not to mention the most competitive universities will typically have one or two additional essays.

Open up a new Word document, start putting ideas on paper and click Save! Summer is just about here and the college admissions season has officially begun.

Not sure where to start? Request a complimentary 30 minute admissions consultation to start brainstorming today.