Top Ten Hints For Writing a Winning College Application Essay

April 11, 2011.  Do you like your college application advice short and sweet?  If so, this list is for you.  If you will be applying to college soon, can you take a minute to print out this list? Why not hang it on the door of your refrigerator as a reminder?

1.   Don’t procrastinate. Start writing in the spring of your junior year. College essays usually improve with time, and students often start slowly.  You need time to create a great topic, time to write drafts, time to carefully edit, and time to press “delete” and start over if you don’t love what you’ve written.  September can be a stressful time, as school and sports begin. Don’t wait until September of your senior year to start writing!

2.   Start with the Common App essay questions (

3.   Read books containing winning college essays to see the variety (e.g. Fiske Real College Essays That Work).

4.   Remember that your essay is about who you are.  You don’t need to sound like Hemingway in your college essay (or any other famous writer).  You simply need to sound like you, when you are at your best!

5.   Buy a notebook and use it for observations, epiphanies, notes, and middle-of-the-night ideas.

6.   Visit as many colleges as possible to learn about courses and programs that attract you and where you’ll fit best.

7.   Talk about college experiences with friends and family to demystify college and hear others’ experiences. This may also help you after your essay is complete.  According to Inside Higher Education, students who “talked frequently with their parents about college” are 7 percentage points more likely to enroll than are those who talked only infrequently with their parents.

8.   Think about what you really care about, and have done something about.  The best essays display passion, initiative, talent, and/or leadership.

9.   Ask yourself:  What is the point of the story I am telling in my essay? What does the person who is reading my essay learn about me?

10.  Ask a new acquaintance who doesn’t really know you to review your draft. Your new acquaintance will bring a fresh eye and can then honestly answer the same question you asked yourself above in hint #9.  This is the same question a college application officer will ask him or herself when reading the essay–what did I learn about this student from reading this?

Liberate yourself from stress and perform at your best with these top ten hints for writing an excellent college application essay.  Click here for additional help with writing a college application essay.