How to Begin Writing a College Essay That Will Get You Accepted

Next to the SAT or ACT tests, nothing strikes fear in the hearts of high school students quite like the college essay.

A large part of this fear comes from the belief that the essay carries tremendous weight in the decision-making process. While it is certainly an important component of your application, it is still just one piece of an overall package that includes test scores, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, GPA and letters of recommendation - try to keep the essay in perspective.

A second part of the fear, comes from not knowing where and how to begin.  These five steps will help to break it down to make it easier to get started.  Once you do, the momentum will take over and you’ll be looking at your first draft before you know it.

Step #1: Plan Ahead And Start Writing Early

Figure out when you want to ideally press “send” on your college application and count backwards at least six weeks. A huge part of writing a successful essay is giving yourself time to formulate ideas, revisit what you have written and make edits, as necessary.

Step #2: Consider Your Audience.

Imagine the admissions officer reading your essay. What do you want them to know about you? How can you share an experience that helps them learn more about who you are and want to get to more about you?

Step #3: Think about what you “want” to write about, not “should” write about

Start with topics that you “want” to write about, as opposed to topics that you think you “should” write about.  Take some time to jot down ideas about interesting events in your life.  Ask friends and family about what they feel makes you unique, what they admire most about you. Think about things that inspire you.  Look at some of those ideas and thoughts and begin to formulate an essay topic that corresponds to them.

Step #4: Just Start Writing!

As Nike says, “Just do it.” Pick an essay topic and write a rough draft. Don’t worry about it being perfect or even grammatically correct. Just get something down on paper and then go back, review and see what you can work with. Write and rewrite until you have something you feel comfortable showing others.

Step #5: Appoint A “Board Of Directors”.

Once you have a clean first draft, appoint 3-5 people to review your work and provide feedback in the following areas:

  • What did they think the theme of the essay was? Did they “get” what you were trying to say?
  • Ask them how they would describe the person who wrote this essay if they didn’t know you.
  • Ask them to proof for punctuation, spelling and word usage for the final draft.

After you receive your feedback, write your final essay and have someone check it over for punctuation, grammar and any typos and press “send”, with a big sigh of relief, a huge smile and a tremendous sense of pride for your accomplishment!