How to Write a Winning College Essay

College application essays can seem pretty intimidating, but they’re actually a great opportunity to share your unique traits and perspectives. College admissions officers use application essays to learn about the way potential students think, see the world, and express themselves. In order to present yourself clearly, it’s important to take a few simple steps before you start writing. The more clarity you have about what you want to say when you put pen to paper (so to speak), the more you increase your chances of not only writing a successful essay, but also of enjoying the process as well. Read on for tips on how to write a winning college essay. 

Brainstorm first

What you do before you write will have a significant impact on what you write. If you rush right into the writing, you run the risk of rushing through the most important moments in the essay. Most college application essays ask you to think deeply about things that are important to you, moments that have changed you, or people who have influenced you. But the most impactful stories of your life may not be those that pop into your mind right away. If you give yourself time to brainstorm before you start writing, you could generate some powerful essay ideas you might not have thought of otherwise. Here are a few steps to get you started brainstorming: 

  • Make a list of important moments in your life
  • Put a star next to those that stir up emotions
  • Spend five minutes with each of the starred items on the list and ask yourself these questions:
    • Why was this moment important to me?
    • What emotions do I feel when I think about it?
    • Did this moment change me in some way?
    • How has this moment impacted my life?

Exploring important moments from your life and the emotions connected with them is a great starting point for personal essays. If you take some time to understand why you felt the way you did, or why a certain moment remains important to you, you’ll be better able to express that in your essay. 

Be yourself

We all know someone who’s attractive and fun and natural—right up until they’re asked to pose for a picture. Then they freeze up with a fake smile until the camera is no longer pointed in their direction. Afterward, they relax again back into the truer version of themselves. Unfortunately, many people do the same thing with writing. They stiffen up and use language that doesn’t suit them or a tone that doesn’t reflect their own. Maybe they use fancy words or try too hard to be funny when funny isn’t really their thing. This is too bad because the more authentic a piece of writing is, the more compelling and engaging it is to read. 

When writing college application essays, you can expect to write at least a few drafts. If you find yourself struggling with stiffness, try to let go of the idea of formality in early drafts. Write casually at first, maybe as if you’re writing to a friend. This can help loosen you up enough to find your authentic voice and get your ideas out. In the end, your college essay shouldn’t read like a letter to a friend, but in early drafts, taking a more casual tone can be helpful for establishing a fluid narrative and a cohesive structure. You can formalize and polish your essay in later drafts.

Get fresh eyes on your essay (i.e. an editor)

After writing several drafts of an essay, it can be difficult to see it objectively. You know what you mean to say, but is your message coming across clearly? The best way to answer this question is by getting a fresh set of eyes on it. While a relative or best friend may be able to give you some helpful feedback, it may not be the kind of feedback you can get from an English teacher, a tutor, or a professional editing service. Teachers, tutors, and professional editors understand the fundamentals of essay writing and will be able to specify what works or doesn’t work—and why. They will also know what questions to ask to help you dig deeper, clarify, or emphasize important points within your essay for maximum impact. 

Remember, a college application essay is an opportunity to share your unique perspective and to show that you would contribute positively to campus life. But it’s not just the content that will make or break your chance of receiving an acceptance letter. The quality matters, too. A teacher or professional editor will help ensure that your final essay is polished and professional, with correct grammar and punctuation, and with good pacing and structure. 

You worked hard to get to the college application process, and a strong, well-written and polished essay will reflect that. 

Need help with your college essay? Hawk Educational Solutions can help!

At Hawk Educational Solutions in San Diego, we offer a range of college essay services, from brainstorming to composition and proofreading to full content critiques.  For more information on our college essay services, give us a call at 619-300-7231 today. 

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