Barbara P
Barbara P

College Application Essay - Complete Guide with Writing Tips

9 min read

Published on: Feb 6, 2021

Last updated on: Apr 18, 2024

college application essay

The college application essay is your opportunity to showcase your personality, experiences, and aspirations to admissions officers. It's your chance to go beyond grades and test scores and let your uniqueness shine. 

Writing an effective college essay can be challenging, but fear not! 

This guide will take you through the process step by step, helping you write an essay that grabs attention and leaves a lasting impression.

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What is a College Application Essay?

A college application essay, also known as a personal statement or admissions essay, is a crucial component of the college application process. It is a written statement submitted by prospective students to colleges and universities as part of their application. 

The purpose of the college essay is to provide admissions officers with insight into the applicant's personality, experiences, values, and aspirations. It offers applicants an opportunity to showcase their unique qualities and distinguish themselves from other candidates.

What Makes a Great College Essay?

A great college essay stands out for several reasons:

  • Authenticity: The essay should reflect the applicant's genuine voice and personality. Admissions officers value authenticity and want to get to know the real person behind the application.
  • Compelling Storytelling: A great college essay tells a story that engages the reader from the beginning to the end. It uses vivid details, descriptive language, and storytelling techniques to bring experiences to life.
  • Unique Perspective: The essay should offer a fresh and original perspective on the topic or prompt. Avoid cliches and generic topics, and instead, focus on what makes you unique.
  • Relevance: A great college essay is relevant to the prompt and provides insight into the applicant's character, values, and aspirations. It answers the question posed by the prompt while also showcasing the applicant's strengths and qualities.
  • Impactful Conclusion: The essay should leave a lasting impression on the reader. A strong conclusion ties the essay together and reinforces the main message or theme.

How Long Should a College Essay Be? 

The length of a college essay can vary depending on the institution and specific requirements. However, a typical college essay is usually between 500 and 650 words. 

Some colleges may have word limits or specific guidelines for essay length, so it's essential to carefully read and follow the instructions provided by each college or university. It's important to be concise and focused while still providing enough detail to convey your message effectively.

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How to Pick a College Essay Topic

Choosing the right topic for your college essay is important to its success. Here are some tips for picking a compelling topic:

  • Reflect on Your Experiences: Consider your life experiences, challenges, achievements, and goals. Choose a topic that allows you to showcase your strengths and personality.
  • Find Your Passion: Select a topic that you are passionate about and genuinely interested in exploring further. Your enthusiasm will shine through in your writing.
  • Be Unique: Avoid cliches and generic topics. Instead, opt for a unique angle or perspective that sets you apart from other applicants.
  • Consider the Prompt: Take time to carefully read and understand the essay prompt provided by the college or university. Choose a topic that directly addresses the prompt and allows you to explore the question fully. For the latest prompts read our blog on 'college application essay prompts'.

Writing the College Application Essay

Below are detailed steps to guide you through the process, along with examples to help illustrate each point.

Step1: Understand the Prompt

Before you begin writing, carefully read and understand the essay prompt provided by the college or university. 

For example, if the prompt asks you to "discuss an accomplishment event or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding," consider a moment in your life that fits this criterion. 

Perhaps you could reflect on a time when you overcame a significant obstacle or setback and emerged stronger as a result.

Step 2: Brainstorm Ideas

Take some time to brainstorm potential topics for your essay. Consider your extracurricular activities, challenges you've faced, accomplishments you're proud of, and moments of personal growth. 

For instance, maybe you were heavily involved in community service and learned valuable lessons about empathy and compassion. Or perhaps you participated in a sports team and discovered the importance of teamwork and perseverance.

Step 3: Choose a Topic 

From your brainstorming session, choose a topic that resonates with you and allows you to showcase your strengths and personality. 

For instance, you might choose to write about a specific extracurricular activity that had a profound impact on your personal growth. This could be anything from volunteering at a local shelter to participating in a research project.

Step 4: Make Your Essay Outline 

Create a structured outline for your college application essay following the standard college application essay format. This format typically includes an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

Here is a sample college application essay outline:

I. Introduction

A. Hook

B. Overview

C. Thesis statement

II. Body Paragraphs

A. Main Point 1

1. Example

B. Main Point 2

1. Example

C. Main Point 3

1. Example

III. Conclusion

A. Restate Thesis

B. Summarize Main Points

C. Reflect on Significance

D. Closing Statement

Step 5: Write a Compelling Introduction 

Start your essay with a captivating introduction that grabs the reader's attention. For example, you could begin with a vivid anecdote or a thought-provoking question related to your chosen topic. 

If you're writing about an accomplishment or realization, you could start by describing the moment when you first realized its significance.

Step 6: Develop the Body Paragraphs 

The body of your essay should provide more details and examples to support your main idea. Use specific examples and anecdotes to illustrate your points. 

For instance, if you're discussing an extracurricular activity, describe your role in the activity, the challenges you faced, and the lessons you learned. If you're recounting a period of personal growth, share the specific events or experiences that led to your growth and understanding.

Step 7: Reflect on the Experience 

Take time to reflect on the experience you're writing about and the lessons you've learned from it. For example, if you're discussing a challenge or setback, reflect on how it affected you and what you learned from overcoming it. 

If you're sharing an accomplishment, reflect on how it motivated you to strive for further success.

Step 8: Conclude with Impact 

End your essay with a strong conclusion that reinforces your main message and leaves a lasting impression on the reader. 

For instance, you could reflect on how the experience you've shared has shaped your future goals and aspirations. Alternatively, you could express gratitude for the opportunities you've had and the lessons you've learned.

Types of College Application Essays

There are several types of college application essays, including:

  • Personal Narrative: This type of essay focuses on a specific personal experience or story and reflects on its significance and impact.
  • Reflective Essay: Reflective essays explore personal growth, lessons learned, or moments of self-discovery. They often involve introspection and self-reflection.
  • Expository Essay: Expository essays provide information or explain a topic in a clear and concise manner. They may involve analyzing a problem, discussing its implications, or presenting a solution.
  • Creative Essay: Creative essays allow for more imaginative and artistic expression. They may involve storytelling, poetry, or other creative forms of writing.
  • Supplemental Essay: Some colleges and universities require additional supplemental essays in addition to the main personal statement. These essays may focus on specific aspects of your background, interests, or goals.

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College Application Essay Example

One great way to write a successful college essay for your application is by looking at real examples that worked. Here, we've gathered a few college essay examples PDFs that cover different topics to help you learn.

For further insight, explore our blog on 'college application essay examples' featuring samples of college app essays.

College Application Essay Tips

Here are some valuable tips to help you along the way:

  • Reflect deeply on your experiences to find unique stories that showcase your character and growth.
  • Ensure your essay directly responds to the prompt provided by the college or university.
  • Don't shy away from discussing challenges, setbacks, or failures—admissions committees value resilience and growth.
  • Express gratitude for the opportunities or experiences that have affected or motivated you.
  • Share an essay that reveals your authentic self and showcases your individuality.
  • Highlight a specific time when you faced obstacles and emerged stronger or wiser.
  • Keep the admissions committee in mind—your essay should engage and resonate with them.

Wrapping it Up!

Writing a college application essay can be a challenging yet rewarding experience. By choosing a compelling topic, crafting a well-structured essay, and adhering to formatting guidelines, you can create a standout essay that showcases your unique qualities and strengths. 

Remember to be authentic, showcase your genuine voice, and tell your story with passion and conviction. If the thought of writing a college application essay scares you and you're struggling to even pick a topic, consider using our AI essay writing tool

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the task of writing your college application essay, don't worry! You can seek assistance from our reliable writing service. At, we offer top-notch academic writing services, including help with college application essays and personal statements. 

Simply reach out to us with a request to "write me an essay", and we'll provide you with excellent quality essays at budget-friendly rates.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long is a college essay?

The word count of a college essay depends on your topic and the admission committee requirements. So, it is better to consult them before writing. 

Barbara P


Barbara P (Management)

Barbara is a highly educated and qualified author with a Ph.D. in public health from an Ivy League university. She has spent a significant amount of time working in the medical field, conducting a thorough study on a variety of health issues. Her work has been published in several major publications.

Barbara is a highly educated and qualified author with a Ph.D. in public health from an Ivy League university. She has spent a significant amount of time working in the medical field, conducting a thorough study on a variety of health issues. Her work has been published in several major publications.

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