College Season: Essay Writing

Two English teachers give insight to students on how to write college essays.

College Season: Essay Writing

The college essay is one of the most important, if not most important, elements of the college application process. Students often seem to fret about the essay: it can be intimidating to write an essay that is so important. In this article, I will attempt to ease some of the panic over the essay, because college essays are not as scary or intimidating as one thinks. Here is some advice for college essays and writing supplements.

Individualism is Key

It is extremely important to be yourself in this essay. Your goal is to show the college a view into who you are as a person. Transparency is necessary for this essay, pour everything out into this essay, “Write the messy,” Mr. Blair, AVID and English teacher recommends. He says that whatever comes to mind, just let it out. I can definitely confirm this. The best writing comes out when you’re just pouring out your thoughts onto the paper (or the screen technically since it’s typed). Write about what is deep inside your mind. If it comes from your own mind, it is truly YOUR work. 

This is Not a Standard Essay

College essays are not meant to be a typical essay. “Avoid the 5 paragraph essay,” Mr. Blair comments. Ms. Hausman, a fellow English teacher, followed up with a similar comment. College essays are not meant to be the typical essay you write in English class. If you have a five paragraph essay that’s okay, but it shouldn’t be your intention. Using concepts of what you learned in English is useful, however, because you can apply those techniques to the essay. Ms. Hausman says that the essay should contain “textual evidence from your life;” instead of using what you read from readings, use your life experience to help shape your essay. Address the prompt, check spelling and grammar, and make sure you have a good intro and conclusion. 


It’s about the Little Things

Mr. Blair recommends that students write about the small things in their life. “You don’t have to tell a sad story necessarily, you don’t necessarily have to talk about your first,” he says, “I would just choose the smaller moments of your life.” The smaller moments can be used to “indirectly characterize yourself.” You could write an essay about the most random thing in your life, like the way this one song changed your perception about life, like an obsession you have with a certain color, or a unique thing you take part in. Little things make up the big picture of your life. 

Preparation and Review

When attempting to write the essay, you have to take steps to plan what you’re going to do. Ms. Hausman recommends at least a month ahead and to definitely not wait until the last day. “…It’s a rare person who is able to write a really good essay in one night.” She also recommends trying multiple prompts to see which one might be best. It is okay to have multiple drafts, in fact, it is a good thing to have. In my experience, I spent two months editing my essay over and over again, so I probably drafted it at least five times before I was completely satisfied with it. If you need to take that long to get it right, then take that long to get it right. Essays are about the quality rather than just getting it done.

My Experience

I actually have written around 20 different essays for college (I applied to 10 schools), and I can tell you personally that it is a lot of work. I would recommend knowing the prompt extremely well. I had a teacher tell me once “the prompt is your best friend” and it has definitely stuck with me over the years. The better you know the prompt, the better you’ll be able to write your essay. For me, I spent three months looking at the same prompt for one school’s essay over and over again before I came up with a response for it, and it really helped me. I’m not saying to spend that long looking at a prompt, but at least spend some time reviewing the prompt so you know it well. 

For my CommonApp essay, I actually wrote two different essays that I submitted. I initially submitted one to half the colleges, but then I ended up writing one that I liked more last minute, and submitted that for the rest of them. I wrote about my experience with racism and the experience of growing up as a black person in America in my first essay, but I changed it not because I disliked it, but because the second one was more me. I ended up talking about writing thoughts in the margins of my biology notes and tied it back to how I am learning to focus on what I value most instead of what keeps me busy. I think that it is important for students to write about themselves rather than the topic, the essay is not about the subject, it is about you.