Essay Tips

Two female students studying at a table.
Photo credit: Matthew Lester

Writing the college essay can be one of the more dreaded parts of the application process for students, but it shouldn't be! The essay is a great opportunity to add some personality to your application, tell admissions counselors more about you, and showcase your writing ability.

No matter what you write about, your essay should help us learn more about you. Share something about yourself and talk about something that isn't covered in the other parts of your application. Don't write about someone else or repeat what's already on your transcript or extracurricular list.

We aren’t looking for perfection! Don't psych yourself out by thinking the essay has to do all the heavy lifting in your application. It's only one piece of your application. 


  • Write about yourself. We want to learn about you and your writing ability. Share a real story that gives us one slice of your life rather than trying to summarize your life in 650 words.
  • Keep the focus on you. It shouldn’t be a story you observed, but a story in which you played a central or pivotal role. Write about something meaningful and include specific details and examples to support your ideas.
  • Use your own voice and language. We can tell the difference between the voice of a 40-year-old and a high school senior. We want to hear your voice, so be you – your strongest, clearest, best, grammatically correct you — but you.
  • Proofread. Although we want substance, we also want to be able to see that you can write a paper for our professors and avoid careless mistakes that would drive them crazy. Check for clarity and be on the lookout for spelling and grammar mistakes (don't rely only on spell check). It's a good idea to have a friend or teacher read your essay too, just in case.

Want more insight into the essay? This Admissions 101 Webinar talks about the do’s and don'ts when it comes to picking a topic and crafting your story. You can also check out some of our blog entries about essays:

  • Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be a intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  • Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

  • Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
  • Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
  • Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
  • What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?
  • Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.