Essay Tips

The college essay is a great opportunity to help admissions staff learn more about you! 

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

Writing this essay can be one of the most dreaded parts of the application process, 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.

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

No matter what you choose to write about, your essay should help us learn more about you. Share something about yourself 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.


  • Write about yourself. We want to learn about you. 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, most 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 always a good idea to have a friend or teacher read your final draft too.

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:

2023 — 2024 Essay Prompts

  • 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 or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment, 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.
  • What interests or excites you? How does it shape who you are now or who you might become in the future?
  • Describe a time when you had a positive impact on others. What were the challenges? What were the rewards?
  • Has there been a time when an idea or belief of yours was questioned? How did you respond? What did you learn?
  • What success have you achieved or obstacle have you faced? What advice would you give a sibling or friend going through a similar experience?
  • Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.