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Everything You Wanted to Know About Writing a College Application Essay

Page history last edited by Kara McMurray 11 years, 7 months ago

College Essay


Page created by: Breanna Daniel, Jack Goodwin, Levi Sanchez and Nathan Savage (2009)
Page edited by: Jennifer Chou, Mary Gallant, Rebecca Hu and Sarah Sheen (2010)




A well-written college essay can set an applicant apart from all of the other students applying to a college.  Unfortunately, writing the essay can be a stressful experience.  Our groups have created this website with information, tips, PowerPoints and links to help you!





How to Write the College Essay by Marcie Belgard edited by Mary Gallant 

Show vs. Tell Writing by Marcie Belgard edited by Rebecca Hu


Frequently-Asked Questions


Q: What is a college essay?

A: A college essay is part of the admissions application that we must submit to the college of our choice. Most are categorized as a personal or reflective essay, though sometimes colleges may ask for an analysis or position paper. Most importantly, it is a chance to let you show the college of your choice that you are more than a few test scores and some grades.


Q: What exactly do the colleges want from this essay?

A: They want to know that you can write well and what kinds of ideas/thoughts you have. This essay is meant to introduce you to the college admissions committee.


Q: What are the topics of college essays?

A: Topics vary for each college. Four common essay topics are:

  1. Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.
  2. Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern, and its importance to you.
  3. Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you and describe that influence.
  4. Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence. 

The following links provide sample college essay prompts:




Q: How long is the essay? How long should the essay be if there's no limit?

A: The length of the college essay is usually provided by the college, but if it isn't, the normal length is 700 words. Here are some sample essay prompts with links to sample essays with comments by the admissions committee.

MIT: What qualities do you see in your true friends, those who will support you in your thoughts, words and deeds? Why have you sought these people as companions? Example Essay.
UPenn: You have just completed your 300-page autobiography. Please submit page 217. Example Essay.
Princeton: Tell one story about yourself that would best provide us, either directly or indirectly, with an insight into the kind of person you are. Example Essay.
Cornell: Ask, and then answer, an important question you would have liked us to ask. Example Essay.


Q: Who reads the essay and how carefully do they read it?

A: One of the biggest challenges in writing this essay is thinking about the audience; it is people you do not know.  The admission committee may be older college faculty or young staff members.  They will be reading thousands of essays. The one thing to remember is that they will be looking for good writing, writing that sets the student apart from everyone else. 


Q: How do I begin the essay?

A: Because the admission committee reads so many essays, they get tired. Therefore, you should introduce the essay with a hook. Use something that will capture their attention and make them want to continue reading the essay.


Q: How do I answer the prompt correctly?

A: The best approach is to determine what the prompt is asking for. Most college topics want students to "show" their experience. This means writing the essay in narrative form. Remember that readers like stories, and this may help you  organize your thoughts. View the PowerPoint provided above, titled "Show vs. Tell Writing."


Q: When should I begin writing my college essay?

A: A good rule of thumb is to write it at least two months before it is due. This will give you ample time to revise the essay to perfection.


Q: Should I revise my essay?

A:  All writing improves with revision. Write the draft and put it away for a few days. Then look at it again. Ask several people--teachers, friends or parents to read and respond to your rough draft. There are also professional editing services, such as Essay Edge or Essay Advantage, but these require payment for their services.





Special thanks to: Michael Carosino, Danae Devine, Audra Howerton, Ayrald Hubert, Stone Jiang, Max Li, Kenneth Ordona, Robert Richardson and Roanna Wang.


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Comments (6)

devinedanae@gmail.com said

at 10:51 am on Jun 5, 2009


devinedanae@gmail.com said

at 10:51 am on Jun 5, 2009

Especially Natty;)

Megan Maynes said

at 10:54 am on Jun 5, 2009

omg <3 love you guys

Nathan Savage said

at 11:16 am on Jun 5, 2009

yyyeeeeeeeahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh I lllooooooooooooove u guys this makes me feell great about going 2 college

Denis Liyu said

at 11:25 am on Jun 5, 2009

I think college applications are good.

Ryan Greenough said

at 6:40 pm on Jun 7, 2009

LEVI!!!!! Your the best!! Wanna be my "friend"...if you know what i mean

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