How to Write a Good College Essay

Four Methods:Essay Template and Sample EssaysWarming UpMaking a Good ImpressionMastering the Mechanics

The essay can be one of the most daunting aspects of a college application. You have the grades, the test scores, but now you have to put yourself down on paper? It can seem virtually impossible and far too broad of a request. But in reality, this is the one topic you know best--as long as you follow these guidelines, your paper will show those old guys exactly what you have to offer. Hint: It's a lot. I suggest going to the answering machine and call the ACT hotline which is +1 (913) 390-6601. They will help you with all the essay work even for the SAT, personal statement etc...

Essay Template and Sample Essays

Essay Template

Sample Ozymandias Essay

Method 1
Warming Up

  1. Image titled Write a Good College Essay Step 1
    Pick your angle. A personal essay, fortunately or unfortunately, can be about anything. This works against you because it opens up every possible door; you can't possible know which one is best. But it can also work to your advantage because it gives you the freedom of choosing what most suits you. What do you love? What do you hate? What's an experience that changed you? What's the best part of your day? All in all, what would you enjoy writing about?
    • Don't be afraid to be controversial. Universities are places for the learned and the worldly. It is perfectly fine to write about politics, religion, or something serious as long as your paper is well-written and thought out. If a global issue applies to you, write about it. You won't be one of those papers that is forgotten.
    • Don't be afraid to be mundane. However, there's something to be said for a beautifully simple paper. How many essays will the panel read that are a scene from the family dinner table? Your morning process of waking? Something incredibly minute--not some life-altering event--can stand alone in it's uniqueness if made relevant and thought-provoking.
  2. Image titled Write a Good College Essay Step 2
    Be yourself. Striving to be anyone else in this paper will shine through more than any other quality. The purpose of the essay is to show the admissions committee the real you, why you think and act the way you do, and what motivates you. So don’t write as if you are someone else, use stilted language, or gloss over how you really feel[1].
    • Write as you speak. Use a conversational tone; you want the reader to feel like more of a friend and less of an evaluator. A casual, relaxed tone will make you seem like a human and not just an applicant.
    • Don't pad your paper with big words that you just looked up in the thesaurus. What's more, don't show them what you think they value or are looking for; show them what they should value and be looking for.
  3. Image titled Write a Good College Essay Step 3
    Relax. Before you set off to write your paper, know what you want to write. Take a moment to just think. Go slow. That way, when you do sit down to put pen to paper, you'll have a better idea of what you want to say and won't get frustrated with writer's block.
    • Give yourself a while to write it. If you start the night before it's due, you'll be pounding Red Bull and pulling your hair out. Take a day off to let it come to you. Lie in bed, stare at those glow-in-the-dark stars on your ceiling and let inspiration wash over you.

Method 2
Making a Good Impression

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    Be concise. The panel is reading piles and piles of applications every day. Halfway through your life story, they're bound to write you off. Keeping it simple and to the point is in both parties' interests.
    • Most essays have a suggested minimum of 250 words or less[2]. If you have to go beyond this for some reason, keep it under 500. Too long and your reader may put it off.
    • Don't waste any of those precious words on statements like, "...and that's why I want to go to your college." It's awkward, forced, and downright unnecessary.
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    Be likable. But just like you wouldn't go up to someone and shout, "LIKE ME!", it's best not to be so eager to please in your paper. Exercise subtlety in your writing; make it clear that you're someone they'd like to have in their discussion section without saying it forthright.
    • This will be easy to do if your paper is you--honest and accurate. Colleges are concerned with the community life on their campus, too. They want to make sure their student body is full of people with character, people willing to make their community even better.
      • If you know something about their college, slip it in. An organization of theirs that parallels your past experiences, a fact you learned that ties into your life, too, whatever. Keep this minimal, but feel free to show you've done your homework. However, make sure it's accurate. Showing you're misguided is not the intention.
    • Be funny. Though you shouldn't become Chandler Bing (read: too much) or Cosmo Kramer (read: inappropriate) in your essay, making the reader smile is definitely appropriate. That being said, humor should not be a defining word about your essay; but if it comes naturally to you, let it show.
    • Be logical about it. Offensive jokes and self-deprecating humor are not acceptable here.
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    Show enthusiasm. Writing something you couldn't care less about--even if it's stereotypically controversial or generally unique--would scare off anyone. They want to see why you are the way you are; if you aren't interested in that, why should they be?
    • If you can make it indicative of your personality, genuine, relevant, and concise, it's doable. If the thing that excites you most in this world is Star Trek, make it work. If it's breeding ferrets, go for it. If it's finding clean water for children in Libya, by all means. Don't think something isn't possible just because it's not protocol.
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    Be genuine. Can't seem to drill this in hard enough: be genuine. That means honest, sincere, and, ultimately, you.
    • Honesty is the best policy (at least in this situation). Any information you fabricate can be followed up upon and disproved before the application process is out. This is not a job résume--be accurate in every detail of your paper.
    • A part of being genuine is being modest. Okay, so maybe you've won 26 golf trophies and have the longest drive in the land, but should you go around spouting off about it? Don't think so. It's more than fine to write about an event related to your accomplishments, but putting your acclaims in the spotlight might make you seem self-absorbed, shallow, and immature. Three things no university is looking for.
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    Create mystery. At the end of the day, this is a paper before it's an application. The same way you would write your literary analysis, write this. Well, sort of. Maybe skip the thesis statement, but concentrate just as much on drawing the reader in.
    • Paint a scene before you go about explicitly making everything clear. Maybe you were scaling Mount Tibidabo, cutting down brush, wandering in the cold of night, searching for inner a part of a boy scout expedition. Create an image so vivid that the reader forgets that they're really just reading a request from a teenager to study at their institution.

Method 3
Mastering the Mechanics

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    Make it flow. Again, this is a paper. You can write the most eloquent, eye-welling, nose-blowing piece since Marley & Me, but if you've forgotten all your commas and transition words, your efforts will be lost.
    • Give your paper logical order. Each paragraph should flow into the next. If you find yourself asking questions when you go over it, answer them. The reader will be asking them too.
    • Let it come to a conclusion. This paper is not an episode from a soap opera--it should open and close within the maximum number of words allowed. Don't use the element of suspense as a literary technique.
    • Make it flow on a micro level as well. That means checking your sentences for clarity and meaning. Is there anything that's a little hard to understand or requires assuming? Could you be more concise in your wording?
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    Have someone else proofread your essay. You've been working on this paper so long you can barely wrestle out of this pile of candy wrappers and Starbucks cups. Once you're done, let someone else review it. A second set of eyes will prove very valuable.
    • Make sure they look for content and grammatical errors. In writing it, you may have become blind to both. After a while, our eyes stop seeing mistakes and gloss over them in our heads. Have a friend or family member read it and bring up any questions they have or notes on grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
  3. Image titled Write a Good College Essay Step 11
    Check and double check your work. Have you gotten the points across that you wanted? Did you set the right tone? Is there anything you left out? Take the time now to assess if you've met all your goals.
    • Did you use active verbs? Too many passive sentences and your paper will lose its oomph. Did you spellcheck with your brain and not your computer? Eye mean, watch this. And the oldie but a goodie: Did you write your name on it?


  • Be vivid. You're creating a story that hopefully they'll get lost in. The magic is in the details--don't shy away from names and facts. They'll make your paper more lifelike.
  • It is helpful to show your intellectual side. After all, colleges are places of higher learning. Show that your mind can indeed go on its own; don't just state your intended major and why it interests you.
  • Write about anything that is counterintuitive. If you are a Jewish gay rights advocate in small-town Iowa that mountain climbs and sews for fun, use it to your advantage.


  • Watch for arrogance. You want to come off as worthy of their school, not pretentious and barely willing to accept their extension of an offer.
  • Don't be repetitive. Saying you did this, you did that, then you did this and that doesn't make for a great read.
  • Don't restate what's in your application. They already know what school you went to, what your grades were, and what extra-curriculars you were involved in. Branch out.

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Categories: Essays