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College Admissions Essays

Writing the college admissions essay is challenging for everyone! Use the resources on this page to help you get started, compose, and revise your essay before you submit it.

As you’ll see from this page with the Common Application Essay prompts, you have a lot of options for your essay–and all involve telling your story. So, you have everything you need to start your essay–because it’s about you!

First, familiarize yourself with what the reader of your essay wants to know and what your purpose is for writing the essay:

  • What does the reader want to know? The person who reads your application essay wants to read a story that has a main point or focus and has a beginning, middle, and end. They’re eager to learn more about you!
  • What’s the goal of the essay? The essay should convince your reader that you’ll be a determined college student and a dedicated member of the campus community. The good news is there’s no need to invent anything new–instead, try to share parts of yourself and your experience that will help someone understand who you already are.

Then, start brainstorming!

Use the prompts below to make some brainstorming notes.

  • Take a look at this resource on telling your story, which provides some questions to get you started.
  • List your activities. This can include sports, clubs, jobs, hobbies, volunteering in your community, etc. You might think the things you do every day are pretty ordinary, but they can show how well you organize your time, commit to goals, and care about others.
  • List how the people closest to you might describe you. Our friends and family find it pretty easy to identify what makes us special. What would they say are the most unusual, unique, or surprising things about you?
  • List what you enjoy doing/learning about/thinking about. What’s the best paper, exam, or lab you’ve written in high school, and why? What could you spend a lot of time learning about or doing without getting bored? What writers, articles, books, or films have impacted you?
  • Dream without limits. If money/resources were not a factor, what would you most like to do for your career? How will a college education help you reach your future goals?

Next, find out the application deadlines–and create a plan for your writing process.

Once you have some of your brainstorming notes written down and have found out what the deadlines are for the schools you want to apply to, talk further with a teacher, school college/career counselor, family member, friend, or tutor about how to shape your ideas into a compelling story and application essay.

  • Working back from the deadline, make a writing process plan: For example: date to complete a rough draft; date to get feedback from a teacher, school counselor, family member, friend, or tutor; date to complete a second draft; date to get more feedback; date to complete the final draft.

What do effective college admissions essays look like? Check out some sample essays to get an idea.

Good luck on your essay!