A Guide To Writing Your College Admissions Essay

Senior Josiah Hanly writing his admissions essay.

Senior Josiah Hanly writing his admissions essay.

Honor Wescott, Reporter

College Essays are seemingly the most difficult part of college applications, but having a strong college is of the utmost importance. It is through your college essays that admissions officers are able to see you as a person setting you apart from your transcripts. The admissions essay is an opportunity to demonstrate qualities that make you unique from the other applicants. Admissions officers utilize the admission essay to see your compatibility with the college or university, making the essay portion of the application often the deciding factor for whether or not a student is admitted. The college essay can also enhance your application if other areas such as grades are lacking, “After reviewing a mediocre transcript or seeing a limited activities list, I can be swayed to admit a student who writes an essay that really blows me away,” said Gregory Sneed the Vice President of admissions at Denison University.
Although talking about ourselves is something we do on a daily basis, when it comes to telling a story that captures you in six hundred words or less, the task of writing the essay is overwhelming to say the least. This causes many students to procrastinate the essay causing more stress when it comes to application time. After writing a college essay of my own, researching exactly what admissions officers are looking for and asking FMHS students about college essays, I have created a guide to help your college essay writing journey.

What Are Admissions Officers Looking For?
Admissions officers read up to fifty essays per day. While participating in sports and being a member of National Honor Society is quite the accomplishment, remember that hundreds of other students have had the same experience. Admissions are looking for what makes you unique. When brainstorming for your college essay, consider what interests, traits and experiences set you apart from others. Do you have any particular passions? Consider some events in your life that have affected and changed you as a person. Additionally, officers are also looking for qualities outside of academics that show who you are. Specifically, admissions officers typically like to see your ability to grow and learn from and experience in your life. Lastly, admissions officers know that no human is perfect. They want to see authenticity and while telling a few white lies to make yourself seem more compelling is tempting for many students, writing something that is true and authentic to you as a person is much better in the long run.

What to Write About.
When it comes to writing college essays, students typically fall into two categories:
The first being students who have a major life event or story that they feel their application would not be complete without telling. My friend Ellyssa knew from the beginning of her college writing process that she would write about the personal difficulties she faced when her sister was battling cancer. Writing about a major event like this that has shaped or impacted you in any way typically results in extraordinary essays that really give admissions officers an idea about who you are and the life that you have lived so far. So if you are one of these students, dive deeper into this event and really analyze how it has changed you or impacted you and expand on this in your essay.
The second category of students either have not had a major life event that they feel can write about or choose not to write about. For these students, I recommend further analyzing the smaller lessons we learn. “Sometimes students feel that because they haven’t found the cure for cancer, they have nothing to share,” says Jan Deike from Admissions of Vanderbilt University. Life is truly lived in the smaller moments, and that can be a powerful essay.” A lot of times strong essays pull lessons and demonstrate personal growth from small seemingly insignificant moments that occur in our daily lives. My college admissions essay was about a painting in my house that I really enjoyed being replaced with another I hated. Although seemingly an unimportant event, I expanded on this by talking about my hatred of the small change and how society as a whole avoids change, concluding it by stating that change is inevitable and therefore stressing the importance of our ability to adapt. This type of college essays are typically very strong. When you pull larger lessons from daily events, this really shows admission officers that you can think outside of the box and your ability to learn from everyday experiences.
When writing your college essay, the most crucial piece of advice to any student is to completely answer the prompt. Previously we discussed within your essay about major or minor events that happen in your life. With this make sure you mold this event to fit the prompt of your choosing, this is easier than it sounds but at the same time so incredibly essential. The prompt is your friend and will help further guide your essay so review them and choose the most fitting one before you begin.
2022-2023 Common App Admissions Essays Prompt (pulled from Common App website)
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 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.
Still Don’t Know What to Write About? Here’s class of 2023 wrote about:
Sophia Watson discussed her set back when she did get into student senate her Sophomore year and how she worked her way back up to become a senate officer. “I talked about how it helped me work harder toward my goal” stated Sophia.
Lila Kinnick addressed human connection in her essay and how her connections with others play into society as a whole.
Peyton EvanichKurtenbach wrote about her passion for art and how it has influenced her outlook on life
Josiah Hanly talked about finding his passion for dance later than most dancers. “I wanted the admissions officer to know how it really changed my life,” said Josiah. He also discussed what it was like being a male in a predominantly female sport.
Quick Things To Keep In Mind While Writing Your Essay
Your college essay is about you: While writing essays about family or someone who you feel has changed your life is a great essay topic remember that you are the star of your own essay.
Don’t be afraid to show some of your personality: Admissions officers want to see your personality, don’t be afraid to add a touch of your personality to your writing!
Stay authentic to yourself- When choosing a prompt choose something that feels authentic to you and maintain this throughout your writing.
Avoid directly stating your accomplishments: Show your accomplishments through the telling of your story rather than just stating them. Remember admissions officers have already seen your accomplishments in your other documents so no need to mention them twice unless they are essential to your story.
Avoid the Cliches: Sports Injuries and being a child of divorced parents are something that admissions officers see a lot. You can choose to do this but make sure you make it unique in some other aspects.
Don’t Focus only on the past: While you can write about past events admissions officers want to know about the present you and sometimes even your future plans.

For the majority of college admissions essays including the essays on common apps, the minimum length is 250 while the max is 650 words. While 650 words may seem like a lot, many students especially struggle with staying within the limit of 650 words. This is something to keep in mind when writing your essay. I would recommend aiming for about 500 words for your college essay so you have room to add additional words if needed. It’s also important to keep in mind that college admissions officers are reading hundreds of essays a day and a lengthy essay may not always be in your best interest. If fitting into the word limit is something that you’re struggling with, I would recommend you have a teacher or parent look it over and take out the information that is not essential to telling your story.

When writing my college essay, I used the website WordCounter. Not only does this app help you keep track of where you are in terms of word length, but it also provides instant feedback on the reading level of your essay. It also provides a thesaurus so you can vary word choice within your essay. However, take this as a suggestion the style in which you write your essay, whether it means flowery language or writing in a way that gets more to the point, writing style is something that reveals a lot about a person which is something admissions officers are looking for. So when writing your college essay stay true to how you typically write instead of trying too hard to write in an unfamiliar fashion.

Editing is also essential to your college writing, both in terms of grammar and suggestions on areas where you can improve. For really rough drafts, have family members or friends read it over and give suggestions. Then, really polish up your essay and make all the improvements you feel are needed, check for grammar if you have a difficult time with grammar, use Grammarly or other apps such as Word Count to really clean up the essay and make it easy to read. Read your essay aloud and see how it flows. After this I would then suggest sending your essay to a teacher you trust. In my experience I have found that Mr. Wuster, Mr. Main and Mrs Fredrickson are all teachers at our school that are happy to help in editing your college essays. When asking them to edit your essay, make sure you are mindful of their time and send it to them a couple weeks in advance.