Saint Joseph's University

Six Tips for Your Brilliant College Essay

The college essay often gets the reputation of being misunderstood and over-complicated. Whether students think admission offices are looking for specific topics or feel the need to tell their entire life story in 650 words, I want to assure you that writing your college essay doesn’t have to be a difficult process. Here are six tips to make your college essay stand out from the rest.

 

  1. Take time to reflect

The best essays come from students who have set aside a good chunk of time to reflect on their life experiences so far. All around you are people, moments, and experiences that have shaped you in some important way. Whether it’s a necklace dangling on your dresser or a photo of your best friend hanging in your locker, take time to find a moment in your life, no matter how significant or insignificant, that portrays your sense of identity and growth. If you need help reflecting, College Essay Guy offers excellent brainstorming exercises.

 

  1. Be vulnerable

There’s a common misconception that colleges are looking for specific topics and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Your essay should speak uniquely to your life experiences and come from the heart. Among other talents, admission counselors are experts at detecting insincerity. We’re looking to read essays that are unexpected, honest, and provide insight into how you view and process the world. This is your chance to let us inside your personal experiences, so have some fun. If you don’t have fun writing your essay, we’re probably not going to enjoy reading it.

 

  1. Give us your “Aha” moments

Your essay should provide us with a few moments of sudden insight, discovery, comprehension, or inspiration. The whole purpose of your essay is to demonstrate your reflections on the world. By the end of your essay, we should be able to identify specific scenes that show how you’ve changed and why it’s important to you.

 

  1. Be compelling

Don’t shy away from including dialogue, vivid imagery, and putting the reader “in the moment” with you. Your essay should include as many of the five senses as possible: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Give your reader a physical sense of place and avoid simply summarizing events. We should experience the story as your experienced it in real-time. Remember, we’re reading dozens of essays in a day, so keep it engaging.

 

  1. Keep it simple

You have 650 words, not 650 pages for your essay, so keep it simple. The most evocative essays are often about one tiny moment at the dinner table, on the bus home from school, or a simple gesture that spoke volumes to you. We’re not looking for the answer to The Meaning of Life or a play-by-play of your life from age five to fifteen. We want to be immersed in the story of one moment where something changed in you.

 

  1. Get some feedback

I can tell the difference between an essay that has been through several revisions and one that was typed the night before the deadline. While a misspelled word won’t kill you, mistakes add up and don’t leave a positive impression. Find one or two people (at most!) who can give you constructive feedback. Remember, this is your essay and should be written by you.