How To Write An Application Essay

How To Write An Application Essay

Most students find writing college application essays demanding. Why is that so? Because students struggle to juggle dates, forms, transcripts and more. As a result, one may dismiss the importance of the college application essay. Nowadays, gaining admission into a top tier college or university is becoming harder. An ever-increasing number of applicants compete for limited places. So, learning how to write an application essay can transform your fortunes. An effective college application essay means the difference between admission or rejection. Besides, it can complement less than impressive grades. On the other side, a substandard piece can overshow some or all your accomplishments.

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Even so, do not let this dissuade you from trying! Treat the college admission essay as an opportunity to make an impression and stand out from the competition. But how do you write an application essay? Drafting a great college admission essay requires careful planning and thought. For this reason, we prepared this guide to help you improve your chances of admission to a college of your choice.

First, let us answer the question of how do you start a college application essay?

Step I: Choosing an Essay Topic

Technically, it is impossible writing an essay that covers all possible prompts when applying for admission into a college. Different institutions have widely differing admission essay requirements and prompt as well. However, college application essays share some general commonalities as defined in the common application essay format, which most colleges and universities accept.

But what is the common application essay? It is a set of predefined prompts that assess applicants on several elements of the college application process. Among these elements are essay organization, character development, word count, thematic content, vocabulary, and a specific prompt. Colleges gauge an applicant’s ability to utilize these elements in showcasing their writing skills, interests, and talents.

Based on that, you should select a topic that highlights your strengths. So, choose a question based on your personal experiences and reference frame rather than what you feel will impress the admission panel. Your selected topic should demonstrate who you are beyond test scores and grades. Although some colleges assign topics, the goal of an application essay remains the same., Integrate your educational experience and memories to spark creativity, explore your problem, and stand out from other applicants.

Possible examples of essay topics include:

  • What changes do you want to make in the world?
  • Where are you headed in this life?
  • Describe some accomplishments in the past two years that have no connection to your academic pursuits?
  • Think of a situation where you decided between playing it safe or taking a risk? Which choice did you make? What was the outcome? Would you make the same decision today based on the result?
  • If only one admission slot remains, why would the college accept your application?
  • Describe an experience that forever changed your life and outlook?
  • If you had the opportunity to change your life, would you do so? If so, what moment would you change and why?

Step II: Brainstorm, brainstorm, and brainstorm!

Now that you have a topic, it is time to dig deeper. Here are three suggestions for brainstorming for essay ideas:

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  • First, understand the parameters of the college application essay. The primary purpose of your college admission essay is to convince and connect with the admissions panel. Hence, to tell a compelling story, you need to identify common themes in the prompt. Accordingly, review your selected or assigned topic for recurring themes. Regardless of how you choose to approach the essay, ensure that you completely understand the essay prompt.
  • Next, identify key themes from your personal experiences. Perhaps some ideas have already occurred to you during the application process. Its time to narrow down the possibilities. For example, what personality aspects or activities motivate you? Then again, you might focus on a specific hobby or skill that demonstrates a holistic image to admission officers.
  • Ensure your ideas present a full picture of who you are. Often applicants think that essay subjects should encompass every aspect of their lives. That is no true! Indeed, the most effective application essay is a tiny narrative that illustrates a broader perspective, passion, or personality trait. So, imbue your piece with a compelling storyline that reveals your true self. Remember that we all have stories to tell. It is just a matter of discovering that story!
  • For success during brainstorming, avoid self-criticism and judgment. Why? Because you can never tell which ideas will inspire others. Carefully note down all thoughts as you brainstorm for essay topics. Avoid crossing an idea out just because you have run out of inspiration. Ideally, you should have at least three brainstorming sessions. Allocate enough time to cultivate, refine, and build on your initial thoughts. Ideas that pop into your mind in the initial brainstorming session can lead you to your final and brilliant idea.

But you might ask how do you structure an essay?

Step III: Structuring an application essay

After knowing what you want to say, the next step is structuring your story. Like architects, cooks, and web developers, all projects begin with a plan. Hence, create an outline that breaks down your essay into sections.

Most colleges and universities allow applicants flexibility in structuring essays. However, if you are writing the admission essay on your own, pay attention to proper essay structure. A compelling narrative has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Ensure that your story has an introduction, body, and conclusion.  Follow this outline to give your essay a coherent progression.

An Introduction

A practical essay introduction should include a hook that reels in the audience. Hooks typically acquit readers with your topic and urge them to continue reading. Match your catch to the essay’s overall theme. Decide on how to open your essay. Consider using an anecdote, question, dialogue, or humor to reel in your readers. Also, strategize on what tone to utilizes in the entire essay. Include a thesis statement that summarizes the content of the whole piece.

A Body

Body paragraphs comprise the content of college application essays. They expand your thesis and help develop the narrative you wish to present. Some characteristic of body paragraphs are:

  • Specific details
  • Background information
  • Anecdotes
  • Research

Be sure to integrate items from the essay prompt in your body paragraphs. Answer questions from the prompts directly if available.

Most importantly, use proper grammar and spelling. Plus, never forget to proofread what you wrote. Connect sentences and paragraphs logically using varying paragraph sizes. Remember that substantial paragraph sizes are hard on the eyes. Besides, large text blocks lend an essay an unpleasant tone. As a result, readers or the audience may find it challenging to engage with your text.

A Conclusion

Finally, end your essay with a firm conclusion. Nonetheless, you do not need to summarize every idea presented in the body. Indeed, you should avoid doing so. Instead, collate all ideas together into a concluding section or boldly reiterate the underlying theme.

Note that the impact of your essay on the admission panel depends on your ability to start and edit your essay effectively.  A strong introduction ensures that readers finish your piece. Likewise, strong endings provide readers with crucial takeaway points.

Next, consistently use an appropriate writing style and voice. Remember that this piece is all about you. So, write naturally. Use a warm and personable tone to connect with your audience. Planning the layout before you begin writing will let you avoid changing your voice, flow, and tone midway during writing.

Step IV: Write your draft

After structuring the essay, begin writing as you know what you want to say and how to say it. Roll up your sleeves, grab a computer or pen and paper, and get down to it! Let your ideas flow naturally without stopping to edit anything, as this is only the first draft. Then go back and revise, revise, and revise. Without realizing it, you will have told your story and satisfied the required word count.

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College application essays typically use a personal tone as compared to other papers you have written. Begin by freewriting. As you proceed, think of the prompt and write for 15 to 30 minutes non-stop. Do not worry about grammar, punctuation, or organization during the drafting stage.

But what makes a good essay? Here a few tips for polishing your college application essay.

  • Maintain a narrow and personal focus throughout the essay. Avoid alienating your readers by making it essay for them to follow your thoughts from the beginning to the end.
  • Be specific. Refrain from using generic, predictable, and cliché phrases. Instead, develop the main idea using vivid and detailed events, examples, facts, quotes, and arguments.
  • Be unique. Remember that admission panels read thousands of applications each year. They can tell the difference between original content, recycled, or plagiarized application essays. Avoid using overly formal, business-like language and fluff.
  • Strive for conciseness. In an internship application essay example, do not use 40 words where four will do. Only include the necessary information.

Step V: Proofread

Having worked so hard until this point, remember that an essay is as good as your editing. Grammatical errors or typos can affect how the admission panel views your application. Even so, below are a few suggestions to help you overcome this outcome.

  • Now that you are done writing the essay. Take some time off -two or more hours-before proofreading it. Doing so lets you approach the essay with a fresh perspective. Also, you get to read the actual words you wrote rather than seeking what you wrote.
  • Avoid relying on your word processor’s or other spell-checking tools to point out mistakes. Spellcheckers re not 100% correct, and they often miss typos like form for from, fried for friend. Plus, stay away from abbreviations in an application essay.
  • Have someone or several individuals read your essay. Perhaps a teacher, colleague, friend, or parent. Doing so is an excellent way of establishing that your message is on point and clear to the target audience.
  • Try reading your essay backward. Sequentially reading an essay causes the brain to fill in blanks or missing details. Reading each sentence backward is a practical approach for recognizing typos, grammar mistakes, and omitted articles.
  • While at it, read the essay aloud to increase your ability to identify typos, punctuation errors, and awkward sentence phrases.
  • Finally, check your text for consistency. Look for shifts in tenses and proper references to authoritative sources.

Mistakes to avoid on your application

With a little preparation, you can avoid making the following common essay writing mistakes.

application essay help

Overusing the first-person pronoun

Despite being a high achiever or a celebrated student, nothing detracts from an admission panel like the lack of humility. For this reason, use I minimally throughout your essay. You can do so by crediting your mentors, teachers, and others who helped you along the way. A balanced and humble piece is sure to impact the reviewers’ minds positively and increase your chances for admission.

Repurposing am application essay

Applying to multiple universities is a stressful process, especially when you must respond to a bunch of similar questions or prompts. Apart from the essentials, your application essay is the most critical element of the application process. In most cases, it should contain unique and customizable information. So, avoid reworking and recycling application essays. Why is that so? Because it can have catastrophic consequences for your application. Other than that, it might rub admission panels the wrong way. Reviewers can tell that you submitted an existing application essay.


One factor that can send an application into the no pile quickly is the inclusion of a statement of purpose. Not every person wants to become a rocket scientist or NASA engineer. Dreaming big and growing to reach your full potential is a sure pathway to getting there. But admission panels read applications contextually; therefore, avoid waxing about a school’s legacy, brand, your dream of joining, and how you will transform the world. Admission reviewers typically come across tons of this stuff.

Get into their mindset by presenting yourself as an honest candidate who the college can mold into a brand ambassador. Also, never fake your accomplishments. Always remember integrity is paramount.

Applying to the wrong school

College application essays require applicants to identify the school and degree program. Besides that, you must explain why you fit in with the specific program. Hence, research diligently to understand an institution’s programs and schools. Find out aspects such as faculty, curriculum, student ratios, entry requirements, and application relevant details. Use what you learned to demonstrate your knowledge of the program you are applying for.


Under explaining your achievements

If you think perfect grades and SAT scores will get you admitted, think again! Your activities outside of the classroom are what distinguish your application from others. Hence, avoid laziness when explaining your achievements. Provide years of participation, the number of hours per week, weeks per year, and your role in extracurricular activities when listing your accomplishments. Also, include a list of any obscure events as well. And finally, avoid submitting a resume just to complete your activities list.

Avoid providing Too Much Information

Remember, a college application essay is not a confessional. We all have personality flaws and emotional baggage. As an application is an opportunity to celebrate your accomplishments, be cautious of narrating your fears, failures, neuroses, and regrets. If you do, highlight any positive traits that balance painful experiences.

In addition to that, avoid including extra details that do not enhance your application. Similarly, do away with letters of recommendation, copies of all your academic certificates, or press clippings when applying. Instead, be thoughtful and strategic to avoid annoying the admissions panel.

Bottom line

Writing a college application is like applying for sponsorship or a job post. Before you begin writing your application essay, you should take the time to prepare to ensure the piece stands out from the rest. Include the reason you want to join the program. With most institutions offering scholarships to low-income students, carefully crafted application essays will determine if you are admitted or not.

For this reason, ensure you follow all the instructions. Doing so connects reviewers to you as a potential candidate. Also, as you present yourself as a possible candidate, explain how you will impact the program and why it is the perfect fit for you. Following directions also demonstrates that you will adhere to instructions once elected into the program.

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Although you may find it challenging writing an application essay, following the above tips can help you submit a highly polished and unique application essay. Application essay typically accords you the opportunity to inform others about you as a person. So, highlight any special skills, values, motivation, and interpersonal traits that set you apart from others.

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