College Essay Writing Tips

When I was a high school English teacher, one of the first writing lessons I would assign my seniors was to write a college application essay. If you are applying to college, it is likely you will be asked to write one or more essays.

Students are less than thrilled about writing in general. Having to write something that could potentially make or break your chance to get in your dream school makes most students anxious. College admission officers do not read all the application essays, but when they do, it means they are potentially interested in the student and are using the essay to make a decision. Because of this, the pressure of writing the perfect essay is understandable. Knowing what colleges are looking for in the essay is the first step to writing a good essay.

Colleges want a few basic things from incoming students.  They want a student who can withstand the pressures/obstacles and make it to graduation.  They want a student who contributes to the university and one who is able to co-exist with other students from different walks of life.

When writing the college essay, a student must keep theses things in mind—what do they want to know about you and why. The essay is not the time to tell a story about another great accomplishment or to expand on something already listed in the application. I always told my students to think about what most students will write about and try to approach it differently. If someone is reading the essay, you need to stand out in some way from your peers.

One of the mistakes students make in a college essay is using as many big words as possible. The essay should not look like a mini thesaurus; it should look like a high school senior wrote it. Another mistake is to write the essay quickly without editing and revision. Editing is vitally important; there should not be one error in the essay. Having errors in your essay says to the reader that you didn’t take the time to edit, you don’t care enough to send in a perfect product, or you don’t actually know the rules of grammar/punctuation. None of these are qualities a college desires in an applicant.

Take a deep breath, read as much as possible about how to write a good essay, think about the topic of the essay, and spend time editing the final copy before submitting. Your dream school awaits!

Angela Chambers, former high school English teacher of 15 years, offers an advising and editing service for students writing essays—particularly college essays. She will guide the student through the process and edit the essay as many times as needed. Contact her at or 770-883-1752 for more details.