How to Make Your College Application Essay the Best Writing You’ve Ever Done (#1 of 25)

This is the first in a series of twenty five blogs I will be posting in the months ahead, all under the title, “How to Make Your College Application Essay the Best Writing You’ve Ever Done.” The blogs are based on a workshop I developed for high school and community presentations and represent a synthesis of my beliefs about the essay. If students apply these recommendations to their college application essays, I am confident that the quality of their writing will improve, and the essays will become a significant asset to their applications.

Rather than offer the entire list at once, I’m going to present the “twenty five ways” one at a time, with a separate blog devoted to each one. Ideally, this will allow readers to absorb the material fully before moving on to the next idea, and to prevent them from assuming they understand a concept just from seeing it on a list. The final blog (#26) will present the full list, techniques for integrating the concepts, and lots of encouragement to go forth and get accepted.

Blogs in this series will be posted on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from June 16th – September 10th. I will also post additional blogs as they occur to me, all designed to help students and their families successfully navigate the essay writing process.

Below is the first of the “twenty five ways to make your college essay the best writing you’ve ever done.” Good luck and happy writing!

#1. Understand the Purpose of the Essay

When schools declare they want to know who an applicant is – beyond their GPA’s, standardized test scores, and three years of varsity water polo – they really mean it. And, other than a face to face interview, an application essay is the best place to make that happen. That’s why, in writing their essays, students need to refrain from touting their accomplishments or telling Admission Directors what students think they want to hear. Instead, conceive and construct your essay to reveal as much of yourself as possible – your beliefs and dreams, your quirks, the pivotal moments in your life. Give the reader a clear idea of who you are and what kind of citizen you’ll be, once you arrive on campus. If you happen to be a person who doesn’t like sports, that’s fine; be honest and explain why (as long as it comes up organically in answering the essay prompt). If you love antiquing, reveal how that activity enriches your life. Not everyone wakes up in the morning wanting to tackle quantum physics. You are who you are. Own it.

Of course, from the perspective of students and their families, the purpose of the essay is to improve a student’s chances of acceptance and this, obviously, must also be addressed. Toward that end, here’s what I tell my students:

Imagine it’s 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. The Admissions Director who is about to read your application essay has read 150 essays that week. All she wants to do is go home, crank the Florence and the Machine and start her weekend. She picks up her last essay of the week. It’s yours. Now what can you do to make that AD sit up in her chair and say, “This is compelling. Unique. This student has something to offer our school. I want him or her to be part of our freshman class.”?

It’s a big question and answering it takes time, work, skill, and courage. But if students are willing to use that standard as a guideline, they will be taking a decisive step toward making their college application essay the best writing they’ve ever done.

For more personal help with the Common Application essay, supplemental or any other college application essays, please contact Craig Heller at, or 818-445-4697.

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