How to Make Your College Application Essay the Best Writing You’ve Ever Done (#4 of 25)

Here’s the fourth of my twenty five ways to make your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done.

#4. Answer the Prompt

While this may seem obvious, many students veer away from fully answering the essay prompt, and wind up hurting their chances for acceptance. Admissions Directors are expecting all aspects of an essay prompt to be addressed and anything less will be considered an inability to follow directions. If the prompt consists of several questions, therefore, you need to answer them all. You can’t answer your own version of a prompt, even if your essay is perceptive and well written.

Of course, the vast majority of students intend to answer the prompt and begin their essays with that in mind. What can happen, however, is that somewhere along the way they get an idea, take a left turn away from the prompt, and never come back. Seduced by their own cleverness or writing skill, or simply eager to be done with their essay, they then become unwilling to cut these digressions.

To avoid this pitfall, you need to continually go back to the prompt, read it carefully and be sure your essay answers it completely. This might require brutal honesty, as no one wants to cut a well turned phrase or brilliant insight they’ve written. But as William Faulkner said, “Writers must learn to kill their children.” You may have come to love those phrases and insights, but if they are not part of answering the prompt, they could work against you. Instead, replace them with clear responses to the prompt (to help the reader out and subtly inform them you’re on track, you can even repeat some of the language of the prompt) and help make your essay a powerful addition to your application.

For more personal help with the Common Application essay, supplemental or any other college application essays, please contact Craig Heller at, or 818-340-1276.

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