How to write an effective College essay

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How to write an effective College essay

A step-by-step guide to writing an effective College essay 

Your college essay is your chance to speak directly to the university. It showcases the best of your personality and highlights your writing skills. As each applicant is unique, so is each college essay. Remember this is your chance to impress the admissions officer with your skills, talents, capabilities and dreams. Now, your test scores may reflect your academic abilities but it is your essay which is the window to your personality. It details your struggles, achievements, perseverance, tests and travails, in your very own unique voice.

The Common App essay offers you 7 prompts to choose from. 

Each prompt is limited to 650 words. 

  • Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent so meaningful that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, please share your story. 
  • The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, ethical dilemma- anything of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. 
  • Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  • Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your design. 

Keep the following points in mind while writing your essay.

The Do’s to keep in mind-

  • Create a timeline which doesn't let you panic, and allows time for edits and improvements
  • Choose the tone of your essay- it can be humorous but keep in mind the admissions officer may not have the same sense of humor as you.
  • Try to align your essay with the motto of the college/university
  • Control and pace your narrative- tell your story in your own voice 
  • Address your period of struggle- include details of why it happened, how it happened
  • Address your achievements in a reflective manner- do not be pretentious or grandiose
  • Acknowledge others’ presence in your story
  • While writing your essay, pay close attention to grammar, punctuation, lexicon and structure
  • Use idioms skilfully to get your point across since the number of words is limited
  • Proof-read your essay carefully before submitting it
  • End the essay on a positive note

The Don’ts to keep in mind-

  • Avoid criticism of others
  • Avoid strong and critical political expression
  • Avoid pop-cultural references unless they resonate with your essay
  • Remember to keep the narrative about you- not anyone else- so don’t make the essay about someone’s story
  • Events are important but do not forget to list your learnings from the events
  • Do Not hesitate to get a parent/counsellor to look over your essay- seek feedback and use it constructively
  • Do NOT Plagiarise- it is better to write a simple essay than to copy and paste an excellent essay based on material owned by someone else 

Lastly, write an essay only YOU can write.


Speaker - Ms. Manasi Kumar is a CELTA qualified educationist, from the British Council.

Ms. Manasi Kumar is a CELTA qualified educationist, from the British Council. 
She has worked with the SCERT, Govt of NCT of Delhi, as an on-panel ELT consultant. She has authored a comprehension book series, and co-authored a grammar series for middle school curriculum. She mentors college students, school students and mature learners in order to upgrade their language skills. 
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