laptop screen with essay
laptop screen with essay

How to Create Standout College Essays

Essay season is an exciting phase of the college application journey. It serves as an opportunity to look inward and learn something about yourself. It’s important to go deep, be vulnerable, and take the chance to give the admissions team a glimpse into your world and what drives you. 

Understanding the Personal Essay

At the core of your application is the personal essay. But what exactly is it? Think of it as a window, giving admissions officers insight into your character, values, and experiences. 

Here are the prompts for 2024-2025: Use them as a springboard or ignore them entirely and pick the one that best suits your topic after you’ve written your essay. Keep in mind prompt #7 is the topic of your choice, so these questions are truly open-ended and flexible.

Here are some tips to help you along the way:

  • Be Authentic: This is your chance to show your personality and passions, allowing your unique voice to shine through. The personal statement is the centerpiece of your application; it’s the one chance you have to really let colleges get to know you as if you’re sitting down with them.
  • Keep It Focused: Narrow your thinking and choose one topic. Let a single story show the larger picture.
  • Stay Concise: Aim for depth over breadth, keeping your essay within the 650 word limit. Ideally, aim for 500-650 words.
  • See a Real Example: Register for our FREE Mini-Program to see a real example of a personal statement with expert commentary from our team. 

Common Misconceptions

Before embarking on your essay-writing journey, it’s important to understand some common misconceptions to be sure you’re on the right track: 

  • It’s not a list of accomplishments.  Save that for the activities and honors sections of the application. 
  • It’s not about college goals.  Avoid using your essay as a platform to explain why you want to attend a particular college or what you plan to do there. Save these for supplemental essays. 
  • It’s not an academic essay. This is a narrative essay. It’s more creative. You can use informal language and apostrophes. Be authentic and show them who you really are.
  • It’s not the same as a graduate school essay. Understand that this personal statement is different from the personal statement you might write for law school or med school. Again, it’s all about you.

Exploring Supplemental Essays

In addition to the personal statement, many colleges also require supplemental essays to gain a deeper insight into your fit for their institution. Oftentimes, these questions are more school specific, providing an opportunity to showcase your interests, specific reasons you chose to apply to that college, or aspects of your identity. 

When tackling supplemental essays:

  • Give Them Close Attention: These are the questions the individual colleges choose to ask you, so understand their importance, and be intentional in crafting thoughtful responses.
  • Be Specific: These questions tend to be more specific, and they are typically shorter in length. Use these questions as an opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of the college and illustrate how you align with them. 

Common Supplemental Questions and What They’re Really Asking

“Why Us” essay?
This is the most common supplemental question. Colleges are looking to gauge your level of interest in their school. They are also assessing how well you align with their values and offerings. Think of these as comparison essays – comparing you and the school and drawing the fit. Pro Tip: Prioritize academics; this is what colleges care about most! And while it’s important to talk about the campus atmosphere, too much emphasis on Greek life or game day festivities might give the wrong impression of your priorities.

“What do you want to study” essay?
This is another super popular question. Colleges today tend to want to know what you want to study. Do your homework and talk about how their college has great opportunities to study your area of interest. Also be sure to discuss ways in which you have already begun to explore that interest in high school, through activities and/or on your own.  

Questions about your identity.
This has become popular since the SCOTUS decision last year to end race-based admissions.  Colleges are still interested in diversity, and essays are one of the few places students are free to talk about their identities. There has been a proliferation of questions about student’s identity, including questions about their community and/or obstacles they have faced. Take advantage of these questions to talk about the influences that have shaped your unique perspective, including, but not limited to religion, geography, ethnicity, or a wide variety of other factors.

Navigating the Process and Understanding the Timeline
We understand that the essay-writing process can be overwhelming. Having a well-planned process and understanding the timeline will help alleviate stress. We recommend brainstorming ideas, making notes for inspiration, and outlining your essays in the spring or early summer of your junior year. In July, it’s time to start drafting your personal statement, aiming for completion by the end of the month. As soon as supplemental prompts are available (usually by August 1), it’s time to begin crafting your responses. This timeline will utilize your summer to help you feel more prepared and to get ahead of the fall rush.

As you begin your journey to craft standout college essays, remember that your personal statement is your opportunity to shine. Be authentic, stay focused, and share your unique story. We are here to help guide you through this process. Schedule a free consultation with a counselor today. Additionally, register for our free mini-program to gain valuable insights and jumpstart your college success. Don’t miss out on this chance to elevate your application and set yourself apart.