College Essay

Additional Articles to Build Your Personal Statement:

In addition to the high school record, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, and teacher/counselor recommendations the college essay is an important piece of the college application and will provide the basis upon which the college makes its admission decision.  The essay a college in learning more about each individual student and brings depth to the application. A well-written essay can reveal important information about personal attitudes/qualities, feelings, imagination and creativity.  Think of the essay as a written interview and a chance to personalize your application.  A thoughtful, well-written essay can affect the final decision in a positive way.

*Core qualities that make a strong college essay are:

  • tell stories that belong only to you
  • write in the first person about YOU not someone else
  • start with a hook or a story
  • focus on your core qualities that are not revealed in the rest of your application
  • share positive messages and powerful outcomes * make yourself come alive throughout this process * write about yourself as passionately and powerfully as possible
  • use 1/3, 2/3 method: if starting with a life or family challenge, move quickly into who the student is now
  • reflect on their growth and development, including accomplishments and service
  • assist the reader to get into your story/experience and understand through your words your journey (initiative, leadership) and how your accomplishment and experiences will assist you to go beyond

Don’t wait until the last minute and write whatever comes to mind!  Write the first draft, make it as rough as you need, then set it aside for a few days.  Reread it with a fresh perspective and make the necessary changes.  Consider organization, style, grammar, spelling and tone.  Once you have rewritten your first draft, you may want feedback from people you know and trust:  your parents, counselor, a trusted friend, or a teacher. Your teacher can be particularly helpful because he/she knows the level of work you are capable of producing.  It may also be easier for you to accept constructive criticism from your teacher as well.  

Your college essay gives you two to five minutes to grab the attention of your reader.  It gives the student the opportunity to find the extraordinary in their ordinary activities, yet it has to be something that is not on their transcript but something that they are proud of. You will need weeks, not days, to write an effective essay.  This is not a manufacture essay, but one that conveys truth, unique stories and demonstrate your writing skills.  BE CAREFUL - colleges can sense an "enhanced" essay.  Your college essay is your personal statement, your speech where you present an image of who you are.  So make sure your statement shows the reader, not just tell the reader.

*from NACAC Communicating Their Stories: Strategies to Help Students Write Powerful College Application Essays

Supplemental Essays

Many institutions require a supplemental form in addition to the submission of the Common Application essay. A supplemental form seeks additional information from a student (this can be an additional essay or general questions) that is specific to the institution.

It is important for students not to recycle their supplemental essays, but to make them very specific.  Students should explore and investigate an instiution's clubs, programs, classes and campus life.  The supplemental essay should reveal to the college representatives why the student and the instiution are a great match.

Supplemental forms can be found on institutions's website.

Do's and Don'ts of the College Essay aka Personal Statement

Do not write it as a traditional essay.  It is an interview on paper.  Pretend you are giving your presidential speech.


This is NOT about your life story.  It is about how you dealt with experiences in your high school life.  What is your perspective, character and development as a person.

Limited amount of information

You need to show the reader not tell the reader about your experiences.  Make sure you are answering all the "why" questions that a reader may have.

Hardship story

Manufacturing a "hardship" story will hurt you.  Be honest in your statement.  Remember they want to know who you are not who you are not. Representatives can tell a real one versus a fake one.

I have to have a hardship story

There is a myth that college representatives are looking for the hardship story or the pity story.  Whether you have one or not.  If there is a hardship be brief about it, but focus what you learned from that experience.  How you have grown.  Most importantly what you did after this experience.

My essay, the resume

This is not the place to repeat your activities.  Colleges want to learn about significant experiences and perspectives on your statement, but a laundry list is a big mistake.

The college representative will not read my essay

Huge myth.  They do and they take notes.

I am a great writer, I do not need anyone's feedback

Remember a variety of individuals will be reading your personal statement.  Have someone you trust who understands the process and can give you constructive feedback.

I can have someone else write my essay

Your voice will be lost and will not reflect who you are in your letter of recommendations and secondary school reports.  Do not make this mistake.  A huge red flag.

I have to use big words

Make sure you use a vocabulary that expresses your VOICE! Avoid cliche and quotes from a famous person.  They want to know your words not someone else.

I am so funny, they will laugh throughout my essay

Remember what is funny to you may not be funny to various adults throughout the nation.

I will never write the "optional essay" or "additional comment."

A college representative said, "If a college is offering you an opportunity to tell them more about yourself, take advantage of that opportunity."

I can use additional comments to expand my original essay

Additional comments is to explain a circumstance, a situation or explain any other questions that a representative may have about you.  It is NOT part II of your essay.

Just two drafts is fine

On average some students take about five to six drafts to write their personal statement.  This is a challenging task even for a 45 year old to write. Trust is the writing process.

The campus specific essays are not that important

They are extremely important.  It is a way for the college to understand how intimately you know their campus and if you are a good fit.  Pretend it is a marriage proposal where you explain what specifically makes you great and what makes the campus great and how you will be great together.  DO YOUR RESEARCH!

My essay is so amazing, it will compensate for my grades

Grades and your coursework will always be the number one factor in admissions.  Grades and tests help colleges to determine can you be succesful on their campus.  Your statement and recommendations how the colleges determine who will be the best fit to attend their college.