Neal Kaplan I'm a director of technical communications working for a data analysis startup in Redwood City. I started as a technical writer, and since then I've also been learning about information architecture, training, content strategy, and even something about customer support. I'm also passionate about cross-team collaboration and user communities.

What should you include in a college essay?

4 min read

  • Write something positive about yourself.
  • The focus should be on one aspect of yourself.
  • Tell a good story.
  • Don’t let it be false.
  • You should present yourself in the best possible light.
  • Information should be included in your application.
  • Take advantage of your native culture, traditions, and experiences.

The admissions committee wants to know about you, your achievements, your obstacles, your goals, your passions, your personality, and your values.

If you are asked to write about an influential person, the college wants to know your influence. Don’t give the admissions committee a list of your problems. You will get vivid and specific details in your essay if you choose something that you have experienced.

Unless you absolutely have to, don’t share anything that doesn’t make you sound good. Do your research if you are asked to write a reason why you want to attend a certain college.

If you want to be part of a program only for graduate students, save it for your graduate school application. You will almost certainly be rejected by a university if they find out you lied on an application.

Other people can tell if there isn’t enough being revealed, if the humor is falling flat, or if you’re not making the impression you’d want to. This essay is going to someone who doesn’t know you and is going to make a big decision based on what they learn from it.

How do I make my college essay stand out?

  • Try asking a question.
  • Start with a bold statement.
  • A quote is an interesting one.
  • The reader is in the middle of the story.
  • Speak directly to the reader to challenge them.
  • Let the reader know what you don’t want to do in your writing.

Here are seven tips for writing an engaging essay that will stand out from the rest, just as you want to prepare the best answers to your college interview.

The college essay needs to grab the attention of the admission reader. The reader is in the middle of things. A single word that stands as a paragraph can make the reader wonder.

You want the admissions reader to know this is a real person. You would want to be smart, funny, nice, caring, unique and not boring on a date.

Give thought to a few things and you can make your essay beautiful. Do you think a bold typeface would make your essay easier to read? After telling about all the little things that have relevance to your area of study, you might be able to reveal that.

You could bury your answer to a prompt in a story or a moral tale. It is a good idea to make sure people understand what you are trying to say. It’s a good idea to test your essay with a friend, a teacher, a parent and a younger reader.

Alan Alda said in his address to his daughter’s graduating college class that the most important things are said on the way out the door. You should end your college essay with something that summarizes the most important aspects of you, but that is also memorable. Memorable endings make the reader feel something.

They capture a conclusion in one sentence or phrase. They may end with a simple, clean truth written from the heart.

What should you not use in a college essay?

  • Referring to your academic and extracurricular achievements is never a good idea.
  • Don’t write about a topic.
  • Don’t begin with a preamble.
  • It’s never a good idea to conclude with a “happily ever after” conclusion.
  • Never pontificate.
  • Don’t retreat from your thoughts.
  • Don’t hold back.
  • Don’t give TMI.

The great essays were few and far between when I was a faculty advisor to the admissions committee at Douglass College. There were a number of common pitfalls avoided by the successful essays. There are things that you should not write about in your college admissions essay.

It is important to be kind to everyone. You stabbed me with a sword. College essays should show the real you, the complicated you, the person who makes mistakes, not the goody-two-shoes you think you are supposed to be.

No stories are off limits, but they should be told in a way that draws people into your experience, not a way that scares them away. Students often show their essays to their teachers.

Before you know it, you have lost the heart of the essay because you have a different idea about what you should write. After showing their essay to everyone, students edit it again and again to make each reader happy — and before you know it, their story has been ground down and their voice has disappeared. Sign up for self-paced courses and our award-winning StoryBuilder writing platform for free at for more information about college admission and scholarship essays and interviews. Carol Barash is the founder and CEO of Story2 a community of over a quarter million storytellers.

Carol created the Moments Method® and built Story2 to empower people to share authentic stories in safe, intersectional communities.

Do and don’ts of college essays?

  • The personal statement essay should not be used to repeat your resume.
  • You should show a slice of your life.
  • Don’t paste.
  • Do show your knowledge of the college.
  • Don’t say what the admissions office wants to hear.
  • Use your voice.
  • Don’t depend on spellcheck only.

College application essays, and what admissions officers are looking for when they read them, are some of the tips shared by IvyWise counselors Rachel and Zach. Many students put off writing college application essays until the last minute because it is the most stressful part of the admissions process. In a year where more colleges than ever are test-optional, soft factors like the essay will carry more weight in the admissions process this fall.

There are a number of steps that students can take to put together the most accurate and compelling personal statements and school specific supplements that will help them get into their top-choice colleges. A way to frame the story or idea that shows a slice of your life is important when developing a topic. It can be helpful to remember that your job isn’t necessarily to tell a full-length story; it’s to focus on something smaller that demonstrates who you are and what you stand for It’s important to use specific details you’ve learned through visiting and research when tailoring responses to individual college prompts Mention specific courses, professors, places of interest, and more in order to show your knowledge of the college.

Keep an eye out for things like “out” when you meant to say “our”, and take the time to read over your essays carefully. It is always worth the extra minutes to make sure you have error-free content, even when you are short on time.

To be extra safe, have a parent or counselor read the essay to you to make sure you don’t make any mistakes. Students need to write their own essays and use their authentic voice, but every writer can benefit from a second set of eyes. The only way to gain admission to your top-choice college is through an essay, but a poorly written one can send you to the “no” pile very quickly.

It’s important to give every essay your all and seek guidance when you need it, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed leading up to critical deadlines.

Can you use cuss words in college essay?

According to The Daily Beast, don’t use profanities in your college essays. It’s a big mistake. He would have gotten in if not for that. If cursing didn’t help, another Ivy League admissions counselor said this about an essay.

Is it bad to use slang in college essays?

Abbreviations are not acceptable in a college essay. Slang has to be avoided. Common language that people of all ages can understand. You’re writing for your professor, not your friends.

Neal Kaplan I'm a director of technical communications working for a data analysis startup in Redwood City. I started as a technical writer, and since then I've also been learning about information architecture, training, content strategy, and even something about customer support. I'm also passionate about cross-team collaboration and user communities.

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