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7 Pro-Tips for Writing a Great College Application Essay

The college application essay is one of the most critical components of the college application part. You can read tons of winning samples and blog articles on the internet. But, how many articles will you read? In this post, I am going to share 7 Pro-Tips for Writing a Great College Application Essay, according to top college counselors and admission officers from top colleges – just to make your life easier.

Importance of College Application Essays

You have done well in your school exams, coursework and standardized tests (SAT, ACT, TOEFL etc.). You are also confident of getting excellent recommendations and completing the Common App smoothly. Now, what about the college application essays? After all, that’s the most important component of your college application. Yes, it certainly is; watch the following video by Prof. Marlis from Team Stoodnt (alma mater – St. Johns and Harvard, and teaching experience at SUNY,  NY, and Villanova):

As an international student, it’s always tough and often confusing for you when it comes to writing a great college application essay.  A college application essay could be as bizarre as the University of Chicago’s “How do you feel about Wednesday?”; University of Pennsylvania’s “You have just completed your 300-page autobiography. Please submit page 217.”; or Tufts University’s “Are We Alone?”. However, a college application essay could be bit boring as well. It might ask you about your formative experience or some controversial topic.

Feeling anxious? Continue reading.

No, I am not going to describe 133 Tips. Just (1+3+3) 7, but effective Pro-Tips 🙂

7 Pro-Tips for Writing a Great College Application Essay

Tip#1: Distinguishing Yourself

Pro-Tip from Jonathan Reider, director of college counseling at San Francisco University High School, who before that was the senior associate director of admissions (and humanities instructor) at Stanford University.

As per Jonathan, applicants often go wrong by distinguishing themselves through activities or interests. He is right. You are in high school and a teenager. You will be doing teenage things just like many other applicants. But, it is your mind and how it works that are distinctive. It’s quite common to share common interests and activities. But, two minds or personalities can hardly be exactly similar. You might find that hard to explain in your essay, but that’s the key to stand out in the crowd.

Jeff Brenzel,  Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Yale University, shares few quick tips on writing college application essay that reflects who you really are.

Tip#2: Be Concise

According to Jim Rawlins,  Director of Admissions at the University of Oregon, admissions officers spend 3 – 5 minutes on reading a college application essay. Though the minimum word limit of the college application essays is 250 words, it’s fine to go for more words. But, there is no point in writing more than 700 words, as that would dilute the compelling nature of your essay. Try to think as an admission officer. You need to read thousands of applications. So, time is precious. Of course summarizing your 16 – 17 years in 600 words is not going to be easy. But, I never said that writing the college application essay will be easy.

Have a look what happens inside the decision room during the college admission process from the point of view of admission officers (Amherst College) and a successful applicant (Yale University).

Tip#3: Start with an Anecdote

Everyone loves to read a story that starts with a hook. Same is applicable for a college application essay. The mini stories and anecdotes grab the attention of the admission officers. You might write, for example, “I sat down in the back of the crowded auditorium without a clue that I’d soon be standing center stage.” So, you need to establish a forward momentum straight away that makes the admission officer want to continue reading.  On another note, avoid gimmicky, catchy first lines at any cost. That’s a turn off for the admission officers.

The key for this aspect is analyzing the essay prompt carefully. Start brainstorming your life incidents. Get started with writing the drafts and get them proofread by parents, tutors or college admission counselors. Believe me; a compelling college application essay takes time. Don’t rush through and present a half-baked essay.

Register for the Webinar on College Application Essay

Tip#4: Express Your Possible Contribution(s) to Your Class (Peers) and College

Sell yourself by stating what can you bring or offer to your classmates and to the College campus. You could be excellent at group studies and/or other forms of team work. Maybe you will join a particular student organization or athletic team. You could be a valuable contributor to the College newsletter, blog or the Official Social Media channels like Facebook, Instagram or YouTube. You don’t need to be an expert in everything. But, if you are brilliant in a couple of activities, that’s what all the admission officers want.

Listen to former Admissions Officers from Stanford University,  Columbia University,  Brown University,  Wesleyan University,  Vassar College and Occidental College, as well as executives from The College Board and The Princeton Review on What makes a great college application essay.

Tip#5: Show, don’t tell

“Show Don’t Tell” has become less a piece of advice and more of a slogan. Have a look at the following two examples from Peterson’s Blog.

Example 1:

A mediocre essay: As I came to understand the challenges they face on a daily basis, I developed new compassion for the elderly.

A better essay: Volunteering at the Senior Citizen Center in my community was an eye-opening experience that introduced me to difficulties faced by the elderly.

An excellent essay: When I saw Mrs. Cooper struggling to load groceries into her car, I hustled across the parking lot to assist her.

Example 2:

A mediocre essay: I am extremely interested in chemistry, which is my favorite subject.

A better essay: My passion for chemistry led me to enter the state science fair during my sophomore year.

An excellent essay: As steam billowed from my test tube, I grinned, confident that my science fair project was ready to face the judges’ scrutiny.

Basically, you need to give the admissions committee a detailed glimpse into your life. Share things that have actually happened to you. You can do this by describing events and moments that capture something important about yourself. Don’t simply tell admission officers what you think important. Show them a scene that illustrates that aspect of your life, and allow them to draw the conclusion on their own.

Want to understand and know more? Watch this!

Tip#6: Enjoy the College Application Essay Writing

As you write, notice if you are enjoying what you are writing. Does the topic come easily to you? Is it making you feel bored? The feeling you have as you write will be the feeling you give to the admission officers. Bored writers make bored readers. While excited writers make for eager readers.

Tip#7: Demonstrate Intellectual Curiosity

A college is a place for intellectual development. Show your college-readiness by illustrating your intellectual curiosity. You need to explain why you are interested in a particular subject. Converge your interests, skills, personality and career goals with your intended major at the college. You need to self-realize and go through self-discovery process. Need help with this? We can help you through our PathFinder program.

Looking for some personalized advice and tips on college application essays? We have got you covered!

You must be thinking how Team Stoodnt can help you with your college application essays? Your doubt is justifiable. Let me share the partial list of successful admits for Fall 2017 by Team Stoodnt.

U.C. Berkeley
Georgia Tech
University of Chicago
University of Illinois
Carnegie Mellon University
University of Michigan
Stony Brook
Univ. of Washington at Seattle
Harvard Summer Program
Berklee School of Music
Texas A&M
Texas Tech
University of Illinois (Kelley School of Business)

Profile Snapshots of Top College Admission Counselors at Stoodnt

How can Stoodnt help you?

About Author Tanmoy Ray

I have got a Molecular Pharmacology background with 5 years of research experience in the fields of Cardiovascular Medicine, Cancer Biology, Biomarkers, and Drug Discovery. I did my Masters from the UK (Aston University) and have worked at University of Oxford (UK), Utrecht University (Netherlands), University of New South Wales (Australia) and MeetUniversity (India). Currently, I am working with Stoodnt Inc. as a Career Adviser & Admission Counselor. I can be reached at

Author: Tanmoy Ray

I am a Career Adviser & Admission Counselor at Stoodnt. I did my Masters from the UK (Aston University) and have worked at the University of Oxford (UK), Utrecht University (Netherlands), University of New South Wales (Australia) and MeetUniversity (India).


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