How to Write an Outstanding College Entrance Essay

August 22, 2023
By AdmissionSight

How to Write an Outstanding College Entrance Essay

The college entrance essay can be a make-or-break factor in your application process. It’s an opportunity to showcase your personality, interests, and writing skills to the admissions committee.

However, for many students, the thought of writing a college essay can be overwhelming. In this blog, we’ll provide tips and tricks to help you write an essay that will stand out and make a lasting impression on the admissions committee.

Understanding the Admission Essay for College

What exactly is an essay for college admissions? It is a written piece that is submitted as part of the application process for admission to a college or university.

It’s an opportunity for applicants to showcase their writing skills and provide the admissions committee with a better understanding of who they are beyond their grades and test scores.

The essay typically prompts the applicant to respond to a specific question or prompt and can range from a personal statement that describes their background and goals to a creative piece that showcases their writing abilities.

The essay is an important component of the college application process, as it gives the admissions committee a chance to get to know the applicant more personally. The committee can learn about the applicant’s interests, experiences, and aspirations through the essay.

It also gives the applicant an opportunity to demonstrate their writing skills, which is an important component of success in college-level coursework.

In addition to being an opportunity to showcase one’s writing abilities and personal background, the essay can also play a crucial role in determining admission to a college or university.

A well-written essay can set an applicant apart from the competition and help demonstrate that they have the necessary skills and qualities to succeed in their academic program.

On the other hand, a poorly written essay can negatively impact the overall evaluation of the applicant’s application. Thus, it’s important to take the essay seriously and try to craft a standout piece.

What is the purpose of the college essay in the admissions process?

What is the purpose of the college essay in the admissions process? Understanding the significance of the college essay in the admissions process is vital for any prospective student.

The essay serves multiple roles, each of which can heavily influence the admissions committee’s decision. Let’s delve into each of these roles to provide a comprehensive understanding of the essay’s importance.

How does the essay allow for greater self-expression beyond test scores and grades?

The college application process is filled with numbers: SAT or ACT scores, GPAs, class ranks—the list goes on. While these metrics are important, they don’t capture the whole picture of who you are as an individual. The college entrance essay steps in to fill this gap.

Unlike standardized tests and grades, the essay provides a platform for you to articulate your thoughts, emotions, and perspectives. It’s your chance to show the admissions committee the person behind the numbers.

Whether you decide to talk about a community service experience that shifted your worldview or a personal project that represents your interests and skills, the essay can present a more well-rounded version of you.

This narrative style of self-expression can be particularly powerful because it allows for nuance and complexity, traits often absent from the black-and-white world of test scores.

Can the essay really be a tiebreaker among similar applicants?

Absolutely. Admissions committees frequently face the difficult task of choosing between candidates who appear virtually identical in terms of their academic and extracurricular achievements. When faced with this dilemma, the essay often becomes the distinguishing factor.

A well-written, thoughtful essay can tip the balance in your favor by providing that extra layer of individuality and depth.

It can make you memorable in the eyes of the admissions officer, transforming you from just another application to a real person with dreams, aspirations, and a unique way of seeing the world. In short, it’s your opportunity to move from being a statistic to being a story.

How can the essay provide context for academic anomalies?

Whether it’s a personal or family crisis, an illness, or any other significant challenge, these life events can impact your academic performance. The college essay offers an avenue to address any discrepancies in your academic record that might require an explanation.

This context is invaluable for the admissions committee, as it provides a fuller understanding of your academic journey. For instance, a semester of lower grades might initially seem like a red flag, but if your essay effectively explains that this dip coincided with a family upheaval or a health issue, it can transform a seeming weakness into a testament to your resilience and ability to overcome adversity.

Why do writing skills matter in the college essay?

It might seem obvious, but it’s worth stating: that your ability to write well is crucial for success in college. From research papers to essays, strong writing skills will be a consistent requirement throughout your academic career. Therefore, the college entrance essay serves as a litmus test for your readiness to meet these demands.

A well-structured, grammatically sound essay that effectively communicates your ideas can serve as compelling evidence of your academic preparedness. It reassures the admissions committee that you possess the foundational skills necessary to contribute to a rigorous intellectual environment.

How is the college essay evaluated by admissions officers?

How is the college essay evaluated by admissions officers? Understanding how your college essay will be evaluated can provide you with invaluable insights into what admissions officers are looking for. The essay isn’t just a formality but a critical component that can significantly affect your chances of admission.

Generally, admissions officers evaluate the essay based on several key criteria: Content, Structure, Style and Tone, and Grammar and Syntax. Let’s explore each of these aspects in detail.

What do admissions officers look for in the content?

Content is the backbone of your college entrance essay. Admissions officers are keen to see if the essay provides a window into an aspect of you that’s not already evident from other parts of your application like grades, test scores, or extracurricular activities.

A winning essay often presents a compelling story or viewpoint that highlights a unique characteristic, passion, or life experience that sets you apart.

Does your essay talk about a community service experience that ignited a passion for social justice? Or perhaps it tells the story of a personal project that demonstrates your creativity and entrepreneurial spirit? The subject should not only be engaging but also offer a perspective into your personality and potential contributions to the college community.

How important is the structure of the essay?

The structure of your college entrance essay is nearly as important as the content because it dictates how well your story or argument unfolds.

A well-organized essay makes your points clear and impactful. Admissions officers are likely to look favorably upon essays that have a strong introduction, a substantive body, and a conclusive ending.

Do your ideas flow logically? Are your arguments or narratives easy to follow? The cohesive organization not only makes reading your essay a more enjoyable experience but also demonstrates your ability to think systematically and logically—key skills for succeeding in a college environment.

What role do style and tone play?

Your style and tone give admissions officers clues about your sensibility and maturity. The style includes your choice of words, sentence structures, and general approach to storytelling or argumentation.

Are you formal or informal? Academic or conversational? These choices reflect not just your writing ability but also your social and emotional intelligence.

The tone should match the subject matter and overall message you aim to convey. An essay discussing a serious life event would naturally adopt a more somber tone, while one focusing on an amusing anecdote might be more lighthearted. Whatever the case, your tone should feel authentic and appropriate to the topic at hand.

How critical are grammar and syntax?

While the narrative content may be the soul of your essay, proper grammar and syntax are the vessels that carry it to the reader. A well-told story or insightful argument loses its efficacy when littered with grammatical mistakes or awkward phrasing. These errors can distract the reader and make your essay appear careless or rushed.

Admissions officers pay close attention to your language mechanics not just to assess your writing skills but also to gauge your attention to detail and overall academic preparedness. Clean, error-free writing signals that you are ready to undertake college-level work and that you take the application process seriously.

How can the essay affect the outcome of your college application?

How can the essay affect the outcome of your college application? The college essay is more than just a formality or an extra piece of writing to be tossed into the application packet. It can significantly impact your admission chances, for better or worse. Here’s how:

How can a well-written essay elevate your application?

Firstly, a compelling, well-crafted essay can set you apart in a crowded applicant pool. Even if your grades and test scores are average, an exceptional essay can pull weight and might be the deciding factor in getting you admitted.

When admissions officers have to sift through thousands of applications, those that feature thought-provoking, well-written essays are the ones that stand out.

A well-written essay also demonstrates that you possess the qualities necessary for college-level work. It shows that you can think critically, articulate your thoughts clearly, and engage with topics in a mature and insightful manner. Additionally, it can serve as a testament to your character, showcasing your motivations, ethics, or compassion.

a female student studying in a library

In essence, your essay is an audition for the kind of student you will be and the contributions you will make to the college community. If your essay conveys that you are an intelligent, driven, and engaged individual, it significantly boosts your odds of being accepted.

Can an essay uncover hidden talents or skills?

Absolutely. Your college essay can reveal facets of your personality and skill set that may not be immediately apparent from the rest of your application. Perhaps you have a knack for storytelling, a gift for persuasive argument, or a unique perspective that can add diversity to classroom discussions.

These “soft skills” are highly valuable in a college setting and can provide a strong counterpoint to the “hard data” like grades and test scores.

How can a poorly written essay hurt your chances?

On the flip side, a poorly executed essay can be detrimental to your application. An essay riddled with grammatical errors, unclear writing, or sloppy formatting sends a negative message to the admissions committee. It suggests a lack of attention to detail and calls into question your readiness for rigorous academic coursework.

Beyond technical shortcomings, an essay that fails to answer the prompt or engage with it in a meaningful way can also be a red flag. It implies either a lack of understanding or a lack of effort—neither of which are qualities that colleges are looking to bring into their student body.

What happens when your essay conflicts with the rest of your application?

Consistency is key in a college application. If your essay paints a picture of you that is dramatically at odds with the portrait provided by your grades, letters of recommendation, and other application materials, it can raise concerns.

Admission officers might wonder which version of you is the “real” one and may doubt the veracity of your application as a whole.

Writing Your College Admission Essay

How do you go about writing an essay for college? Your unique history, passions, and personality make you who you are. Don’t miss the chance to share your story. The best way to do this is by writing a personal essay on a topic that is important to you. If you are honest and authentic, others will appreciate your individuality.

Colleges are seeking clever, motivated students who will contribute something to their first-year classes.

1. Write About Something Important To You

It may be a person, an experience, or a book—really anything that has made an impression on you at some point in your life.

2. Don’t Just Recount—Reflect!

Describe the lessons you took away from special events as well as the ways in which they changed you.

3. Being Funny Is Tough

A student who is able to make an admissions officer laugh stands out from the crowd and is more likely to be accepted. But beware. Your sense of humor and that of an adult who works at a college are generally not going to align completely when it comes to humor.

4. Start Early And Write Several Drafts

Put it away for a few days, and then reread it. Put yourself in the position of an admissions officer and ask yourself these questions: Is there anything intriguing in the essay? Are the thoughts organized in a logical manner? Is the applicant’s voice heard throughout the document?

5. No Repeats

Your college entrance essay should not contradict any of the other parts of your application, nor should it repeat any of the information already provided. This is not the place to discuss your grades or exam scores, nor should you disclose any honors that you have received.

What should you avoid in your college essay?

What should you avoid in your college essay? It’s important to know that certain themes have been overused, and some topics may be risky, unoriginal, or simply inappropriate. Before brainstorming ideas, avoid these potential pitfalls and consider more creative and unique possibilities.

The following are some examples that illustrate this point:

Inappropriate Topics

Using inappropriate topics will not put you in a position to be successful. It’s possible that the admissions committee may pass judgment on you, and you’re not exactly making the best case for yourself right now.

Writing in a table beside a laptop.

A Rehash of Your Activities List and Transcripts

Simply restating all of your accomplishments won’t cut it when it comes to writing an engaging narrative. There is no need to restate everything you wrote down because the admissions committee already has access to your activity list and transcripts.

Remember that you need to provide the admissions committee with information they do not have.

Highly Personal Topics

Similar to how tragic occurrences don’t necessarily make for the finest essays, neither do very personal topics. Past traumatic experiences, serious illnesses, and injuries are all examples of highly intimate issues to discuss.

The Sports Story

Unfortunately, the plots of these writings almost always follow the same predictable patterns.

If you are dead set on writing about your experiences in the world of sports, be careful not to let your college entrance essay slip into overused and predictable patterns.


Some people find it difficult to read about the intimate details of the suffering endured by another individual.

You can, however, carefully create a story that includes a tragic occurrence, such as the loss of a loved one, if including it is essential to the narrative you are trying to tell. The important thing is to concentrate on yourself and consider how this served as an index event that influenced your subsequent thoughts and actions.

Controversial Topics: Politics, Religion, and More

The difficulty with these is that not everyone will hold the same ideas, and you risk exposing yourself to judgment from members of the admissions committee who do not hold such views.

Writing about politics and religion can give the committee the impression that you are trying to persuade them that your viewpoints are correct rather than demonstrating why you would be the best candidate.

Something That Happened Way Before High School

Even though these experiences were meaningful to you at the time, writing about something that occurred to you many years before you attended high school might not be the ideal idea for your essay.

The admissions committee wants to know who you are now, not who you were in the past.

Anything That Involves Lying

You would think this one is self-explanatory, but many individuals perceive that the events in their lives aren’t interesting enough to share, so they make things up. In your applications to colleges and universities, you should never tell a lie about anything.

The honesty of an applicant can be easily detected by admissions committees.

Female student writing near a window.

In conclusion, the college entrance essay is a valuable tool for both the applicant and the admissions committee.

When writing your essay, being thoughtful, genuine, and reflective is important. Show the admissions committee who you are, what drives you, and what makes you unique. Remember, the essay is your chance to make a lasting impression on the admissions committee. So, take your time, research, and write an essay you’re proud of.

Here at AdmissionSight, we have the opportunity to discuss your college goals, interests, and background with our expert consultants. We’ll help you identify your strengths and weaknesses and provide you with a customized plan of action to help you reach your college dreams.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Book your initial consultation today!


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