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How To Write Better Essays: 5 Tips to Write Essays That Impress Admissions Officers

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

How To Prepare For Grad School

How To Write Better Essays: 5 Tips to Write Essays That Impress Admissions Officers

When you’re trying to get into your dream college, one thing matters a lot: your college application essay. It’s not just any old piece of writing. It’s your chance to show who you are and get noticed among all the other applicants. Writing a really good college application essay takes skill, planning, and most importantly, being true to yourself. In this guide, we’ll talk about how to write better essays for college applications. We’ll give you the tips and tools you need to impress the people who decide who gets in.

We will break down 5 tips and provide more some specific guidance on how to help you write better essays.

Tip #1. Understand the Prompt

Before you even put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), take the time to thoroughly understand the essay prompt. What is the question asking? What is the underlying purpose? Pay attention to keywords and instructions, and make sure your response directly addresses them. Remember, a well-structured essay that misses the mark on the prompt won’t serve its purpose effectively.

Understanding the essay prompt is the crucial first step in crafting a successful college application essay. Let’s break down this process further:

Understand the Question: Read the prompt carefully, multiple times if necessary, to understand its full meaning. Identify the key components of the question and any specific instructions provided.

For example, if the prompt asks you to discuss a significant challenge you’ve faced and how you’ve overcome it, make sure you understand what qualifies as a “challenge” and what types of responses are expected.

a female student looking at her notes about cornell

Identify Keywords: Pay close attention to keywords or phrases that indicate the focus or scope of the essay prompt. These could include action verbs (e.g., analyze, describe, evaluate), specific topics or themes (e.g., diversity, leadership, innovation), or directives (e.g., discuss, compare, contrast).

For instance, if the prompt asks you to “evaluate the impact of a community service experience on your personal growth,” the keywords “evaluate” and “impact” indicate that you need to critically assess how the experience influenced you.

Understand the Purpose: Consider why the admissions committee is asking this particular question. What are they hoping to learn about you? What qualities or experiences are they seeking to assess? Understanding the underlying purpose of the prompt will help you tailor your response accordingly.

For example, if the prompt asks you to describe a time when you demonstrated leadership, the purpose may be to evaluate your ability to take initiative, inspire others, and navigate challenges effectively.

Craft a Thesis Statement: Based on your understanding of the prompt and your brainstorming, formulate a clear and concise thesis statement that outlines the main argument or message of your essay. Your thesis statement should directly address the prompt and provide a roadmap for the rest of your essay.

For example, if the prompt asks you to discuss a time when you faced adversity, your thesis statement could be: “Despite facing significant obstacles, my experience overcoming adversity has strengthened my resilience, determination, and sense of empathy.”

Taking the time to understand the essay prompt thoroughly means you lay a solid foundation for crafting a focused and compelling response that effectively addresses the admissions committee’s expectations. Remember, the prompt serves as your guide, shaping the direction and content of your essay, so approach it with careful attention and thoughtfulness.

Tip #2. Tell Your Story

Your college application essay is your chance to introduce yourself beyond the numbers and statistics on your application. It’s an opportunity to share your unique experiences, perspectives, and aspirations. Don’t shy away from showcasing your personality and passions. Whether it’s a personal anecdote, a significant life event, or a moment of self-discovery, make sure your essay reflects who you are as an individual.

Here are three surefire ways to convey your personal story through your essays:

Personal Anecdote: Start your essay with a captivating personal anecdote that highlights a defining moment or experience in your life. For instance, you could narrate a story about how volunteering at a local animal shelter ignited your passion for animal welfare and inspired you to pursue a career in veterinary medicine.

Describe the emotions you felt, the challenges you encountered, and the lessons you learned from this experience. By sharing a personal anecdote, you not only engage the reader but also provide insight into your values, interests, and motivations.

Significant Life Event: Reflect on a significant life event or milestone that has shaped your identity or influenced your aspirations. For example, you could discuss how immigrating to a new country at a young age taught you resilience, adaptability, and the importance of cultural diversity.

Describe the impact of this life event on your worldview, goals, and personal growth. By sharing a significant life event, you demonstrate your ability to overcome challenges and embrace growth opportunities, while also providing context for your academic and extracurricular achievements.

Moment of Self-Discovery: Explore a moment of self-discovery or personal realization that has guided your journey toward higher education. For instance, you could reflect on how participating in a leadership program helped you discover your passion for advocacy and social justice.

a male student writing an essay to his notebook

Discuss how this realization has influenced your academic interests, career aspirations, and commitment to making a positive impact in your community. By sharing a moment of self-discovery, you convey authenticity, introspection, and a sense of purpose, which are qualities that admissions officers value in prospective students.

Tip #3. Structure Matters

A well-organized essay is not only easier to read but also more impactful. Start with a compelling introduction that grabs the reader’s attention and sets the tone for the rest of the essay. Follow it up with body paragraphs that provide supporting evidence and elaborate on your main points. Finally, conclude with a strong closing that reinforces your central message and leaves a lasting impression.

​​A well-structured essay not only enhances readability but also amplifies the impact of your message. Letes explore the significance of structure in essay writing and discuss the keys to crafting essays that resonate with admissions officers and leave a lasting impression.

Compelling Introduction: Your essay’s introduction serves as the gateway to your narrative, beckoning readers to venture further into your world. Begin with a hook that captivates their attention—a vivid description, a provocative question, or a compelling anecdote.

For example, if you’re writing about your journey overcoming adversity, you could start with a poignant moment that encapsulates the challenges you’ve faced. By drawing readers in from the outset, you set the stage for a captivating exploration of your experiences and insights.

Supporting Body Paragraphs: The body of your essay is where you flesh out your ideas, providing evidence, examples, and analysis to support your overarching theme. Each paragraph should focus on a distinct aspect of your narrative, with clear transitions between them to maintain coherence.

For instance, if you’re discussing your passion for environmental conservation, you could dedicate one paragraph to describing your volunteer work at a local wildlife sanctuary and another paragraph to outlining your vision for sustainability initiatives on campus. By organizing your ideas logically and cohesively, you guide readers through the intricacies of your narrative, reinforcing your central message with each paragraph.

Strong Conclusion: As your essay draws to a close, it’s essential to leave readers with a lasting impression that resonates beyond the final words. Summarize the key points you’ve addressed in the body of the essay, emphasizing the significance of your insights and experiences. You could also offer a thought-provoking reflection, a call to action, or a glimpse into the future.

For example, if you’re writing about your commitment to social justice, you could conclude by highlighting the ongoing work you plan to pursue in college and beyond. By leaving readers with a sense of closure and inspiration, you reinforce the impact of your narrative and compel them to consider its broader implications.

Tip #4. Show, Don’t Just Tell

One of the most common pitfalls in college application essays is resorting to generic statements and clichés. Instead of simply telling admissions officers about your qualities and achievements, demonstrate them through vivid anecdotes and specific examples. Show how you’ve overcome challenges, pursued your passions, and made a difference in your community. Let your actions and experiences speak for themselves.

Here are more ways to show your message in your essays instead of telling it.

Vivid Anecdotes and Specific Examples: Instead of relying on unclear descriptions or generic assertions, paint a vivid picture for admissions officers by illustrating your qualities and achievements through compelling anecdotes and specific examples.

For instance, rather than simply stating that you’re a leader, recount a moment when you took initiative to organize a fundraising event for a local charity, mobilizing your peers and community members to make a meaningful impact. By providing concrete evidence of your leadership abilities, you demonstrate your capacity to effect change and inspire others.

A mother and her student looking at her laptop.

Overcoming Challenges: Showcasing resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity can be a powerful way to demonstrate your character and personal growth. Share a personal story or experience where you encountered obstacles or setbacks and illustrate how you overcame them with determination and resilience.

For example, you could recount a time when you struggled academically but persevered through hard work and determination to improve your grades and achieve academic success. By sharing your journey of overcoming challenges, you reveal your resilience and tenacity to admissions officers, leaving a lasting impression of your character.

Passion and Impact in the Community: Admissions officers are interested not only in what you’ve accomplished but also in the impact you’ve had on others and the world around you. Highlight your passions and contributions to your community by sharing specific examples of how you’ve made a difference.

For instance, if you’re passionate about environmental sustainability, describe your involvement in organizing a campus-wide recycling initiative or leading a community cleanup effort. By demonstrating your commitment to making a positive impact, you showcase your values and potential as a future leader and change-maker.

Incorporating vivid anecdotes, specific examples, and personal experiences into your college application essay allows you to convey your qualities, achievements, and aspirations in a compelling and memorable way. By showing admissions officers who you are through your actions and experiences, you create a narrative that resonates authentically and leaves a lasting impression.

Tip #5. Edit and Revise

Writing a great essay is only half the battle; editing and revising are equally important. Take the time to review your essay multiple times, checking for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. Pay attention to clarity and coherence, ensuring that your ideas flow smoothly from one paragraph to the next. Consider seeking feedback from teachers, mentors, or peers to gain valuable insights and perspectives.

The true magic happens in the process of editing and revising—a meticulous journey of refinement and clarity that transforms your raw ideas into a polished masterpiece. Let’s explore the art of editing and revising your essay, uncovering the techniques and strategies that will elevate your writing to a new level and catch the admissions officers’ attention.

Grammar, Punctuation, and Spelling: The first step in editing and revising your essay is to meticulously comb through it for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. Pay attention to common mistakes such as subject-verb agreement, punctuation misuse, and misspelled words.

For example, ensure that you’ve used commas, semicolons, and dashes correctly to enhance clarity and readability. Remember, even minor errors can detract from the overall impact of your essay, so take the time to correct them diligently.

Clarity and Coherence: Next, focus on enhancing the clarity and coherence of your essay to ensure that your ideas flow smoothly from one paragraph to the next. Review each sentence and paragraph with a critical eye, eliminating any unnecessary repetition, ambiguity, or confusion.

Smart Young Boy Works on a Laptop For His New Project in His Computer Science Class.

For instance, consider rephrasing convoluted sentences to make them more concise and direct, or adding transitional phrases to improve the flow between paragraphs. By prioritizing clarity and coherence, you make it easier for readers to follow your train of thought and grasp the significance of your ideas.

Seek Feedback and Gain Perspectives: Finally, don’t underestimate the value of seeking feedback from teachers, mentors, or peers to gain fresh insights and perspectives on your essay. Share your draft with trusted individuals who can provide constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement.

Consider questions such as: Does the essay effectively convey your personality and aspirations? Are the main points clear and compelling? Is there anything that could be added or revised to strengthen the overall impact? By embracing feedback and incorporating diverse perspectives, you can refine your essay to its fullest potential and ensure that it resonates authentically with admissions officers.

In the world college application essays, editing and revising are indispensable tools for transforming your initial draft into a polished masterpiece that captures the essence of who you are and what you aspire to achieve.

Meticulously reviewing your essay for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors, enhancing clarity and coherence, and seeking feedback from trusted individuals, you can elevate your writing to new heights and maximize your chances of making a lasting impression on admissions officers.

How Important Are Your Essays in the Admissions Process

Essays play an important role in showcasing why you’re a perfect fit for your school of choice. They offer a unique opportunity to go beyond grades and test scores, allowing you to express your personality, aspirations, and values in a way that sets you apart from other applicants.

Through your essays, you have the chance to paint a clear picture of who you are as an individual and why you’re passionate about attending that specific institution. Whether you’re discussing your academic interests, extracurricular pursuits, or personal experiences, essays provide a platform to demonstrate how your unique qualities align with the culture and values of the school you’re applying to.

Moreover, essays offer admissions officers insight into your critical thinking, communication skills, and ability to articulate ideas effectively. They provide a window into your thought processes and allow admissions committees to assess your potential for success both academically and within the broader campus community.

A well-crafted essay can leave a lasting impression, leaving admissions officers eager to learn more about you and your contributions to their institution. Ultimately, essays serve as a powerful tool for showcasing why you belong at your school of choice and why admitting you would enrich the academic and social fabric of the campus community.

How to Build Good Writing Habits

Building good writing habits is essential for anyone looking to improve their writing skills and productivity. Here are some strategies to help you develop and maintain effective writing habits:

1. Set Specific Goals

Define clear, achievable writing goals for yourself, whether it’s writing a certain number of words per day, completing a specific project by a deadline, or improving your writing skills in a particular area. Setting specific goals provides focus and motivation, helping you stay on track with your writing endeavors.

2. Establish a Routine

Create a consistent writing routine that works for you, whether it’s writing for a set amount of time each day, scheduling dedicated writing sessions throughout the week, or finding a quiet and comfortable space where you can focus without distractions. Consistency is key to building habits, so make writing a regular part of your daily or weekly schedule.

A young man inside the library smiling at the camera

3. Start Small

If you’re new to writing or struggling to get started, break down your writing tasks into smaller, manageable steps. Start with short writing sessions or set modest word count goals, and gradually increase them as you become more comfortable and confident in your writing abilities.

4. Eliminate Distractions

Minimize distractions and create a conducive writing environment by turning off notifications, finding a quiet workspace, and setting boundaries with others to avoid interruptions. Consider using productivity tools or apps to block distracting websites or apps during your writing sessions.

5. Practice Regularly

Like any skill, writing improves with practice. Make writing a regular habit by incorporating it into your daily or weekly routine. Set aside dedicated time for writing, even if it’s just for a few minutes each day, and commit to practicing consistently to strengthen your writing muscles.

6. Find Your Writing Process

Experiment with different writing techniques, strategies, and tools to find what works best for you. Whether you prefer outlining your ideas beforehand, free-writing to generate new ideas, or revising and editing as you go, identify the writing process that aligns with your strengths and preferences.

By implementing these strategies and techniques, you can develop and maintain effective writing habits that will enable you to achieve your writing goals and become a more skilled and confident writer over time.

How Does Reading More Help You Become A Better Writer

Reading extensively is an indispensable habit for anyone aspiring to become a better writer. Immersing oneself in a wide range of literature exposes writers to diverse writing styles, perspectives, and techniques, providing invaluable insights and inspiration for their own writing endeavors.

By reading extensively, writers can observe how authors craft compelling narratives, develop engaging characters, and use language effectively to convey their ideas and evoke emotions. Whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or essays, every piece of literature offers lessons and opportunities for writers to learn and grow.

Furthermore, reading a lot enhances writers’ vocabulary, grammar, and overall language proficiency, which are essential components of effective writing. Exposure to varied language usage and literary devices expands writers’ repertoire of words and phrases, enabling them to express themselves more precisely and creatively in their writing.

Additionally, reading exposes writers to different writing conventions and structures, helping them develop a deeper understanding of storytelling techniques, narrative arcs, and stylistic elements. Ultimately, by reading extensively, writers not only enrich their writing skills but also cultivate a deeper appreciation for the art of storytelling and the power of language to captivate and inspire readers.

a female student thinking about how to withdraw a college application.

Conclusion

Crafting a stellar college application essay requires time, effort, and a willingness to dig deep and share your authentic self. By understanding the prompt, telling your story, mastering essay structure, showing rather than telling, and diligently editing and revising, you can create a compelling narrative that sets you apart from the competition.

Remember, your essay is your chance to make a memorable impression on admissions officers and showcase why you’re the perfect fit for your dream college.

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