Let’s do this thing: 5 tips for writing your college essay


Isabella Carrero-Baptista, Reporter

Ah, the college essay. The bane of every senior student’s existence. Senior Lucia Mercado Santos commented, “I hate writing essays, it’s kind of stressful too.”  But it doesn’t have to be. In essence, the college essay is your chance to show colleges who you are outside of the achievements on your profile. To show your personality. Madeline Ireland (12) said that the college essay is an opportunity to “show off yourself, your experience in life so far, and your writing abilities.” So, difficult as it may be, these 5 simple steps will help us get through it together.

1. Say it with me now: REQUIREMENTS

Before you’re ready to pick a topic, you have to know what you’re answering. Step one: choose a prompt. The 2021 prompts are listed below:

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

It doesn’t really matter which of these you chose to write about, as long as you answer it earnestly. A note of caution however: number seven may seem deceitfully appealing. It’s basically telling you that you can write about whatever you want. Great, right? WRONG. People don’t get into Harvard because they wrote about their favorite color. People get into Harvard because they wrote about the significance their favorite color has in their life. The point is, you can write about anything you want (your favorite movie, your pet, etc.) as long as you explain why it’s important to you and is a part of you. For example, write about how Jurassic Park inspired you to become a paleontologist, not about how having dinosaurs around today would change the ecosystem. Senior Sarah Woo advised to “just being (be) yourself and don’t brag too much or act like someone else.”

One more thing: the word count for the essay is 650 words. No more, no less. So keep that in mind when thinking of which question to answer. Don’t write your life story, pick an experience, hobby, value, etc. that reveals something about you (U.S. News).

2. Keep things simple

# 1 rule of writing a college essay: Keep it simple. Let me say it again: KEEP IT SIMPLE. Do not make things harder for yourself by writing about the ethical dilemmas of globalization. Make your essay topic stand out by picking a trivial yet insightful thing about your life. Case in point: Carolina Williams. She wrote about ordering Papa John’s pizza and got accepted into Yale (Washington Post). The Yale admissions officer wrote: “I laughed so hard on your pizza essay. I kept thinking that you are the kind of person that I would love to be best friends with… every part of your application stood out…”

Psst, here’s the link to the article: Pizza Essay. Take notes.

On the subject of keeping things simple, that goes for your language too. Vomiting up a thesaurus all over your essay will get annoying quickly; keep your words concise and to the point. What you really have to focus on is the substance of your essay, forget the fluff.


Now for things you do not want to write about. Let’s face it, everybody has their own individual biases, and whenever conflicting opinions clash, well… things don’t get too pretty. You generally want to avoid touchy subjects like political parties, religion, conspiracy theories, etc. because you never know which side of the argument the admissions officer is going to be on. If you absolutely HAVE TO write about one of these, try to remain as neutral as possible, but ultimately it’ll just water your essay down. 

4. The bonny lass, with her read dress, fluttered to your ear and whispered: IMAGERY

P.S. I’m the bonny lass.

Going back to Williams’ essay, she uses a lot of descriptive language, for example “The sound of my doorbell starts off high, then the pitch mellows out, and the whole effect mimics an instrumental interpretation of rain finally finding a steady pace at which to fall”. Remember, this isn’t your typical English essay where your teacher will fail you if you include “narrative elements”, spice things up a bit. Be specific and establish the setting; what color were the curtains at the drab nursing home you volunteered at? Did the halls smell dusty? Take me there. 

5. There’s a reason why it’s called a DEADline

I know, I know just the thought of writing this essay makes you want to put it off for the next day, and the next, and the next… But trust me, this is not something you want to leave until the last minute. When asked what advice they would give for writing a college essay, two seniors said to start it ahead of time. An essay as important as this needs time to be polished to the best it can be, and that won’t happen if you write it the day before the deadline. After you finish reading this, write down some ideas for the essay topic and try to get started. And I mean now. Like, right now. 

Best of luck! You can do this!


Cited Sources:

Ross, Kelly Mae, et al. “How to Write a College Essay.” U.S. News. U.S. News,


Wong, Herman. “The college admissions essay about Papa John’s Pizza that Yale

     loved, highlighted edition.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2017/06/04/the-papa-johns-pizza-admissions-essay-that-yale-loved/