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Writing the College Essay

Writing the College Essay

What the essay is NOT…

  • A list of classes and grades taken
  • A list of extracurricular activities
  • An opportunity to show off your vocabulary
  • An essay about someone else
  • A scholastic essay
  • Bartlett’s book of quotations

What the essay is…

  • “The Interview” (on paper)
  • Opportunity to explain in-depth ONE thing about yourself (maybe two if there are two essays)
  • It’s about YOU!


  • Keep It Simple, Stu…dent
  • Show, Don’t Tell – specific examples
  • Try to focus the essay on one topic per response
  • Minimal intro/conclusion
  • Stick to simple prose

What do colleges consider to admit you?

  • GPA
  • Test Scores
  • Courses taken beyond the minimum
  • AP, Honors, College level courses
  • Ranking in high school
  • Senior year academics
  • Academic performance compared to opportunities
  • Outstanding performance or projects in one or more academic subject areas.
  • Marked Improvement
  • Special talents, achievements and awards in a particular field, such as visual and performing arts, communication or athletic endeavors; special skills, such as demonstrated written and oral proficiency in other languages; special interests, such as intensive study and exploration of other cultures; experiences that demonstrate unusual promise for leadership, such as significant community service or significant participation in student government; or other significant experiences or achievements that demonstrate the student’s promise for contributing to the intellectual vitality of a campus.
  • Participation in enrichment programs.
  • Academic accomplishments in light of a student’s life experiences and special circumstances.
  • Location of a student’s secondary school and residence.

So what should you write about?

Don’t write about your GPA or Test scores, AP honors classes or your ranking in High School, or any outstanding performances in one or more academic subject areas.  College can already see your grades and your AP achievements from your transcripts.  They want to hear about YOU.

Write about your special talents, your participation in enrichment programs, volunteer work you are passionate about, or academic accomplishments in light of special circumstances or life events.  Colleges want to know what makes you special and unique and why you would be an important part of their school culture.

Do’s and Don’ts:

Do: Get feedback!

• Content (WHAT you write)

– College & Career Options – call 244-4022

• Style (HOW you write it)

– English teacher
– Friend, parent, other adult

Do: Brainstorm first and allow time for several rewrites

Do: Focus on content over style and Keep It Simple

Do: Get help if you need it!  College & Career Options has advisors and people to help.  Contact Us!

Don’t: Focus on word count

Don’t: Start with a quote, unless instructed to do so.

Don’t: Wait until the last minute

Don’t: Sacrifice content for style.