The Essay

The college essay is an important part of your college application. And it may be the scariest and hardest part for you. But don't let it be!

What are colleges looking for?

Colleges want to see what you're interested in outside of the classroom. They want to see a well-written essay with no grammatical or spelling errors that's typed, not hand written. Most of all, they want to see who you are and how you describe your interests and feelings. They want to learn more about what is important to you, how you are unique and what you can bring to their college community.

So how do you go about writing your essay? Follow these five steps.

Step #1: Choose a topic.

Some colleges ask specific essay questions. Think hard about these questions and take time to develop your answers.

If you can choose your own topic, find one that inspires you. Take time to think about this. Don't feel you have to choose a topic in 5 minutes.

What are your interests? Ask your friends, coaches, parents and teachers what they think your strengths are. Think about what you've done, where you've been and what your accomplishments are. Whatever topic you choose, your essay should be about you.

Check out these topic ideas:

  • Have you volunteered someplace that you've enjoyed or where you felt you made a difference?
  • Describe your work experience.
  • Talk about your family life or your family responsibilities. Do you have a family member or child you care for? Are you the first person in your family to go to college? Have you overcome many obstacles to get here?
  • What do you excel at? Arts? Drama? Computers? Sports? Music?
  • Have you received any awards?
  • What matters to you?
  • Why do you want to go to college? Has someone or something inspired you?
  • Did something in particular inspire you to choose the career you wish to pursue?

Step #2: Make an outline.

After you choose a topic, write down what comes to mind. This could be single words or sentences — anything you may want to include in your essay.

Now take these thoughts and start making an outline. Keep it focused on your topic.

Step #3: Write your draft.

Use your outline nearby to refer to while you're writing. Your language should be simple, direct and clear.  Develop the three parts to your essay: 

  • Introduction: A brief overview of what your essay's going to be about. Don't be afraid to be creative, funny, or add suspense -- let your personality come through.
  • Body: Tell your story.
  • Conclusion: What deos your topic mean to you?

If you're responding to a specific question, make sure you've answered it. If you chose your own topic, make sure you didn't tell more than one story.

Keep your entire essay to 500 words or less unless your college says otherwise.

Step #4: Review, edit and proofread.

Reread your essay a day or two later. Have you said what you really wanted to say? Do you see areas for improvement? Review your spelling and grammar.

Proofread your essay at least three times -- including reading it aloud. Mistakes can ofen be caught when you do this.

Then, ask your parent, teacher, counselor or another helpful adult to read it and provide feedback. Use their comments constructively to further improve your essay.

Step #5: Final edits become your final essay.

Make your final edits and proofread again. You should have a completed essay now!