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Five Steps to Writing a College Application Essay

Updated: Aug 7, 2022

By: Sean Yen

Many students underestimate the power of the application essay. College admission boards do take into consideration your GPA and extracurriculars, but often students are accepted or denied based on their essays. Sometimes the prospect of writing these essays can be difficult and overwhelming, however, if you take these steps you are sure to write a wonderful essay.

We will go into depth on each of these steps later in this article, but this is a general overview of what the most prominent steps of writing a college essay are:

  1. Brainstorm

  2. Write

  3. Edit

  4. Proofread

  5. Proofread Again

The Tornado is Key - Brainstorm

Brainstorming just refers to getting all your thoughts flowing into ideas. Jot down all the ideas you have for each Common Application, UC Personal Insight question, or other collegiate application for a minimum of 5 minutes. No idea is too small! The best thing to do is to write down a wide variety of ideas and choose which story or stories best represent the quality you want to display.

If it is easier for you to come up with ideas on traditional pen and paper, print the application essay questions out, grab several pieces of lined paper, and jot down as many bullet points as you can in 5 minutes! Do not worry about writing full sentences— phrases are fully sufficient! This step is important just to get your creative juices flowing so you can explore which aspects to pursuing later on.

(Hint: If you are stuck on a particular question, try this online writing application to get your creative juices flowing:

Know Thyself

When it comes to some of the questions, they will want to know more about you. This is the time to sell yourself. If there were only three adjectives you have to describe yourself, what would they be? These should encompass the essence of who you are. Think about how your family, friends, and peers may describe you. Are you empathetic? Do you have a good sense of humor? Ask others close to you to get some ideas! Knowing how to describe yourself is important and will only further explain to the admissions committee why you should be accepted. In the Brainstorm phase, you should take 5 minutes to write down as many adjectives you can to describe yourself!

Find below a list of adjectives to serve as potential examples!














Use A Shovel, and Dig Deep!

The admissions committee wants to understand who you are as an applicant. Use this time to practice introspection. It is important to discuss a specific challenge you faced, how it felt while you were engrossed in the adversity, the steps you took to overcome the adversity, what you learned from the experience, and how you can apply this knowledge to your future endeavors. Remember, admissions officers want to see a candidate that has the potential to succeed academically and socially in the pursuit of higher education.

One Chance at a First Impression

Your application essay is an opportunity to demonstrate to the admissions committee that you are a great candidate for their institution. Now, just like in life, you only get one chance to make a first impression. That’s what they are called first impressions, right? Treat this like the first meeting with someone important—how would you behave? Write down how you would like an admissions officer to view you. Then, think about how you would convey a great first impression that encompasses your best attributes.

Edit, Edit, Edit!

To continue the theme of the previous subsection, it is important to make a great first impression and no one wants to communicate sloppiness, brevity, or a lack of attention to detail, right? (This is where you answer the rhetorical question, with RIGHT!). Once you have brainstormed, written, edited, and proofread your paper (which are all the steps you should have taken if you followed our recommended steps, ahem), then it is time to PROOFREAD AGAIN! Make sure your t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted. Make sure your punctuation is properly used and your diction is properly engaging. This last step is what separates the top 5-7% from the rest of the applicant group, and when you are competing to get into competitive universities (seemingly every university is competitive these days), make your application STAND OUT even more! Another way to think about this is to not give the admissions committee any reason to NOT ACCEPT YOU!

Well, there you have it!

If you would like to have EXPERT guidance for your College Essay process or your College Admissions process in general, please reach out to Personalized Prep today!

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1 Comment

This is helpful information! Thanks!

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