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How to Get Your College Admissions Essay Noticed  

Your college admissions essay is your best chance at grabbing the attention of admissions officers. If you’re not comfortable with the writing process, producing a stand-out essay can be a challenge. Many applicants struggle through the entire experience, from planning to writing to proofreading. Selecting a meaningful topic, using clear language, following a sensible writing process and revising your essay until it’s error-free can help ensure that your essay will stand out from the other applicants.

Follow a Logical Writing Process

Following a logical writing process is a good way to ensure that your essay will be well-organized, easy to follow and polished. Many of the best writers start with rough ideas and refine their writing in phases, making several rounds of revisions and edits.

Starting this process early ensures that you'll have plenty of time to produce a polished piece. If you're not sure how to budget your time, follow this timeline:

  • Spend 25% of the time writing an outline, doing research, etc.
  • Spend 35% of the time writing the essay.
  • Spend 45% of the time editing and revising.

When you’re ready to get started, follow this process:


  1. Choose a Topic:  Topic selection is the first step to take before beginning to write. The purpose of the college admissions essay is to introduce yourself and to make yourself a desirable candidate. Your essay should be personal, revelatory and sincere. Tell a story about a time that meant something to you. You may discuss a time in your life when you learned something new or changed in a fundamental way. These powerful stories can help paint a picture of who you are and why you should be admitted to the college that you’ve selected. Once you've picked a topic, play with the title until it is descriptive and engaging.
  2. Create an Outline:  A well-written outline can will help you avoid redundancies, organize your thoughts and stay on message. A thorough and well-crafted outline serves as a road map that makes the writing process easier and faster. When creating the outline, start by producing a list of ideas to cover in your essay. When the list is complete, select the top-level (main) ideas from the list and put them in order as they should be written in the essay. Use the remaining ideas on the list to fill in the space between the main ideas. When this is done, review the outline and add more details to be covered in each section until the total progression of your essay is written in the outline.
  3. Plough Through Your Rough Draft:  The rough draft is exactly like its name: it’s rough. At this stage, getting your ideas on paper is more important than writing refined sentences and fully-formed ideas. You’ll have time later on to flesh out your descriptions and clarify your ideas. Agonizing over every last word and detail when writing the rough draft can be disheartening, frustrating and counterproductive. Write quickly and without thought, knowing the writing is not your best. You’ll fix the problems during the revisions.
  4. Put it Away for a Few Days:  Once the rough draft has been completely written, step away from the essay and take a rest. If possible, avoid thinking about your essay for the next 72 hours. When you come back to your writing, you’ll be able to look at it with a fresh perspective and renewed interest. After a long break, it will be easier to see some of the ways that your essay can be improved. Having forgotten what you’ve written, places where the essay seems thin or lacking will standout.
  5. Make Revisions:  In addition to grammar corrections, you’ll be looking for parts of the essay that don’t belong, are too long or are not long enough. Usually a simple read-through will help you identify problem areas.
  6. Repeat Steps 5 and 6:  When you’re done making the first round of changes, put the draft away for a few more days. When you're ready, read through it again, and make more edits as necessary.
  7. Give It to Someone Else:  Once you’ve proofread your essay two or three times, give it to someone else to read. If possible, give your essay to a person who will be honest and open with their opinions. This person should also be capable of identifying typos and grammar errors. A tutor or teacher may be a good candidate, but if you have a friend who is known for brutal honesty, this person may also be a good candidate.
  8. Revise it One More Time:  Once you’ve gotten the essay back, make the suggested changes if you agree with them. When you're done, put the essay away for another few days. When you’ve had time away from the essay, make one more shot at revisions. At this point, the essay should feel nearly done.Avoid the temptation to revise endlessly. As you make changes to the essay, ask yourself if the edits you’re producing are valuable. When you’ve gotten to the point that you can think of no substantive changes to make, then it’s probably time to print out a fresh copy and send in your college application.


Style Tips and Other Suggestions

Style is just as important as process. Smart word choices, good descriptions and original writing can all help make your essay standout from other applicants. These tips will help you craft an essay that can impress a college admissions officer.

Strive for Clarity

College admission officers read hundreds of essays. They have little time to spend pondering lengthy sentences, meandering thoughts and obscure words. Strive to write an essay that is written simply, beautifully and clearly.

Example of a plain sentence: I painted the portrait.

Example of a sentence with simple modifiers: I quickly painted the portrait in warm, vibrant colors.

Use Reference Carefully

Most college admissions essays are personal narratives, and citations are disruptive in a narrative essay. If an outside work was helpful, mention it in a “Source” list after the essay, and avoid using citations in the body of the text. If you find yourself writing a research essay for your college application (stranger things have happened), use a well-known citation style like MLA or APA, and follow the style to the letter. Perfect citations are important in a research paper.

Be Original

Remember the 5 W's






You probably learned about the 5 W’s in grade school. Experienced writers of all types use the 5 W’s to tell a story. These 5 elements help ensure that your essay contains the details necessary to make your essay understandable. It may seem like a childish idea, but the 5 W’s are an excellent guide to follow when writing an essay. During the proofreading stage, look for the 5 W’s within the structure of your essay. If you can’t pick out all 5 W’s, there’s a good chance that your essay is missing some valuable information.

Good Luck!

Producing a memorable, readable, enjoyable college essay is hard work. Taking a logical approach, staying organized, giving yourself plenty of time and seeking help from someone else can help you produce a college essay that will stand out from the other applicants.

  • Kathryn Pomroy
    Kathryn Pomroy

    Journalist, Artist & Lover of Puppies | Kathryn is a writing junkie and coffee aficionado who attended Arizona State University where she earned a blue belt in Shotokan-ryu Karate, graced the local stage as a ballerina, and graduated with honors with a degree in journalism.