5 Stages Of Writing A Killer College Essay For Application

The college essay represents the culmination of your years of effort, involvement in extracurricular activities, and determination.

You have the opportunity to express who you are, share your passions, and effectively promote yourself and your intellect to people you may not know personally. Writing an essay can be a daunting task for students, and it often requires a significant amount of time and effort to complete.

Despite their best efforts, students may struggle to create an essay that is truly impactful and effective. Similar to any other task, writing a college essay necessitates careful evaluation.

Discussed in this EDU Blog, are some crucial steps that can assist you in crafting your essay with ease and clarity.

What is a college essay?

The college essay is a vital component of your college application.

Numerous universities require applicants to submit a college application essay, often in the form of a personal statement or a similar essay, as part of their application materials. With some schools placing less importance on standardized test scores, the admissions essay has become a vital element in the applicant’s application.

It is a personal essay that tells a captivating story within a limit of characters. It shares similarities with memoir or creative nonfiction writing, as it conveys the author’s personal experiences. The college essay is distinctively personal and creative, characterized by introspection, reflection, and self-awareness.

Some students may feel anxious about the essay portion of their college application process. However, with a positive mindset and a thoughtful approach, you can write an essay that enhances your chances of admission.

While a strong college application essay may not compensate for low grades for students at the lower end of a school’s applicant pool. A good essay can certainly help a qualified candidate stand out from the competition.

A college essay could include elements of academic writing like logical organization, thesis statements, and transitions. It’s important to remember that it is not a traditional academic essay with a standard five-paragraph structure.

Instead, the college essay requires you to be a storyteller, offering admissions officers a valuable glimpse into your world, perspective, and experiences.

A well-crafted college essay:   

  • Tells a compelling story. 
  • Conveys the author’s unique voice.  
  • Reflects introspection.
  • Isn’t a list of accomplishments or a typical academic essay. 
  • And, is truly personal to the writer. 

How to write a college essay?

Listed below are five stages you can follow to make the process of writing a college essay less tiring, overwhelming and certainly not difficult.

Stage 1: Organize

Begin organizing early to streamline your college application process. Start planning your timeline during the summer of your junior year, allowing ample time for essay brainstorming, writing, revision, and feedback.

Allocate at least 1-3 weeks for the first draft and 2-4 weeks for revisions. It’s also helpful to create an essay tracker sheet to manage multiple essays for different schools, noting deadlines, prompts, and any overlap to optimize your writing.

Stage 2: Choose your topic

To create a standout college essay, choose a unique topic by brainstorming early, ideally during the summer before your senior year.

Avoid common topics like sports injuries or volunteer work, and instead aim for a meaningful and personal story that reveals a different aspect of yourself. Ask yourself questions about your values, qualities, challenges, and influences to generate potential topics.

You can start with your qualities or memorable life moments and identify values within those stories to find the perfect topic that showcases your individuality.

Stage 3: Map your essay and create an outline

Once you have chosen your topic, create an essay outline to keep your writing focused. College admissions essays do not have a set structure like academic essays, allowing for more creativity.

Two common approaches are the vignettes structure, where you weave together stories that demonstrate your values or qualities, and the single story structure, where you narrate a chronological narrative of personal development.

Brainstorm creative insights or unique story arcs to make your essay stand out, but always be truthful and avoid clichés or exaggerations.

Stage 4: Write a strong conclusion

Wrap up your college essay with a powerful conclusion that leaves a lasting impression.

Avoid summarizing your essay, stating your desire to be accepted, or repeating character traits already mentioned. An effective strategy is the full circle or sandwich structure, where you bring your essay back to the image, idea, or story mentioned in the introduction.

You can also reveal your insight, where you share the main message or lesson you learned from your experiences. Ending with a strong conclusion creates closure and enhances the impact of your essay.

Stage 5: Take feedback and criticism

Lastly, before submitting your essay, revise it for content, style, and grammar.

Seek feedback from 2-3 individuals who know you well and have strong writing skills. Take breaks between editing stages. Follow word count guidelines, staying within 10% of the upper limit to show conciseness.

Check for big-picture issues of message, flow, and clarity, followed by style and tone. Eliminate grammar and punctuation errors.

Educators, guidance counselors, friends, family, or an essay coach/editor can provide valuable feedback.

What are some do's and do not's to keep in mind when writing a college essay?

When writing your college application essay, it’s important to be true to yourself and stand out from the competition.


  • Highlight your unique qualities and experiences that make you who you are.
  • Tell a compelling story with a clear beginning, middle, and end to engage the reader.
  • Stick to the word limits provided by the college.
  • Pay attention to formatting guidelines to ensure your essay looks professional.
  • Seek feedback from trusted sources, but make sure your essay reflects your own voice and style.

Do not's:

  • Avoid using fake or exaggerated content in your essay.
  • Be mindful of humor and creativity, making sure they are appropriate for a college application essay.
  • Avoid being overly controversial, as it may negatively impact your application.
  • Steer clear of unfamiliar vocabulary that may confuse the reader.
  • Avoid repeating information from other parts of your application, as the essay is a chance to share new insights.
  • Focus on expressing your values and beliefs, rather than simply listing achievements.

In a nutshell

When it comes to college applications, your high school transcripts and standardized test scores are important, but they don’t tell the whole story.

The college essay is a unique opportunity for you to share a glimpse into your world that goes beyond grades and scores. Even if you didn’t have a flawless academic record in high school, that’s perfectly fine.

What colleges are often looking for is a student who has the potential to make a positive impact on their campus and community, regardless of straight As.Your college essay is a chance to highlight your true strengths, and it could be the key to getting into the school of your dreams.

So don’t hesitate, start writing and show the admissions officers what makes you special!

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