5 College Essay Tips to Nail Your Application Essay

Written by Sarah Jividen
Published on February 5, 2023 · Updated on May 20, 2023

5 College Essay Tips to Nail Your Application Essay

Written by Sarah Jividen
Published on February 5, 2023 · Updated on May 20, 2023

The infamous college essay! Also known as a personal statement, your college essay is a big part of the college application process. It allows you to showcase your character outside of the classroom and extracurricular resumes.

Colleges receive hundreds of thousands of applications every year, and many students wonder how they can stand out from their peers. Fortunately, the college essay is a perfect place to exhibit your true stripes.

Your college essay puts your personality front and center. The goal is for the admissions committee members to read it and think, “Wow, this is exactly the kind of student we need!” For many students, it is the tipping point that gets them accepted into their first-choice school.

Writing about reflections from your past, ambitious goals for your future, challenges you have overcome, and your personal achievements lets colleges know what makes you special. Here are five college essay tips that will help you nail your application. 

Top 5 Things That Make a Good College Essay

1. Have an essay writing plan.

Instead of diving straight in, consider a “divide and conquer” approach to your essay. Organizing your thoughts will take planning and time. If you want your words to dance into your college admission advisor’s ears, here are a few essential first steps to take:

  • Review essay prompts for idea generation
  • Take time to self-reflect on past experiences and future goals (college essays are all about you, after all!)
  • Brainstorm those ideas on paper 
  • Write an outline

2. Tell your personal story.

It doesn’t matter that you haven’t experienced a life-shattering catastrophe yet. Your experiences are unique from anyone else. You have your own opinions, perceptions, and takeaways. What have you learned on your journey so far?

Your personal story is a place to speak from the heart. Universities aim to bring richness to their university with minds that can think on their own. How can you grab their attention and suck them into your story?

Here are a few tips and ideas for telling your personal story:

  • Write how you speak – in the first person
  • Start strong with an attention-grabbing opening
  • Make it exciting with descriptive verbs
  • Be honest

3. Start writing early and often.

Writing a personal essay is one of the most stressful parts of applying to college, which is why many students avoid it until the last minute. 

Then, when they finally sit down to write it, they realize they haven’t thought about what to say. The stress response kicks in, which can make creating an essay feel impossible. Don’t be that student!

Procrastination is not an effective method for writing a great college essay. Consider setting aside time early for essay idea creation and development. 

Here are a few other tips to help as you start writing your essay early:

  • Set aside a certain amount of time each day to write, like 10-20 minutes until a rough draft is finished
  • Complete a first rough draft, then take a few days away
  • Write a second and third rough draft
  • Have a teacher, advisor, parent or other scholarly mentor review your essay for constructive feedback. It’s okay to have multiple editors
  • Keep editing until you create the final product

4. Show vulnerability

Maybe you played on a sports team or even helped coach one growing up. Don’t focus on your winning streaks, the positions you played, or the post-game parties. Instead, talk about your losses, what you learned from them, and how you found inspiration where you least expected it. 

Readers rarely want to hear a story about winners who never had a struggle. That is because there is more opportunity for growth in the battle to win than the actual win itself. The goal in sharing your vulnerability is to show integrity, not be self-effacing.

Here are a few ways to show vulnerability in your essay:

  • Reveal something that you have been embarrassed or ashamed about
  • Expose your biggest fear
  • Talk about challenges you struggle with

Being vulnerable in an essay can be scary. Consider personal journaling for a few weeks before you go to bed. You may be surprised at what you put on paper as some of it you may not have consciously realized.

5. Edit and proofread

You would be surprised at how many essays have grammatical errors. Even one typo can distract a reader from the story and take attention away from all your hard work.

Ensure that your paragraphs are not too long, and break them up into smaller sections when appropriate. Are your topic sentences clear? Do they flow into the rest of the paragraph?

Here are a few additional editing tips to ensure beautifully edited work:

  • Always use spell check first
  • Consider using grammar and engagement software such as Grammarly
  • Have several trusted people read your work and be open to feedback

Other Items To Include in a College Essay

It should go without saying, but it is vital to keep it real in your college essay. College admissions offices want to know about the real you, not the version you think they want. 

At the same time, you still want to present yourself positively. Consider revealing things that are not in your application already, such as your heritage, cultures, and traditions. Diversify yourself. Write about what makes you interesting.

College Essay Resources


  • How long should a college essay be?
    • College essays require anywhere from 300-650 words. However, most essays are between 500-600 words.
  • Does every school require a college essay?
    • Most US colleges require applicants to write an essay as a part of their application. However, not all do. If that is the case, it is still vital to write an essay to stand out from the competition and improve your chance of acceptance into the university.
  • Can I use the same essay for every application?
    • In some cases, you may be able to use the same essay for other college applications. However, some universities ask different essay questions or are focused on different areas. In that case, you may need to update or rewrite your essay to make it applicable. Make sure to always learn about the college and read their requirements before turning in an essay.