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10 tips to help you get started on college application essays

Updated: 
November 19, 2017 - 8:43pm

Writing your Common App, University of California and other college essays doesn’t need to be stressful. Use these 10 quick tips to explore possible topics and create a successful and effective piece. As you explore your responses to the prompts/essay topics, always remember your reader as you start putting fingers to keyboard. This will ensure that your piece is both central to who you are, and responds to the requirements of your college application readers.

1. Begin with some brainstorming. List your likes and dislikes. Think about your strengths, greatest achievements, people who have influenced you, and experiences that have been important to you. Write down any and all things that come to mind.

2. Ask yourself questions. Some examples are:

• What in the world utterly fascinates you?

• What fills you up with pride?

• Which experience pulled you out of your comfort zone?

• What object or possession holds the most meaning for you?

• What is the funniest thing that ever happened to you?

In answering these questions, if you find yourself frequently coming back to the same episode in your life, consider how you could use that experience to answer one of the essay prompts. Does it fit? Does it address one of the prompts?

3. Use the people around you to formulate and/or test your ideas. Talk to your friends and family before you start writing. They may have suggestions for you or feedback on your topic.

4. Focus on one small episode, a special event or moment in your life. You are sharing a chapter, not your entire life story.

5. Begin your essay with the most exciting part of the story. Start at the point of conflict or intrigue. This captures the reader’s attention and interest.

6. Be clear about what you learned in this moment and how the experience changed you.

7. Make sure your essay has a point that is obvious to you and the reader. Ask someone to read it and tell you what the point is. Is it clear to the reader what topic/prompt you have chosen to respond to?

8. Stay positive. Avoid presenting yourself in a negative light. Try to include your best credentials as part of the story. This is your chance to shine. Show the university why they would want you as a student.

9. Details, details. Once you have decided on a topic, include as many details in your story as possible. Sights, sounds, smells, and tastes are all descriptions that will really bring your essay to life.

10. Everybody loves a happy ending. Make sure any conflict described in your essay has been resolved by the conclusion. This will present you as a person who can successfully identify a problem and solve it.

Following these 10 tips will help you with any of the required essay topics from the Common Application, to the UC Application and other college specific applications essays. Already know what you want to write about? Use these tips to customize your essay in response to one or more of the prompts. Good luck and happy writing.

College Goals is a team of four college admission professionals with expertise in every facet of the college search and application process, and decades of experience. For more information, check out our website: www.collegegoals.com. Emma Carlson is assistant to Jilly Warner of College Goals LLC.

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