How to Write a Compelling Essay for your College Application

Almost all colleges require applicants to write an essay. Why, you may ask? Aren’t great grades and SAT/ACT scores more important? Colleges have many requirements for gaining admittance and grades and SAT/ACT scores are just part of the overall picture you present to a college. However, the number of applications received by colleges far exceeds the number of available spots. Even if you pass the numbers test, you still may not be accepted. The application essay can be the defining feature on your application and may be the difference between you receiving an acceptance or rejection notice.

Most college essays are good, just not great. A good essay will not hurt your application, but it will not help it either. A compelling essay will evoke an emotional response. It will allow the college to hear your voice, to get to know your story, to learn about you as a person. 

Remember, you must be the author of your essay. Admission officers are expert at identifying plagiarism.

Choose a subject you care deeply about, not one you think will impress others. Choose a topic that surprises your readers, makes them laugh or causes them to feel sorrow, fear or joy.

You can write about whatever has importance for you, as long as you describe who YOU are. Your essay needs to make a point.

Write a fantastic first sentence. The opening sentence should grab the readers’ attention, and then draw them in. It should evoke an emotional response, and drive the reader to want to read more. Some examples:
“As I took to the stage, all the action stopped, and the audience gave me a standing ovation.”
“Rounding the street corner, I came face to face with my arch nemesis since first grade.”
“Starting with my right foot, we moved quickly to the beat as we marched onto the field.”

Show, don’t tell. Include concrete, sensory details so readers can visualize your story in their minds. Describe what you saw, heard or felt. Be creative with descriptions and imagery. Try to engage all the senses in your descriptions. Remember, all your descriptions should relate to the main point you are trying to make.

Edit, review, and revise. Don’t be afraid to do major rewrites of the essay. It often takes many tries before you can get an essay exactly like you want. The point of a college admission essay is to show your personality. Be wary of general statements, especially clichés that do not reflect you and could describe anybody.

Read your essay aloud. Read it not only to yourself but to others. This helps you gauge both the flow of the essay and whether it is saying what you want it to say. Does it reflect your authentic voice? Are there any places that seem too superfluous or not specific enough?

Remember, it is okay to start over if you don’t like the essay. If you think it is not working, write a new draft about a different topic and see if you like it better. The essay is an important part of your college application so take it seriously.

If you have any questions about selecting a college, writing college essays or the admissions process, feel free to contact me through my website at or call me at 760.877.7200. I’d love to answer your questions!


Excerpted from “Write a Compelling Essay” by eGFI Dream Up the Future

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