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College Application Essay Format Rules

what format do i use for college admission essays

The college application essay has become the most important part of applying to college. In this article, we will go over the  best college essay format for getting into top schools, including how to structure the elements of a college admissions essay: margins, font, paragraphs, spacing, headers, and organization. 

We will focus on commonly asked questions about the best college essay structure. Finally, we will go over essay formatting tips and examples.

Table of Contents

  • General college essay formatting rules
  • How to format a college admissions essay
  • Sections of a college admissions essay
  • College application essay format examples

General College Essay Format Rules

Before talking about how to format your college admission essays, we need to talk about general college essay formatting rules.

Pay attention to word count

It has been well-established that the most important rule of college application essays is to  not go over the specific Application Essay word limit .  The word limit for the Common Application essay is typically 500-650 words.

Not only may it be impossible to go over the word count (in the case of the  Common Application essay , which uses text fields), but admissions officers often use software that will throw out any essay that breaks this rule. Following directions is a key indicator of being a successful student. 

Refocusing on the essay prompt and eliminating unnecessary adverbs, filler words, and prepositional phrases will help improve your essay.

On the other hand, it is advisable to use almost every available word. The college essay application field is very competitive, so leaving extra words on the table puts you at a disadvantage. Include an example or anecdote near the end of your essay to meet the total word count.

Do not write a wall of text: use paragraphs

Here is a brutal truth:  College admissions counselors only read the application essays that help them make a decision .  Otherwise, they will not read the essay at all. The problem is that you do not know whether the rest of your application (transcripts, academic record, awards, etc.) will be competitive enough to get you accepted.

A very simple writing rule for your application essay (and for essay editing of any type) is to  make your writing readable by adding line breaks and separate paragraphs.

Line breaks do not count toward word count, so they are a very easy way to organize your essay structure, ideas, and topics. Remember, college counselors, if you’re lucky, will spend 30 sec to 1 minute reading your essay. Give them every opportunity to understand your writing.

Do not include an essay title 

Unless specifically required, do not use a title for your personal statement or essay. This is a waste of your word limit and is redundant since the essay prompt itself serves as the title.

Never use overly casual, colloquial, or text message-based formatting like this: 

THIS IS A REALLY IMPORTANT POINT!. #collegeapplication #collegeessay.

Under no circumstances should you use emojis, all caps, symbols, hashtags, or slang in a college essay. Although technology, texting, and social media are continuing to transform how we use modern language (what a great topic for a college application essay!), admissions officers will view the use of these casual formatting elements as immature and inappropriate for such an important document.

How To Format A College Application Essay

There are many  tips for writing college admissions essays . How you upload your college application essay depends on whether you will be cutting and pasting your essay into a text box in an online application form or attaching a formatted document.

Save and upload your college essay in the proper format

Check the application instructions if you’re not sure what you need to do. Currently, the Common Application requires you to copy and paste your essay into a text box.

There are three main formats when it comes to submitting your college essay or personal statement:

If submitting your application essay in a text box

For the Common Application, there is no need to attach a document since there is a dedicated input field. You still want to write your essay in a word processor or Google doc. Just make sure once you copy-paste your essay into the text box that your line breaks (paragraphs), indents, and formatting is retained. 

  • Formatting like  bold , underline, and  italics  are often lost when copy-pasting into a text box.
  • Double-check that you are under the word limit.  Word counts may be different within the text box .
  • Make sure that paragraphs and spacing are maintained;  text input fields often undo indents and double-spacing .
  • If possible, make sure the font is standardized.  Text input boxes usually allow just one font . 

If submitting your application essay as a document

When attaching a document, you must do more than just double-check the format of your admissions essay. You need to be proactive and make sure the structure is logical and will be attractive to readers.

Microsoft Word (.DOC) format

If you are submitting your application essay as a file upload, then you will likely submit a .doc or .docx file. The downside is that MS Word files are editable, and there are sometimes conflicts between different MS Word versions (2010 vs 2016 vs Office365). The upside is that Word can be opened by almost any text program.

This is a safe choice if maintaining the  visual  elements of your essay is important. Saving your essay as a PDF prevents any formatting issues that come with Microsoft Word, since older versions are sometimes incompatible with the newer formatting. 

Although PDF viewing programs are commonly available, many older readers and Internet users (who will be your admissions officers) may not be ready to view PDFs.

  • Use 1-inch margins . This is the default setting for Microsoft Word. However, students from Asia using programs like Hangul Word Processor will need to double-check.
  • Use a standard serif font.  These include Times New Roman, Courier, and Garamond. A serif font adds professionalism to your essay.
  • Use standard 12-font size. 
  • Use 1.5- or double-spacing.  Your application essay should be readable. Double spaces are not an issue as the essay should already fit on one page.
  • Add a Header  with your First Name, Last Name, university, and other required information.
  • Clearly   separate your paragraphs.  By default, just press ‘ENTER’ twice.

Sections Of A College Admissions Essay

University admissions protocols usually allow you to choose the format and style of your writing. Despite this, the general format of “Introduction-Body-Conclusion” is the most common structure. This is a common format you can use and adjust to your specific writing style.

College Application Essay Introduction

Typically, your first paragraph should introduce you or the topic that you will discuss. You must have a killer opener if you want the admissions committees to pay attention. 

Essays that use rhetorical tools, factual statements, dialog, etc. are encouraged. There is room to be creative since many application essays specifically focus on past learning experiences.

College Application Essay Body

Clearly answering the essay prompt is the most important part of the essay body. Keep reading over the prompt and making sure everything in the body supports it. 

Since personal statement essays are designed to show you are as a person and student, the essay body is also where you talk about your experiences and identity.

Make sure you include the following life experiences and how they relate to the essay prompt. Be sure to double-check that they relate back to the essay prompt. A college admissions essay is NOT an autobiography:

Personal challenges

  • How did you overcome them?
  • How or how much do past challenges define your current outlook or worldview? 
  • What did you learn about yourself when you failed?

Personal achievements and successes

  • What people helped you along the way?
  • What did you learn about the nature of success

Lessons learned

  • In general, did your experiences inform your choice of university or major?

Personal beliefs

  • Politics, philosophy, and religion may be included here, but be careful when discussing sensitive personal or political topics. 
  • Academic goals
  • Personal goals
  • Professional goals
  • How will attending the university help you achieve these goals?

College Application Essay Conclusion

The conclusion section is a call to action directly aimed at the admissions officers. You must demonstrate why you are a great fit for the university, which means you should refer to specific programs, majors, or professors that guided or inspired you. 

In this “why this school” part of the essay, you can also explain why the university is a great fit for  your  goals. Be straightforward and truthful, but express your interest in the school boldly.

common app essay format, essay sections 1

College Application Essay Format Examples

Here are several formatting examples of successful college admission essays, along with comments from the essay editor.

Note: Actual sample essays edited by  Wordvice professional editors .  Personal info has been redacted for privacy. This is not a college essay template.

College Admission Essay Example 1

This essay asks the student to write about how normal life experiences can have huge effects on personal growth:

Common App Essay Prompt: Thoughtful Rides

The Florida turnpike is a very redundant and plain expressway; we do not have the scenic luxury of mountains, forests, or even deserts stretching endlessly into the distance. Instead, we are blessed with repetitive fields of grazing cows and countless billboards advertising local businesses. I have been subjected to these monotonous views three times a week, driving two hours every other day to Sunrise and back to my house in Miami, Florida—all to practice for my competitive soccer team in hopes of receiving a scholarship to play soccer at the next level. 

The Introduction sets up a clear, visceral memory and communicates a key extracurricular activity. 

When I first began these mini road trips, I would jam out to my country playlist and sing along with my favorite artists, and the trek would seem relatively short. However, after listening to “Beautiful Crazy” by Luke Combs for the 48th time in a week, the song became as repetitive as the landscape I was driving through. Changing genres did not help much either; everything I played seemed to morph into the same brain-numbing sound.  Eventually, I decided to do what many peers in my generation fail to do: turn off the distractions, enjoy the silence, and immerse myself in my own thoughts. In the end, this seemingly simple decision led to a lot of personal growth and tranquility in my life. 

The first part of the Body connects the student’s past experience with the essay prompt: personal growth and challenging assumptions.

Although I did not fully realize it at the time, these rides were the perfect opportunity to reflect on myself and the people around me. I quickly began noticing the different personalities surrounding me in the flow of traffic, and this simple act of noticing reminded me that I was not the only human on this planet that mattered. I was just as unimportant as the woman sitting in the car next to mine. Conversely, I also came to appreciate how a gesture as simple as letting another driver merge into your lane can impact a stranger’s day. Maybe the other driver is late for a work interview or rushing to the hospital because their newborn is running a high fever and by allowing them to advance in the row of cars, you made their day just a little less stressful. I realized that if I could improve someone else’s day from my car,  I could definitely be a kinder person and take other people’s situations into consideration—because you never know if someone is having one of the worst days of their lives and their interaction with you could provide the motivation they need to keep going on . 

This part uses two examples to support the writer’s answer to the essay prompt. It ends the paragraph with a clear statement.

Realizing I was not the only being in the universe that mattered was not the only insight I attained during these drives. Over and over, I asked myself why I had chosen to change soccer clubs, leaving Pinecrest, the team I had played on for 8 years with my best friends and that was only a 10-minute drive from my house, to play for a completely unfamiliar team that required significantly more travel.  Eventually, I came to understand that I truly enjoy challenging myself and pushing past complacency . One of my main goals in life is to play and experience college soccer—that, and to eventually pursue a career as a doctor. Ultimately, leaving my comfort zone in Pinecrest, where mediocrity was celebrated, to join a team in Sunrise, where championships were expected and college offers were abundant, was a very positive decision in my life. 

This part clearly tells how the experience shaped the writer as a person. The student’s personality can be directly attributed to this memory. It also importantly states personal and academic goals.

Even if I do not end up playing college soccer, I know now that I will never back down from any challenge in my life; I am committed to pushing myself past my comfort zone. These car rides have given me insight into how strong I truly am and how much impact I can have on other people’s lives. 

The Conclusion restates the overall lesson learned.

College Admission Essay Example 2

The next essay asks the reader to use leadership roles or extracurricular activities and describe the experience, contribution, and what the student learned about themselves.

As I release the air from the blood-pressure monitor’s valve, I carefully track the gauge, listening for the faint “lub-dub” of  Winnie’s heart. Checking off the “hypertensive” box on his medical chart when reading 150/95, I then escort Winnie to the blood sugar station. This was the typical procedure of a volunteer at the UConn Migrant Farm Worker Clinic. Our traveling medical clinic operated at night, visiting various Connecticut farms to provide healthcare for migrant workers. Filling out charts, taking blood pressure, and recording BMI were all standard procedures, but the relationships I built with farmers such as Winnie impacted me the most.

This Introduction is very impactful. It highlights the student’s professional expertise as a healthcare worker and her impact on marginalized communities. It also is written in the present tense to add impact.

While the clinic was canceled this year due to COVID-19, I still wanted to do something for them. During a PPE-drive meeting this July, Winnie recounted his family history. I noticed his eyebrows furrow with anxiety as he spoke about his family’s safety in Tierra Blanca, Mexico. I realized that Winnie lacked substantial information about his hometown, and fear-mongering headlines did nothing to assuage his fears. After days of searching, I discovered that his hometown, Guanajuato, reported fewer cases of COVID-19 in comparison with surrounding towns. I then created a color-coded map of his town, showing rates across the different districts. Winnie’s eyes softened, marveling at the map I made for him this August. I didn’t need to explain what he saw: Guanajuato, his home state, was pale yellow, the color I chose to mark the lowest level of cases. By making this map, I didn’t intend to give him new hope; I wanted to show him where hope was.

The student continues to tell the powerful story of one of her patients. This humbles and empowers the student, motivating her in the next paragraph.

This interaction fueled my commitment to search for hope in my journey of becoming a public health official. Working in public health policy, I hope to tackle complex world problems, such as economic and social barriers to healthcare and find creative methods of improving outcomes in queer and Latinx communities. I want to study the present and potential future intervention strategies in minority communities for addressing language barriers to information including language on posters and gendered language, and for instituting social and support services for community youth. These stepping stones will hopefully prepare me for conducting professional research for the Medical Organization for Latino Advancement. I aspire to be an active proponent of healthcare access and equity for marginalized groups, including queer communities. I first learned about the importance of recognizing minority identities in healthcare through my bisexual sister, Sophie, and her nonbinary friend, Gilligan. During discussions with her friends, I realized the importance of validating diverse gender expressions in all facets of my life.

Here, the past experience is directly connected to future academic and professional goals, which themselves are motivated by a desire to increase access among communities as well as personal family experiences. This is a strong case for why personal identity is so important.

My experiences with Winnie and my sister have empowered me to be creative, thoughtful, and brave while challenging the assumptions currently embedded in the “visual vocabulary” of both the art and science fields. I envision myself deconstructing hegemonic ideas of masculinity and femininity and surmounting the limitations of traditional perceptions of male and female bodies as it relates to existing healthcare practices. Through these subtle changes, I aim to make a large impact.

The Conclusion positions the student as an impactful leader and visionary. This is a powerful case for the admissions board to consider.

If you want to read more college admissions essay examples, check out our articles about  successful college personal statements  and the  2021-2022 Common App prompts and example essays .

Wordvice offers a full suite of proofreading and editing services . If you are a student applying to college and are having trouble with the best college admissions essay format, check out our application essay editing services  (including personal statement editing ) and find out  how much online proofreading costs . 

Finally, don’t forget to receive common app essay editing and professional admissions editing for any other admissions documents for college, university, and post-doctoral programs.

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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, how to format a college essay: 15 expert tips.

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College Essays

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When you're applying to college, even small decisions can feel high-stakes. This is especially true for the college essay, which often feels like the most personal part of the application. You may agonize over your college application essay format: the font, the margins, even the file format. Or maybe you're agonizing over how to organize your thoughts overall. Should you use a narrative structure? Five paragraphs?

In this comprehensive guide, we'll go over the ins and outs of how to format a college essay on both the micro and macro levels. We'll discuss minor formatting issues like headings and fonts, then discuss broad formatting concerns like whether or not to use a five-paragraph essay, and if you should use a college essay template.

How to Format a College Essay: Font, Margins, Etc.

Some of your formatting concerns will depend on whether you will be cutting and pasting your essay into a text box on an online application form or attaching a formatted document. If you aren't sure which you'll need to do, check the application instructions. Note that the Common Application does currently require you to copy and paste your essay into a text box.

Most schools also allow you to send in a paper application, which theoretically gives you increased control over your essay formatting. However, I generally don't advise sending in a paper application (unless you have no other option) for a couple of reasons:

Most schools state that they prefer to receive online applications. While it typically won't affect your chances of admission, it is wise to comply with institutional preferences in the college application process where possible. It tends to make the whole process go much more smoothly.

Paper applications can get lost in the mail. Certainly there can also be problems with online applications, but you'll be aware of the problem much sooner than if your paper application gets diverted somehow and then mailed back to you. By contrast, online applications let you be confident that your materials were received.

Regardless of how you will end up submitting your essay, you should draft it in a word processor. This will help you keep track of word count, let you use spell check, and so on.

Next, I'll go over some of the concerns you might have about the correct college essay application format, whether you're copying and pasting into a text box or attaching a document, plus a few tips that apply either way.

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Formatting Guidelines That Apply No Matter How You End Up Submitting the Essay:

Unless it's specifically requested, you don't need a title. It will just eat into your word count.

Avoid cutesy, overly colloquial formatting choices like ALL CAPS or ~unnecessary symbols~ or, heaven forbid, emoji and #hashtags. Your college essay should be professional, and anything too cutesy or casual will come off as immature.

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Mmm, delicious essay...I mean sandwich.

Why College Essay Templates Are a Bad Idea

You might see college essay templates online that offer guidelines on how to structure your essay and what to say in each paragraph. I strongly advise against using a template. It will make your essay sound canned and bland—two of the worst things a college essay can be. It's much better to think about what you want to say, and then talk through how to best structure it with someone else and/or make your own practice outlines before you sit down to write.

You can also find tons of successful sample essays online. Looking at these to get an idea of different styles and topics is fine, but again, I don't advise closely patterning your essay after a sample essay. You will do the best if your essay really reflects your own original voice and the experiences that are most meaningful to you.

College Application Essay Format: Key Takeaways

There are two levels of formatting you might be worried about: the micro (fonts, headings, margins, etc) and the macro (the overall structure of your essay).

Tips for the micro level of your college application essay format:

  • Always draft your essay in a word processing software, even if you'll be copy-and-pasting it over into a text box.
  • If you are copy-and-pasting it into a text box, make sure your formatting transfers properly, your paragraphs are clearly delineated, and your essay isn't cut off.
  • If you are attaching a document, make sure your font is easily readable, your margins are standard 1-inch, your essay is 1.5 or double-spaced, and your file format is compatible with the application specs.
  • There's no need for a title unless otherwise specified—it will just eat into your word count.

Tips for the macro level of your college application essay format :

  • There is no super-secret college essay format that will guarantee success.
  • In terms of structure, it's most important that you have an introduction that makes it clear where you're going and a conclusion that wraps up with a main point. For the middle of your essay, you have lots of freedom, just so long as it flows logically!
  • I advise against using an essay template, as it will make your essay sound stilted and unoriginal.

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Plus, if you use a college essay template, how will you get rid of these medieval weirdos?

What's Next?

Still feeling lost? Check out our total guide to the personal statement , or see our step-by-step guide to writing the perfect essay .

If you're not sure where to start, consider these tips for attention-grabbing first sentences to college essays!

And be sure to avoid these 10 college essay mistakes .

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.

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what format do i use for college admission essays

How to Write College Application Essays

Use the links below to jump directly to any section of this guide:

College Application Essay Fundamentals 

How to prepare to write your essay , how to approach different essay types, how to structure your essay , how to revise your essay, how to find essay writing help , resources for teaching students how to write a college essay, additional resources (further reading).

Of all the materials in a college application, the essay provides the greatest opportunity for you to set yourself apart. Unlike the transcript or resume, the essay is creative and expressive; in it, you can show the admissions counselors who you are and what you can do (that is, how well you can write!). A good application essay should have a memorable main idea, a cohesive structure, and a strong introduction and conclusion. Although essay topics can vary by college, the most common prompts deal with personal experiences and aspirations for the future. This guide   contains a diverse set of resources to help you orient yourself to the college application essay and, ultimately, to write the most competitive essay possible. 

The college application essay is a requirement for admission to almost all institutions of higher learning. Though in some ways it resembles essays you've written in class or on standardized tests, in other ways it's a unique writing exercises with its own particular requirements. Use the resources below to help you understand how the essay should be structured and what kind of content to include. 

"How Long Should College Application Essays Be?" (Learn.org)

This webpage guides you through some basic tips on writing the college essay—including essay length, sticking to the prompt, and maintaining an original tone. 

"College Application Essay" (College Board)

This webpage from the College Board discusses the different types of application essays, what length you should aim for, and most importantly, why colleges value this aspect of the application so much. 

"College Essays, College Applications" (College Board) 

The College Board's website is a great resource for any student looking to apply to college. This webpage contains several links to helpful resources, including sample essays and genuine student interviews. 

"Timeline for College Applications" (College Essay Guy)

This colorful, one-page guide from a college application specialist offers an illustrated timeline for high school students looking to apply for college. 

Before putting your ideas down on paper, it's important to conceptualize your essay, to craft strategically your tone and style, and,  crucially, to choose a topic that suits you and the school to which you're applying. The resources in this section include writing tips, lists of common mistakes you should avoid, and guides dedicated to the college application essay.

How to Plan Your Essay

"3 Common College Essay Mistakes to Avoid" (CNBC)  

This article from CNBC broadly outlines the most common mistakes students make when writing their college application essays. Although these mistakes may seem obvious, even the most experienced writers can fall into these common traps.

"7 Effective Application Tips" (Peterson's)

This article from Peterson's (a company providing academic materials for test prep, application help, and more) lists seven pieces of advice designed to make your writing pop. 

"The Secret to Show, Don't Tell" ( The Write Practice Blog)  

You've heard it before: show, don't tell. This is a great writing tip, but how do you pull it off? Here, the writing blog  The Write Practice  outlines how you can make your writing more descriptive and effective. 

"Passive Voice" (University of North Carolina)  

Avoiding passive construction is a subtle yet effective way to upgrade any piece of writing. Check out this webpage from a university writing center for some tips on recognizing and avoiding passive voice. 

"Using Appropriate Words in an Academic Essay" (National University of Singapore)

There are many ways to upgrade your vocabulary. Often, words can be replaced with more impressive substitutes, phrases can be shortened or lengthened depending on context, and transitions can be used for a smoother flow. The link above expands on these strategies and offers several others. 

How to Brainstorm Topic Ideas

"Bad College Essays: 10 Mistakes to Avoid" (PrepScholar)

This article from a well-known tutoring service and test prep program describes what to avoid when writing your essay. Essays that are too graphic, too personal, or too overconfident are all problematic, and this article explains why. 

"5 Tricks for Choosing Your College Essay Topic" (CollegeXpress)

Lost on how to choose a topic? This webpage from CollegeXpress outlines five sources of inspiration you can mine for ideas as you're getting started.

"The College Admission Essay: Finding a Topic" (The Choice Blog)

This article from New York Times  blog The Choice  breaks down three essential questions to ask yourself when choosing a topic for your college essay. 

"COLLEGE ESSAY GUIDE: Choosing a Prompt for the Common Application" (YouTube)

In this five-minute video, a Yale student discusses how to choose a college essay prompt and how to approach the essay writing process. His channel is filled with original videos on the college application process. 

"Where to Begin? 3 Personal Essay Brainstorming Exercises" ( CollegeVine Blog)

Approaching the Common App essay prompts can be difficult. This blog post explains several tactics you can use to narrow down your options, such as writing down a list of your greatest convictions.

"Using First Person in an Academic Essay: When Is It Okay?" (WritingCommons.org)

Most high school students are told to avoid using the first person point of view; this can be confusing when writing college essays, which typically ask what  you  think. This article breaks down when (and why) it's acceptable to write in the first person. 

Although all college essays serve the same purpose - articulating why you should get into a college - they come in different kinds. While topics on the Common Application are relatively consistent from year to year, personal statements and so-called "supplemental essays" vary by institution. Each of these essays requires a slightly different approach. The resources in this section will prepare you to answer the various types of essay prompts you're likely to encounter. 

Common Application Essays

CommonApp.org

The Common Application's official website is the best place to start getting acquainted with the service to which the majority of US colleges and universities now subscribe - a service which allows you to streamline your application process and minimize duplication of materials.

"What's App-enning" Blog (Common App)  

The Common App runs a blog with a wealth of information on common application-related news, including periodic updates on common application essay prompts for each application cycle. You can practice brainstorming with old prompts, or even start preparing your application by looking at this year's prompts.

125 College Essay Examples (PrepScholar Blog)

Here, PrepScholar provides a variety of Common App essays that got their respective applicants into their desired schools. Along with the body text of the essays, the website provides analysis on  what  makes the essays so great. 

A Few Essays That Worked (And a Few That Didn't) (NYTimes Blog)

This article analyzes unsuccessful essays, illuminating the ways in which they fell short. Although you should exercise caution and adjust your approach to your specific school, it's always good to pick up on general things to avoid. 

Personal Statements

What Is a Personal Statement? (PrepScholar Blog)

Although personal statements and Common App essays are similar, not all personal statement essays are administered through the Common App. This article from PrepScholar's blog will provide you with everything you need to know about writing a personal statement.

Examples of Successful Statements (Purdue OWL)

The Purdue OWL online writing lab collate links on this page to several successful personal statement. It can be useful to read successful statements and to consider how and why the statements made an impact on their readers. 

Past Threads on Advice for Writing Your College Essay (Reddit Post)

Although not about the personal statement  per se , this Reddit post has links to several past threads that may be of use to any prospective college applicant. 

What 10 Things Should Your Personal Statement Include? (Which University UK)  

This site outlines ten things to consider when writing a personal statement, including outlining what you will bring to the course, not what the course will bring to you. 

Supplemental Essays

How to Write Great Supplemental College Essays (IvyWise Newsletter)

Supplemental essays can often be challenging, asking a range of questions from the mundane to the oddly specific. This article from college application site IvyWise will break down example prompts to make them more approachable. 

Write Your Supplemental Essays (College Essay Guy)

Looking for a comprehensive guide to supplemental essays? Look no further than this page provided by the "College Essay Guy," who breaks down how to write supplemental essays that ask different kinds of questions. 

An Awesome Guide to the UChicago Supplement (Dyad)

Dyad, a college mentoring service, walks you through how to approach UChicago's supplemental essay question. Although the article is specific to UChicago, it contains general tips that are helpful to any college applicant. 

Reading My Yale Supplement Essay (YouTube)

Josh Beasley is back in this short YouTube video, where he reads the supplemental essay that got him into Yale and extrapolates advice for current and prospective applicants. 

A college application essay (like any academic essay) should have an introduction, a conclusion, and body paragraphs. Additionally, it should have overall coherence (that is, it should make a point) and cohesion (that is, it should flow well from paragraph to paragraph). We've collected the most relevant resources here to help you structure your college essay correctly and efficiently. 

How to Make Your Essay Stand Out 

College Essays That Stand Out From the Crowd (NYTimes)

This NYTimes article includes links to several recent essays that caught the eyes of the admissions readers by taking risks. You can even listen to an essay being read aloud by a current Princeton student.

50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays (Gen / Kelly Tanabe)  

If you have some time on your hands, this hefty PDF document contains 50 essays from successful Ivy League applicants. After reading these essays, consider what they have in common and how they might be a model for your own essay.

Make Your Application Essay Stand Out (CampusExplorer.com)

In this article from CampusExplorer, you'll find general tips on how to make your essay more appealing to the admissions readers. The writers include general writing tips as well as more targeted advice for the tone and audience of the application essay.

How to Write a College Application Essay that Stands Out (Boston University)

This short video from BU's own admissions department touches briefly on what impresses their admissions readers, including risk-taking, memorable stories, and honesty. 

Essay Structure (Monash University)

This chart from Monash University visually demonstrates how your content should be organized in order to keep your argument or story on track. 

How to Write an Introduction

How to Start a Personal Statement: The Killer Opening (Which University UK)  

Any good introduction both forecasts what your essay will be about and catches the reader's attention. This page will give you some helpful advice on starting your essay with a bang. 

How to Start a College Essay Perfectly (PrepScholar Blog)

This article from PrepScholar shows you how to "hook" your reader at the start of your application essay with colorful language, a vivid story, and an "insightful pivot" to your main point.

Let Me Introduce Myself (Stanford University)

This article from Stanford U's alumni page details the first-line openings of the essays for some current Stanford undergrads. 

Five Ways to NOT Start Your College Application Essays (PowerScore)

In this article, you'll learn five techniques to avoid, as they typically land a college application essay in the "reject" pile; these include beginning with dictionary definitions or famous quotations. 

How to Write a Conclusion 

Ending the Essay: Conclusions (Harvard University)

Harvard's writing center suggests bringing closure to your essay (that is, wrapping up your argument) while still expanding outward to broader applications or insights in your final paragraph.

Concluding Paragraph (Easybib)  

Although you may have used Easybib to make a bibliography before, did you know they have many resources on how to write a good essay? Check out this page for succinct advice on what your conclusion should entail. 

5 Ways to Powerfully End Your College Essay (College Greenlight)

This blog post instructs you to end with action (that is, a story or anecdote) rather than summary, giving you five ways to do this effectively, including addressing the college directly.

How to Write the Best Conclusion for a College Application Essay and Supplement (Koppelman Group)

The Koppelman Group, a college application consulting firm, warns you, above all, not to end "in conclusion" or "to conclude." They also provide targeted advice for the Common App and Supplement essays, respectively. 

No essay is perfect in its first-draft form; college application essays in particular are limited by word counts that can be difficult to meet. Once you've communicated your ideas, you'll want to edit your essay in order to make sure it's the best it can be. You'll also need to cut or add words to make sure it's within the specifications set by the institution. The resources in this section include tips and tricks for revising your college application essay. 

3 Ways to Increase Word Count (WikiHow)

Complete with illustrations, this WikiHow page outlines several ways you might go about substantively expanding your essay. These tips include clarifying points, reworking your introduction and conclusion, adding new viewpoints and examples, and connecting loose threads. 

Admissions 101: What an Essay Word Limit Really Means (Veritas Prep) 

In this blog post, Veritas Prep's college preparation tutors assure you that being a little over or under the limit is acceptable, recommending ways you can think about the word limit's purpose.

College Essay Word Limit - Going Under? (College Confidential) 

In this College Confidential discussion forum, students discuss the possible ramifications of writing under the word limit for a college essay. 

How to Increase Your Essay Word Count (WordCounter)

This article from WordCounter outlines different ways you might go about meeting word count, including addressing different viewpoints, adding examples, and clarifying statements. 

Hitting the Target Word Count in Your College Admissions Essay (Dummies.com)

This article details how to hit the target word count. Scroll down to the middle of the article for advice on where you should cut words from to meet word count. 

Some Tricks to Reduce Word Count (EastAsiaStudent.net)

This article recommends simplifying your style, deleting adverbs, deleting prepositions, and revisiting connectives and adjectives to reduce word count. 

Advice on Whittling Your Admissions Essay (NYTimes) 

In this New York Times article, Andrew Gelb discusses how to go about cutting down your admissions essay in order to meet the requisite word limit.

How to Shorten an Essay Without Ruining the Content (Quora) 

This Quora post from a concerned student yielded useful community responses on how to effectively shorten an essay without losing the original message. 

Feel like you've hit a wall revising your essay on your own? You're not alone, and there are plentiful resources on the web through which you can connect with fellow college applicants and/or professional tutors. The links in this section will take you to free services for improving your college application essay, as well as two of the top paid writing tutor services.

College Confidential Forums 

College Confidential is a free, public forum in which you can post your essay and receive feedback from current college students, current college applicants, and even teachers or other experienced users. 

/r/CollegeEssays (Reddit)

This subreddit is a great place to look for crowdsourced help on your essay, ask questions about college essays, or even find a private tutor. 

Essayforum.com

Essayforum.com provides another platform for students to share their application essays. Although this link takes you to the site's forum for applicants to undergraduate degree programs, you can submit and review essays in other categories as well.  Varsity Tutors

Varisty Tutors offers tutoring services from freelance tutors based on location. Prices and services vary, but their site is easy to use and there are many tutors available to choose from.

Princeton Review

Princeton Review, one of the largest providers of college preparation tutoring (ranging from standardized test preparation to essay help) offers online essay tutoring services with a free trial period. 

Using in-class time to prepare your students to write college application essays is, of course, rewarding, but can also be challenging. If you're a teacher looking to incorporate the college essay into your curriculum but you're not sure where to start, take a look at the useful resources below.

TeachersPayTeachers

College Essay Writing

This product includes material for more than one full lesson plan, including powerpoint presentations, assessments, and homework on the topic of college essays. 

Narrative Writing Ideas and Prompts

Appealing to students 9th grade and up, this product includes lesson plans, handouts, and homework for developing narrative writing for the college essay process. 

College Essay: Comprehensive 7-Session Workshop Series

This PDF includes entire courses, manuals, and handouts designed to teach students the ins and outs of the college essay process, either in an individual or group setting. 

College Essay Revision Forms & Rubrics

These PDFs provide students with visual organizers and rubrics to assess their own writing and learn how to become better college essay writers. 

Free Resources

Teaching the College Essay (Edutopia) 

Teaching your students about writing the college essay can be incredibly intimidating -- as a teacher, how should you approach the process? This article from Edutopia outlines how to go about introducing the college essay to your students. 

Essay Lesson Plan Ideas for College Applications (EssayHell)

If you're a teacher looking for a concrete lesson plan on college essays, this guide recommends using the first day to discuss the importance of the essay, the second day for brainstorming, and so on. Click on the link above to examine their full guide. 

Help Your Students Write a Killer College Essay (EdWeek Blog)

This blog post goes over various techniques designed to help your students choose an appropriate topic and write their essay with passion. 

The Biggest College Essay Mistakes & How to Fix Them (Talks With Teachers)

Looking to help your students avoid the minefield of mistakes in the college essay field? Check out this post from Talks With Teachers, a journal that shares "inspiring ideas for English teachers." 

Curious to read more about college application essays, or to see fun and unusual examples of what students have written? The articles, blog posts, and books in this section are a good place to start surveying the field.

One Over-the-Top Admissions Essay (Huffington Post)

This piece from the Huffington Post talks about a humorous response to a Stanford supplemental essay topic, the so-called "letter to my future roommate."

College & University - Statistics and Facts (Statista.com) 

In the process of writing your college essay, you may find yourself wondering who exactly goes to college, how many colleges there are in the United States, etc. This site gives the up-to-date statistics for various US demographics, both in aggregate and by university, as well as other information.

Who Made That College Application? (NYTimes)

This piece from the NYTimes outlines the history of the college essay from its origins in the 1800s, to the first "modern" college application, produced by Columbia University in 1919, to the present.  

How They Got Into Harvard (Staff of the Harvard Crimson)

This highly-rated collection of successful Harvard application essays, available on Amazon, is both an entertaining read and an instructive resource for anyone looking for exemplary essays to use as models. 

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what format do i use for college admission essays

College Application Essay Format: The Definitive Guide

college application essay format

When admissions professionals use the college application essay to help determine who gets invited to attend their institution of higher learning, they are looking beyond the facts of good grades, test scores and activities.

They are looking for that one thing that makes you uniquely you: your personality.

This is your chance share how your vision, goals, triumphs and experiences have molded who you are, and why you would be a choice candidate for admissions. Use this definitive guide for your college application essay format.

14 Tips for Formatting Your College Application Essay

Writing tips for the college application essay.

> Construct Your Essay Like a Feature Story

A good story has a beginning, a middle and an end. On your college application essay , use the first paragraph as an introduction, and the last paragraph as your conclusion that wraps everything up. Put the meat of the essay in between. Let the story build and flow to its natural conclusion.

> Stick to One Topic

You will not be able to tell your entire life story in a 650-word essay, so pick one story that exemplifies how you came to be the unique person you are today and use that as your essay theme.

> Create an Outline

Craft an outline showing how your story will flow from beginning to end, with each paragraph making an individual point. An outline will help you to flesh in your essay and keep it on point.

> Be Creative But True

It may be tempting to use a standard college application essay template because it sounds easy. However, this may lead to a dull read. Write the college application essay so that the story shows your creative side, while being true to who you are.

> Use Analogies and Examples

Let your essay tell specific examples or analogies from your life experiences. Point out important events from your life that have made you who you are today. Stories of success, overcoming obstacles, and leadership can help create a college application essay that stands apart. Use these as supporting material or evidence to back up your main point.

> Have Someone Else Read Your Application Essay

Once you feel you have done your best work, let someone you trust read your essay and give their feedback. Ask them to read for flow, content and readability, with a lookout for grammar, punctuation or spelling errors. A fresh eye can give perspective and constructive feedback to make your college application essay even better.

> Write on Your Computer

Write your college application essay on your own computer in Microsoft Word or Google Docs. Resist the temptation to write it directly into the online application box. Use the spellcheck and word count features. You can upload your document or copy and paste it into the online box when it is completed.

> Don’t Include the Essay Prompt

The essay prompt is there to give you ideas of what to write about. Do not enter the prompt as a header on your essay.

Related: How to Write a Great College Application Essay

Submitting an Online Application

Online Classes for University Students

> Use the Online Application

While some schools still accept your application essay on paper, it is generally the rule that you should use the online college application format instead. This will provide better assurance that your essay is received, and received in a timely manner. Submitting your application online also conforms to most college or university preferences for submittal.

> Use a Standard Font

Most online applications are formatted to limit the font options. When creating your college application essay, avoid using fancy fonts. Stick to basic fonts, like Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri in 12-point type. Most important is the content, not the typeface. Online applications may also not accept formatting like bold or italics. Avoid using emojis, hashtags, underlines and ALL CAPS in your writing.

> Check Your Formatting

Using the online application form, you may be required to enter your essay into a designated online space or box. Since the box parameters can alter the formatting you so carefully constructed, double check your entry to ensure that the entire piece was included and not cut off, that formatting like words in bold or italic was not eliminated, and that line spacing and paragraphs are still intact.

what format do i use for college admission essays

Related : 10 Tips for Writing the College Application Essay

Submitting a Separate Document Application

> format your document.

When submitting your application on paper, pay attention to how it looks, taking into consideration margins, line spacing, font styles and paragraph alignment.

  • Margins:  Use a 1” margin on all sides.
  • Line Spacing:  Use a 1.5 or double line spacing. Although you may be able to submit your work in single line spacing, this makes your essay easier to read.
  • Paragraphs:  Indent the first line of each paragraph with a tab.
  • Fonts:  Use a standard, easy-to-read font like Times New Roman, Arial or Calibri in 12-pt type.
  • Alignment:  Use “left align.” Do not justify the alignment.

> Follow Submission Instructions

Each college or university has its own requirements for how to format your college essay application, which you must follow. Some may ask for your application ID number to be displayed on the cover page, others may ask for pages to be numbered, with a heading on each page. Use your Microsoft Word or Google Docs toolbar to check word count. Do not include your name unless you are requested to do so.

what format do i use for college admission essays

> Submit in Correct File Format

Essay application instructions will indicate which files types are accepted or supported. Check to make sure you are using the appropriate version of Microsoft Word, for example, and submit the file with the correct file extension. To be safe, you can save your essay in a PDF format that cannot be edited.

DannyB

Danny is the CEO of FLEX College Prep. Danny’s core focus is on helping young people get the best advice, and be the best students they can be. His team of professionals are also personal coaches, and great people, driven by the same passion for helping people.

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what format do i use for college admission essays

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Get the statistics on FLEX’s Early Round Decisions to see what worked (and what did not) and for a chance to meet some of our counselors who supported these students in getting into their target colleges!

Sarah-Kim

  • B.A. Psychology & B.A. Criminal Justice – University of Maryland
  • M.A. Legal and Forensic Psychology – UC of Irvine
  • SAT English
  • ACT English
  • AP Psychology

Associate Instructor

Sarah Kim graduated from the University of Maryland in College Park with a B.A. in Psychology and a B.A. in Criminal Justice/Criminology. She currently studies at the University of California, Irvine pursuing a Master’s in Legal and Forensic Psychology. There, her research focuses on rapport and support building in interviews with adolescent victims of sex trafficking. She takes her research focus on rapport building to reach students individually in a gentle but focused manner. When not working or doing school work, she loves to read, dance, and spend time with her dog.

Sarah has been tutoring for 7 years with experience in K-12 general English as well as SAT/ACT Test Preparation. She specializes in the reading writing components of standardized tests. Her extensive background in tutoring has allowed her to be considerate of all students’ needs–whether that be young children learning how to read or high schoolers wanting to succeed on their SAT. Sarah believes that each student should be met where they are and strongly believes that every student can succeed.

  • B.S. Economics – Arizona State University
  • M.A. Educational Leadership and Administration – UC Davis
  • Master of Education – Arizona State University
  • Ph.D. Sociocultural Studies and Educational Policy – Arizona State University

Carmina Mendoza

Dr. Carmina Mendoza is an education scholar with 25 years of experience in the public education sector. Her research and teaching have focused on Spanish instruction at different levels–elementary, secondary, and higher education.  Dr. Mendoza has decades of experience, both as a teacher and as a researcher of Spanish immersion programs in Arizona and California. 

Dr. Mendoza is also an active adjunct professor at Santa Clara University, teaching courses at the Masters of Arts in Teaching and Credential program. In this program, Dr. Mendoza has taught graduate level courses in Spanish to students who want to add a Spanish/English bilingual authorization to their teaching credential. 

Dr. Mendoza is also a published author. She is the author of the book Transnational Messages: Experiences of Chinese and Mexican Immigrants in American Schools.  She has also written chapters in edited volumes and articles in peer-reviewed academic journals, including the High School Journal and Multilingual Educator (publication of the California Association for Bilingual Education).

  • B.A. Social Sciences, Emphasis Sociology – New York University
  • ACT English and Reading
  • AP English Language and Composition
  • AP European History
  • AP US History

Sara Delgado

Sara has a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences with an emphasis on sociology from New York University, and an Associates of Art in Sociology from Fullerton College. Sara’s past experiences as an educator and tutor range from Elementary to College age students. She provided peer-led supplemental instruction during her time at Fullerton College; during this supplemental instruction, she assisted students with understanding concepts and assignments in English courses taught at the school. She currently works as a long-term substitute teacher for local high schools. Sara’s main motivation to pursue a career as an educator is to support students and provide them with a fun and conducive learning experience that will set them up for future success.

  • B.S. Computer Game Science – UC Irvine
  • AP Computer Science A
  • Computer Science: C/C++
  • Computer Science: Java
  • Computer Science: Python
  • Math, Lower Level (Alg2 and Below)
  • Pathways – STEM Coding

Theodore (Teo) Lee

Theodore (Teo) Lee graduated from the University of California-Irvine with a B.S. in Computer Game Science. He has been tutoring computer science for the last 5 years, helping those new to the field understand and develop their computer science skills. In addition to tutoring, Teo is President of the local Association for Computing Machinery. He has led many team projects developing software, and he has won numerous prizes in the many competitions he has attended.

When teaching students, Teo likes to implement practical examples and explain concepts using visual models and diagrams. In the field of Computer Science more specifically, it is especially important to understand how things work “under the hood,” so Teo strives to equip his students with multiple ways of thinking about a problem, thereby developing their own style in navigating the various technical routes toward achieving a solution.

  • B.S. Business Administration in Marketing and Finance – UC Berkeley
  • M.S Education – CSU East Bay
  • Multiple Subject Teaching Credential – CSU East Bay
  • Single Subject Teaching Credential English, History Social Science, Science – CSU East Bay
  • AP Macro and Micro
  • ACT English Reading Science
  • AP Lit and Lang
  • AP Environmental Science

Rick attended San Francisco’s Lowell High, qualifying as a National Merit Finalist. After graduating from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Denny spent 15 years marketing and managing tech startups that were acquired by Amazon, Microsoft, Time Warner, and others for hundreds of millions of dollars.

Seeking to make a meaningful difference in students’ lives, Rick earned an MS in Education, and seven California teaching credentials including single subject English, history and social science, and science. Since 2007, Denny has taught and tutored diverse learners in English through AP Language and AP Literature; social science through AP Macroeconomics, AP Microeconomics, and AP US History; and science through AP Environmental Science. Rick has also mentored students in individual college-level research projects.

Since 2013, Denny has helped students excel on standardized tests, especially the SAT and ACT.  Rick particularly enjoys individual tutoring because he likes getting to know his students and their interests, customizing instruction to meet their needs, and contributing to their growth and success. His tutoring superpowers are listening, analysis, patience, and humor.

  • B.A. English, Philosophy – University of Hartford
  • Ph.D. English – UC Irvine
  • AP English Language & Composition
  • AP English Literature & Composition
  • FRMC – Humanities

Michael Mahoney

Dr. Michael Mahoney holds a PhD in English from the University of California-Irvine, where he has extensive experience teaching university courses in College Writing, English, Philosophy, Film, and History. Michael is widely recognized for his ability to engage students. He has received multiple campus-wide awards in recognition of his excellence as an instructor. In addition to his teaching, Michael’s research has also been recognized for its innovative approach to interdisciplinarity. His doctoral work has received support from endowments in fields as diverse as literary criticism, medical humanities, and science and technology studies.

Michael believes strongly in a student-centered approach to teaching, one that emphasizes active engagement with core concepts in order to achieve specific learning outcomes. His goal is to equip students with the skills to think critically, meaningfully, and independently about texts, ultimately helping them gain a sense of mastery and command over their use of language. Drawing on nearly a decade of experience teaching college writing in various disciplines, Michael also aims to help students reach their full potential in developing compelling and insightful essays.

Elijah

  • B.S. Mathematics – Harvey Mudd College
  • College Math
  • Math (lower and upper level)

Elisha Dayag

Elisha Dayag is a PhD student in Mathematics at UC Irvine. He received his BS in Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College. For the past five years, he has taught and tutored a wide range of students and topics: everything from 6th graders to college students doing calculus and beyond.

As a tutor, Elisha feels that math instruction should be tailored to a student’s specific needs and help soothe any anxieties they may have regarding mathematics. He further believes that anyone can be proficient in and, more importantly, find joy in doing mathematics given enough practice and the right guidance.

  • B.A. English, Minor in European Studies – UCLA
  • M.A. English – CSU Long Beach
  • AP World History
  • Pathways – English & Writing

Chelsea Gibbons

Chelsea Gibbons holds a B.A. in English with a minor in European studies from UCLA and an M.A. in English from Cal State Long Beach, where she specialized in 18th century British literature. While pursuing her Master’s, Chelsea worked as a managing editor for the school’s academic journal and taught as a graduate assistant for numerous literature and history classes. Outside of the university setting, Chelsea has instructed high school students across the humanities, and specifically in the test prep environment: her teaching background includes AP English Language, AP English Literature, AP European History, AP US History, AP World History, college application essays, and standardized test prep (ACT, ISEE, PSAT, SAT).

Chelsea views the classroom as a democratic space. Her students are active participants in their own learning, guided as they are through thoughtful discussions and assignments. She strongly believes that the development of critical thinking and the promotion of a global perspective makes humanities classes crucial to every student’s education, no matter what their major or academic focus.

  • M.S. Physics – New York University
  • M.S. Applied Mathematics – CalPoly University, Pomona
  • M.S. Physical Chemistry – CalPoly University, Pomona
  • B.S. Physics – CalPoly University, Pomona
  • AP Calculus AB/BC
  • AP Physics 1
  • AP Physics 2
  • AP Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism
  • AP Physics C: Mechanics
  • Math, Upper Level (Trig and Up)

Andres Cardenas

Principal instructor.

Andrés Cárdenas is an accomplished scientist and STEM teacher. He holds multiple Master’s degrees: one in Computational Physics from NYU, another in Applied Math from CalPoly, and one in Physical Chemistry, also from CalPoly.

After working as a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Andrés spent 8 years teaching AP Physics at New York City high schools. His passion for science, in part, explains his love for teaching: his classroom enthusiasm is immediately visible,  something his students find contagious. Andrés believes that a robust STEM education starts with a student’s sense of wonder and a desire to discover; and his curriculum work reflects an emphasis on connecting concepts with theory organically—be it in mathematics, physics, chemistry, or computer science.

How to Build Your Extracurricular Activities Profile

For stand-out college applications.

Extracurricular activities profiles play a significant role in college admissions. So how do you go about building one? Do colleges care about the quantity over quality of activities? How can you distinguish yourself from other applicants? 

This is the time to showcase to colleges your passions and accomplishments outside of the classroom. Reserve your spot in our free webinar to learn what an extracurricular activities profile is, what it means to colleges, and what steps you can take to build it.

Pre-Med and BS/MD Programs - What It Takes to Get In:

Is there a doctor in the house.

Many students have aspirations to become a medical doctor but may not necessarily know the additional commitment and requirements needed to have a successful journey. Increasingly, fewer schools are offering BS/MD Programs, so what does this mean for your student? 

Please join our webinar to learn more about the impact of fewer offerings of BS/MD programs and what it means to be pre-med.  FLEX presenters will go over what it takes to enhance a pre-med profile, what schools still offer BS/MD programs, and if these programs are right for your student.

What Sophomores & Juniors Should Be Doing Right Now to Prepare for College

Senior year may seem like it’s far away, but if you start your college application planning now, you will reduce stress and reap the rewards of a seamless and quality college journey. In this seminar, we will share how a little foresight in specific areas will help you achieve your college goals. Topics covered include:

  • Did you know that public schools and private schools calculate their GPA differently? Learn how to select classes that will optimize admission to your target college. We’ll also talk about the importance of taking Honors/AP® courses, as well as college level credits in high school.
  • What you do outside of class both in school and off campus is an important part of your college application journey. We’ll provide strategies on how to not only best keep track of your extra-curricular activities now but also give you insights on which activities can enhance your college application.
  • Students should actively plan and prep for standardized tests well before their senior year. We’ll share how you can best approach your PSAT®/SAT®/ACT® and what you should start doing now to maximize your success on the target test date.

Attend this in-person seminar to learn what Sophomores and Juniors MUST know about college applications and how you can get a winning start!

Changes & Trends:

Early results for the class of 2023.

Analyze early application results for the Class of 2023 with FLEX’s expert counselors! This year’s early application results give indications of how colleges have continued to adapt to the changing college admissions landscape including testing policies and a more socially-minded, less achievement-driven admissions process.

Maikel-Masoud

  • BSC. Mechanical Engineer – University of Alexandria
  • A.S. Mechanical Engineering – Diablo College
  • B.S. Mechanical Engineering – UC Berkeley

Maikel Masoud

Michael holds a Bachelor Degree in Mechanical Engineering from UC Berkeley and another from Alexandria University in Egypt. And he is currently pursuing a Master’s in Robotics at the University of Maryland.

Michael is passionate about education. He believes that he can help make every student love Mathematics and Physics – even those who have had a hard time coping with the nuances and complexities of these fields. Michael has taught widely throughout the Bay Area. He has been an instructor and STEM tutor at Diablo Valley College, as well as working in that capacity with students in private schools in San Francisco and in Berkeley. Having served in the US Army as a Combat Medic Specialist, Michael is experienced in aiding individuals when they are under extreme stress and in need of a calming, motivating presence. Michael is generous and kind, and particularly enjoys connecting to different cultures and people of all backgrounds.

Flex College Prep

  • PhD Sociology – University of Southern California

Alfredo Huante

College essay instructor.

Alfredo Huante holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Southern California. He has taught several undergraduate courses, introducing students to or advancing their understanding of the social world. Alfredo has published works in academic journals and websites and has ample editing experience. Alfredo excels at helping students translate their experiences into engaging, written essays by adjusting to each student’s specific needs.

  • B.A. English – Stanford University

Cristina Herrera Mezgravis

Cristina graduated from Stanford University with Distinction and awards both in fiction and nonfiction for exceptional work in Creative Writing. Her application essays were published in 50 Successful Stanford Application Essays and 50 Successful University of California Application Essays.

She taught English to elementary school students while studying abroad in Paris, ran a creative writing program for high school students during her senior year at Stanford, and currently volunteers as an ESL tutor with the Palo Alto Adult School. Cristina worked for two years at an Andreessen Horowitz-backed startup, prototyping a new mobile app for teachers and students, and curating unpublished books, stories, and deleted scenes by New York Times bestselling authors.

Her experience in admissions consulting began by helping friends and family highlight the passions that set them apart as individuals and select the colleges that were a right fit for them. Students she advised were admitted to Stanford University, USC, and UC Berkeley, among others.

sara-fernandes

  • B.A. English – Santa Clara University
  • Masters of Library and Information Science – San Jose State University

Sara Fernandes

Assistant director of college essay.

Sara attended UC Berkeley and transferred to Santa Clara University after deciding she wanted the opportunity to work with faculty on research. While at Santa Clara University, she helped Professor Judy Dunbar research and edit her book The Winter’s Tale: Shakespeare In Performance . Sara then went on to obtain her Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science at San Jose State University and graduated in the top 1% of her class.

She has used her undergraduate and graduate education to pursue her passion of teaching research and writing to students. Sara has over five years of experience teaching and coaching, over two of which are with FLEX College Prep. At FLEX, Sara has successfully taught classes in SAT Verbal, ACT Verbal, middle school writing and English classes, college essay, and AP English Language and Composition.

She is committed to staying current with trends in test prep and college admissions as well as setting realistic goals for each student so that he or she can achieve success.

NicholasD

  • B.A. US History and Philosophy – UC Davis
  • M.A History – San Francisco State University

Nicholas Dawes

Nick Dawes earned his BA in US History with a philosophy minor from the University of California, Davis, and an MA in History with a concentration in cross-cultural contact from San Francisco State University. While Nick was growing up, many in his family were teachers and school administrators across the South Bay, including Fremont Union High School District, so he is intimately familiar with the academic landscape of the Bay Area.

While in graduate school, he lectured in undergraduate courses, acted as an associate editor of an academic journal, and published his own original work. After graduation, Nick worked in standardized test prep, AP subject tutoring, and he most recently taught at a Bay Area private school for five years. He believes that students learn and work best when they have a productive relationship with their instructor.

In his essay coaching, he works to help students dig deeper into who they are as individuals and what motivates them in order to find the compelling, unique stories in each student. Nick has worked with students on their college admissions essays for the last 9 years, helping students gain admission to top UCs and other prestigious top 20 public and private institutions across the country.

  • Doctoral study in Human Development and
  • Psychology – Harvard University
  • M.A. Applied Child Development – Tufts University
  • B.A. Anthropology – Boston University

Martha Crowe

Master consultant & instructor.

Martha Crowe has worked with, for, and on behalf of youth for three decades, as a social worker, child advocate, nonprofit director, consultant, and for the past eight years, as a professor, researcher, and medical writer at SDSU. Helping people tell their stories has been at the heart of each phase of her career. Martha loves getting to know young people — to hear about what they care about, what they are good at, and what their dreams are for their futures. And magic can happen when they trust her enough to help them tell their stories in an authentic and compelling way that both honors who they are and convinces admissions counselors to accept them.

Martha believes in taking a personalized approach with each student, tailoring her time with them based on their individual writing skills and learning needs. Her approach is always based on genuine care and concern combined with concrete action items and deadlines. For the past four years, Martha has helped students get into a variety of colleges, as well as honors programs within those colleges, from tiny to huge, rural to urban, California to the East Coast: UC Berkeley, UCLA, UCSD, UC Davis, Northeastern, UMass Amherst, University of Michigan, Syracuse, Macalester, Santa Clara University, Pepperdine, University of San Diego, Loyola Marymount, Cal Lutheran, Cal Arts, Claremont McKenna  Colleges, University of Minnesota, University of Illinois-Urbana Champagne, among others.

Martha grew up in Kansas City and joyfully left for Boston after high school, attending Boston University, Tufts, and Harvard for undergraduate and graduate school. She moved to SoCal in 2004 to spend time with her brother after graduation, and like so many others, forgot to leave. Most importantly, she’s a mom to three kids, who are, at the time of this writing, 18, 16, and 12, and an auntie to 58 nieces and nephews (true story) and too many great nieces and nephews to count. In her spare time, Martha volunteers with High Tech High, Miracle League, and Meals on Wheels, is an avid reader, and loves hanging out with her kids.

  • B.S. Mathematics – UCSD
  • M.S. Psychology – King’s College London (In Progress)

Helena Chen

Helena is a Masters student in Psychology with extensive experience in the education  sector, where she has worked as a teacher, consultant and student advocate. She  started tutoring students in high school and supported herself in college as an SAT  instructor. With a mathematics background but still very much interested in pedagogy  and mentorship, Helena decided to leverage her analytical mindset and ability to  problem-solve by continuing to work in college admissions consulting–advising high  school students and their families on the complex college admissions process. Through  this work, she continued her passion for teaching others how to write and hone their  narrative voice, which brought her to FLEX as a college essay instructor.

  • B.A. English/Creative Writing; Minor: Music Industry and Cinematic Arts – University of Southern California

Gabriel Block

Gabriel graduated magna cum laude from the University of Southern California with a BA in  English/Creative Writing. He honed his writing skills through writing-intensive programs at  USC and the University of Melbourne in Australia. After graduating, he spent four years in  the music industry working for Sony Music Publishing, where he engaged in daily writing  assignments and excelled at working with others and building trusting relationships. Gabriel  has years of teaching experience; he brings a warm energy and first hand expertise in  writing successful college essays. In the classroom, Gabriel values trust and joy. With a  genuine interest in others, he builds trust through keen listening and clear and open  communication, and asks for the same, in return. By having fun with the material and leading  with positive reinforcement, he brings his best to the classroom and gets the best from his students. Most importantly, Gabriel believes in pursuing what you love. He can’t wait to learn  what makes you who you are and to help you convey your authentic self to your dream  school.

Northern California Info Banks September 17th

An Inside Look at Flex College Admissions

  • UC Irvine – MA in Art History
  • UC Irvine – BA in Art History with a minor in English
  • English (native proficiency)
  • Korean (conversational)

Associate Consultant & College Essay Instructor

Since her days as an undergraduate, Jaimie has had an insider’s perspective of the college admissions process at the University of California system. She has worked as a Campus Representative in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and as an Academic Advisor in the School of Humanities at UC Irvine, where she gained invaluable insight into the admissions and counseling process. Because of these experiences, Jaimie understands the importance of fit when selecting and applying to colleges. Additionally, she has been able to work with a diverse group of students, including international students and first-generation students.

With all of her students, Jaimie strives to help them gain entrance to a college or university that  will not only set them up for career success, but will also help them find joy in learning. She  hopes she can help her students feel empowered in their own skills and abilities.

Jaimie is also a FLEX College Essay Specialist, which allows her to bring out her students’ most authentic and compelling selves. She has a proven track record in producing high-quality storytelling with her students and finds that writing is a necessary strength for any major.

In terms of admissions, Jaimie has worked with students who have been granted admission to John Hopkins, UC San Diego, and UC Irvine.

During her free time, Jaimie volunteers for an Asian American art collective. She enjoys reading, writing, and talking about pop culture.

dickson

  • B.A. Computer Science and Linguistics at UC Berkeley

Dickson Tsai

Dickson Tsai graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.A. in Computer Science and Linguistics, and he is currently a software engineer. While at Berkeley, he worked as a teaching assistant for numerous computer science courses. In addition to teaching undergraduates, he also tutored high school students online in AP Computer Science and on the SAT, reaching the Top 10 in “Super Helpful” ratings at a top online education service platform.

Dickson cares most about cultivating a growth mindset in students, since an internal desire  to improve leads to a stronger, healthier motivation than any external reward. He  emphasizes a mastery of fundamentals through highly interactive activities like drawing  program visualizations for AP Computer Science. 

Through this and other activities, Dickson  works to accurately assess his students’ understanding and provide timely, actionable  feedback. That way, students can gain the confidence to reason on their own from first  principles.

AshleyR

  • B.A. Creative Writing – SFSU
  • English Enrichment
  • College Essay

Ashley Rodriguez

Ashley attended San Francisco State University where she received her BA in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Poetry. As an avid writer, Ashley developed an interest in poetry at a very young age, after immersing herself in the collections of Edgar Allen Poe and William Shakespeare. Throughout her college experience, Ashley participated in numerous workshops where she was able to sharpen her skills in playwriting, poetry, short stories, novels, and essays. She worked as an Editor for Transfer Magazine, SF State’s literary publication, where she read and edited hundreds of submissions and selected the best pieces to be published. After college, Ashley worked as an Editor for an appraisal firm, interned as a writer for a travel magazine, and became the lead writer for a video game startup, here in the Silicon Valley.

Her passion for writing developed into a drive to educate youth on the English language. From Creative Writing to grammar and vocabulary, Ashley enjoys helping students hone their writing skills and prepare them for college. For over 5 years with FLEX, she has tutored students in essay writing for college and graduate school applications, with a focus on Architecture, History, Interior Design, Art, STEM, Social Sciences, and more! Ashley is a taskmaster who ensures her students complete coherent, authentic, and strategic essays well before application deadlines.

MattL

  • B.S. Mathematics – Stanford University
  • M.S. Mathematics – San Jose State University
  • Ph.D. Mathematics – UC Santa Barbara
  • SAT I & II Math
  • AP Calculus AB and BC
  • Computer Science (Java, C++, & Python)

Matt Lazar specializes in mathematics, including Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, Precalculus, AP Calculus AB, AP Calculus BC, Multivariable Calculus, Linear Algebra, and Discrete Mathematics. He is also familiar with higher level mathematics including abstract algebra, complex analysis, real analysis, differential geometry, differential topology, and point set topology. In addition, he has experience in editing math textbooks. Matt Lazar is capable of teaching introductory computer science languages, including the languages of C++, Java, and Python. Within the area of computer science, Dr. Lazar specializes in two dimensional and three-dimensional computer graphics.

At FLEX College Prep, Dr. Lazar would like to transfer his skills in mathematics and computer science to his students, so that his students can become successful in their education and their careers. Matt’s exceptional teaching ability is also shown in his AP track record, where the average AP Calc BC score of his students is 4.9, with 90% of his students earning 5s. His passion for math has enabled students across the ability spectrum to achieve their Calculus learning goals.

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  • SAT Private Tutoring
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  • College Essay Workshop
  • Academic Writing Workshop
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  • 1:1 College Essay Help
  • Online Instruction
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How to format and structure a college essay: A definitive guide

Bonus Material: Download 30 essays that worked for Princeton

Are you a rising high school senior preparing for the admissions process and aiming for one of those coveted spots at selective universities? Are you looking for help figuring out how to structure your college admissions essay to maximize your chances of acceptance?

 We’ve guided countless students through the application process to acceptances at the country’s most selective colleges. In this blog post, we’ll share some of our proven advice on how to structure and format your college admissions essay to make the best impression on admissions officers.

We’ve also included a set of 30 successful college application essays that helped students get into Princeton. There are few better resources to help your brainstorming than essays that you know worked!

Download Thirty Essays that Worked for Princeton

Jump to section:

What makes a successful college essay Types of College Essay Formats The Narrative Essay Format and Example The Montage Essay Format and Example The “I am…” Essay Format and Example The Creative/Artistic Format and Example Next Steps

What makes a successful college essay?

You can think of a college essay’s effectiveness as being made up of two things: the content, and the narrative structure. In other words, you need to have a strong topic, but you also need to structure and format the way you write about that topic in a specific way. Without the right format, even the most unique and moving topic won’t wow the admission committee.

We’ve written extensively about our step-by-step process for ensuring that you have the right topic in our post on the Diamond Strategy here . It’s a proven method for topic selection, and we encourage everyone to read it and use it.

Your choice of topic is going to heavily influence what format will work best for your college essay. Below, we’ll go into several specific college essay formats (with successful college admissions essay examples!), and we’ll discuss when to use each one.

Types of College Essay Formats

In this post, we’ll talk about four kinds of structures or formats that have been proven to work again and again for successful college admission essays.

what format do i use for college admission essays

  • The Narrative – best if you want to describe one key moment in your life.
  • The Montage – best if you have an eclectic mix of interests/experiences.
  • The “I am…” – best if you have an identity or belief that’s important to you.
  • The Creative/Artistic – Best if you have an unusual topic and like taking risks.

Remember: although each of these formats can be broken down into something like a template, it will always get its power from the specifics of your story and your experiences. Take a look at any of these successful college essays that worked and you’ll see that, no matter the format, the key to each is tons and tons of specific detail.

Also remember that these formats are not always interchangeable : if you want to write about what you learned from a pivotal moment in your life, you’ll probably want The Narrative and not, say, The Montage. 

The Narrative Essay Format and Example (best if you want to describe one key moment in your life).

The Narrative Essay format is one of the most popular and one of the most commonly seen on “Essays that Worked” blogs–and with good reason! This essay structure lets you tell a detailed story, keeping admissions counselors engaged while also conveying key insights about you as an applicant.

Here are the typical components of a Narrative Essay:

  • Start in the middle of the story
  • Show personal growth
  • Reflect on what’s changed

So what does it look like? Let’s take a look at an actual sample essay from our Thirty College Essays that Worked for Princeton and break it down.

1 – Start in the middle of the story (media res)

Drop the reader right into the middle of a crucial moment, describing it like a scene in a film or movie.

what format do i use for college admission essays

To him, I was a stranger. He could not recall that I had fervently cared for him every day for the past five weeks. As I laughed at his trademark joke for the third time that day, he felt a familiar, but unidentifiable gratitude. When I mentioned a detail about his past, he blushed, realizing that I, a perceived stranger, knew him better than himself. The only recollection he had of me was of a girl with an unmatched dedication to his happiness. This man was one of the patients I encountered during my volunteer internship at Expressions, a hospital program for adults with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Notice how this begins the story with no preamble. If your essay topic is about a major event in your life, one of the strongest ways to begin your college essay is by jumping right into it.

2 – Zoom out

Once you’ve hooked the reader with your story, zoom out and provide more context and background information. How did you get there? What brought you to that moment?

On the second day of the internship, I strode through the door, eager to delve into my new daily responsibilities. As I approached the patients, I anticipated, somewhat naively, a chorus of welcomes and friendly receptions. But instead, I was met with puzzled glances and polite, but reserved greetings. I realized that no one remembered who I was. For the next several minutes, I questioned my purpose in a program where I could not permanently impact the participants. What motivation did I have to go beyond mediocrity when, no matter the quality of my service, I would be forgotten? But it was that morning, as I poured each patient a cup of coffee, smiled, and reintroduced myself, that I constructed my personal motto: “Initiative requires no incentive.” Throughout the rest of the day, I found motivation through mundane, yet meaningful moments, like helping a patient complete a crossword or color a picture. It was in those moments that I learned that dedication is not derived from a desire to make memorable change, but from a will to contribute to your community no matter the reward.

You want to maintain a high level of detail and specificity, but you also want to zoom out enough to make sure your reader understands the background and context of your story. This essay does that perfectly by explaining the internship and the student’s initial involvement. More importantly, it shows us what the student was thinking at the beginning, which provides an opportunity for growth and learning.

3 – Show personal growth/development/change

The narrative works because it’s about how you, as a student, college applicant, and human, have changed and grown through the experience you describe. So the next part of your essay should describe some element of change as it develops through this story. Take a look below:

Over the next few weeks, I discovered that because the patients had no recollection of the past, they cherished the present moment. It was this principle of mindful existence that taught me to love the moments of doing, rather than linger in the memories of “I have done.” To fulfill this principle, I sought to paint each moment with cheer and consideration. Through all their bursts of frustration, shivers of discomfort, and tears of untraceable nostalgia, I strove to offer warmth and support. On several occasions, I brought in my tutu and pointe shoes and performed a ballet variation. As I taught the participants ballet steps, the room rang with laughter and amusement. Hoping to inspire the creativity I find so empowering, I also orchestrated events from poetry slams to watercolor classes to recipe exchanges. By incorporating my individuality into the program, I reinvented my role as a volunteer, a community member, and an individual.

This process of “discovery” is one of the keys to the Narrative Structure. This college essay format is designed to let you bring out the personal growth that accompanied this event. In the body paragraphs, the author shows how she developed and “reinvented” her role through this experience.

4 – Reflect on what’s changed

As you bring your essay to a close, you should actively reflect on what has changed throughout this narrative. The closing can be short and sweet, and often refers back to the original story you told in the first paragraph.

what format do i use for college admission essays

On my last day at the program, I was leading a jewelry-making activity, when I noticed one of the participants becoming agitated. She was, among all the group members, the patient in the most advanced stage of memory loss and the patient I accompanied most often. I drew up a chair next to her and offered my help. Her head, previously hunched over scattered bracelet pieces, slowly lifted and her eyes turned to meet mine. As her eyes flickered across my face, I saw in her expression that she was searching for a thought, creeping to the forefront of her mind. Then, carefully she said, “Your name is Dana, right?” It had been nearly a year since she had remembered the last five minutes, yet she had remembered my name. As I smiled and nodded, she began to tear up, and we both silently rejoiced in the realization that she had momentarily overcome her disease. In that instant, my continuous acts of compassion, whether previously forgotten or anonymous, came to fruition. Service became more than the completion of routine tasks or the collection of volunteer hours; it became the responsibility to foster hope and prosperity within my community, the nation, and humanity.

This final paragraph beautifully brings the entire essay to a close: it recalls the opening paragraph, but now gives it a new and more positive spin. It also tells the admissions committee what this student has learned through this narrative. This student comes away from the experience with a new understanding of service.

This is one of the best examples of a successfully executed college essay in the Narrative style. It hooks the reader in from the beginning, making us want to figure out what’s going on. Then, it gives us the context we need to understand how the writer got to this point and who they are. Most importantly, it concludes the narrative by showing real, impressive personal growth in the student’s perspective on the world, ending with a reflection on what this writer values and brings to a college.

Yours will look different, of course. But if you want to understand why the narrative essay structure works, this impactful essay is a great place to start.

You can find more successful narrative essay examples in our Thirty College Essays that Worked for Princeton .

The Montage Essay Format and Example (best if you have an eclectic mix of interests/experiences)

The Narrative Structure is great if your essay topic can be conveyed through a single crucial moment or experience. But what if you want to show the admissions committee at your dream university some aspect(s) of your personality that can only be conveyed through multiple moments?

Here are the key elements of a Montage Essay:

  • Introduce your theme
  • Present a series of snapshots related to the theme
  • Tie the snapshots to the theme

That’s the kind of topic the Montage Essay Format is designed for. You won’t go into as much detail as you would in the Narrative Essay. Instead, you will present the admissions committee with a series of snapshots from your life, all connected by a common theme.

what format do i use for college admission essays

These snapshots can be actual events, or they can be creatively selected items from your life that tell universities something about you–you might create a montage of what’s on your bookshelf or what kind of bumper stickers are on your car, for example.

1 – Start with the unifying thread or theme

Give us a bit of context for whatever unites the montage by setting it up. Alternatively, you can just jump right into one of the montage moments (like in the Narrative Format). The best option here will depend on your specific essay.

We can see an example from our collection of thirty actual sample essays below:

“You know nothing, Jon Snow” Being an avid Game of Thrones fanatic, I fancy every character, scene, and line. However,Ygritte’s famous line proves to be just slightly more relatable than the incest, corruption, and sorcery that characterizes Westeros. Numerous theories explore the true meaning of these five words, but I prefer to think they criticize seventeen-year-old Jon’s lack of life experience. Growing up in a lord’s castle, he has seen little about the real world; thus, he struggles to see the bigger picture until he evaluates all angles. Being in a relatively privileged community myself, I can affirm the lack of diverse perspectives —and even more, the scarcity of real-world problems. Instead, my life has been horrifically plagued by first world problems.

This introductory paragraph opens with something creative and catchy, then explains the purpose. It also sets up the montage that will follow: “the first world problems.”

2 – Present the montage!

Naturally, this is the biggest part of the Montage Format. The pieces of your montage can be short (as in the below example) or fairly long. The most important thing is that they are detailed, unique, and come together to tell the university admissions officers something about you.

what format do i use for college admission essays

I’ve written a eulogy and held a funeral for my phone charger. I’ve thrown tantrums when my knitted sweaters shrunk in the dryer. And yes, I actually have cried over spilled (organic) milk. Well, shouldn’t I be happy with the trivial “problems” I’ve faced? Shouldn’t I appreciate the opportunities and the people around me? Past the “feminism v. menimism” and “memes” of the internet, are heartbreaking stories and photos of life outside my metaphorical “Bethpage Bubble.” How can I be content when I am utterly oblivious to the perspectives of others? Like Jon Snow, I’ve never lived a day in another person’s shoes. Fewer than three meals a day. No extra blanket during record-breaking winter cold. No clean water. I may be parched after an intense practice, but I know nothing of poverty. Losing a loved one overseas. Being forced to leave your home. Coups d’état and dictatorial governments. I battle with my peers during class discussions, but I know nothing of war. Denial of education. Denial of religion. Denial of speech. I have an endless list of freedoms, and I know nothing of oppression. Malaria. Cholera. Cancer. I watch how Alzheimer’s progresses in my grandmother, but I know nothing of disease. Living under a strict caste system. Being stereotyped because of one’s race. Unwarranted prejudice. I may be in a minority group, yet I know nothing of discrimination. Flappers, speakeasies, and jazz. Two world wars. Pagers, hippies, and disco. I’m barely a 90’s kid who relishes SpongeBob episodes, and I know nothing of prior generations. Royal weddings, tribal ceremonies, and Chinese New Years. I fast during Ramadan, but I know nothing of other cultures. Hostile political parties. Progressive versus retrospective. Right and wrong. I am seventeen, and I know nothing of politics.

This montage is really a list of the first-world problems of the writer and the things the writer “knows nothing” about. In writing this list, however, the student is making clear that they’re aware of the limits of their own experience, and that kind of self-reflection is crucial for a winning college essay.

3 – Tie the moments of the montage together

Each montage essay must end by clearly drawing a lesson. The question every admissions officer will be asking is: what do all of these moments tell us about you?

Is ignorance really bliss? Beyond my community and lifetime exists myriad events I’ll never witness, people I’ll never meet, and beliefs I’ll never understand. Being unexposed to the culture and perspectives that comprise this world, I know I can never fully understand anyone or anything. Yet, irony is beautiful. Embarking on any career requires making decisions on behalf of a community, whether that be a group of students, or a patient, or the solar system. I am pleased to admit like Jon Snow, I know nothing, but that will change in college.

This reflection really doesn’t have to take up a lot of space. In just a few sentences, this author shows us why the montage matters: this student understands the limits of their experiences and knowledge, and, most importantly, is eager and willing to work to overcome them.

For more successful college application essays like this, check out our collection of actual sample essays below:

The “I am…” Essay Format (best if you have an identity or belief that’s important to you)

This format is the most direct way to approach a personal essay. By using this structure, you will directly present the admissions officers with some crucial aspect of your personality, background, or interests.

This essay format is best for students who want to highlight a particular quirk, lifelong challenge, or important aspects of their demographic background.

This kind of essay generally follows this structure:

  • A surprising “I am…” statement
  • Explanation of the statement with specific examples
  • Reflection on how this has shaped you

Like all college admissions essays, this will require you to be specific and detailed. But, it might not involve much of an actual story or narrative (though it can!). Take a look at the breakdown of the example below to see how it’s done.

what format do i use for college admission essays

1 – Start with a surprising “I am…” statement

This essay structure depends on hooking your reader’s attention from the first line, so you want to start with something memorable, unexpected, and maybe even a bit confusing. Though often this means saying “I am…” it could just as easily be “I believe…” or “I have…”

I am an aspiring hot sauce sommelier. Ever since I was a child, I have been in search for all that is spicy. I began by dabbling in peppers of the jarred variety. Pepperoncini, giardiniera, sports peppers, and jalapeños became not only toppings, but appetizers, complete entrées, and desserts. As my palate matured, I delved into a more aggressive assortment of spicy fare. I’m not referring to Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, the crunchy snack devoured by dilettantes. No, it was bottles of infernal magma that came next in my tasting curriculum.

Here’s a classic example of how to start. “Hot sauce sommelier” is unusual and quirky enough that it holds the reader’s attention. Admissions officers will want to keep reading to see why this matters.

2 – Expand on the “I am…”

This can take different forms: you can explain how you came to be, say, a hot sauce sommelier. Or you can tell us what that looks like in your everyday life. It’ll depend in large part on what your individual story is, but the key is specifics, specifics, specifics.

Despite the current lack of certification offered for the profession which I am seeking, I am unquestionably qualified. I can tell you that a cayenne pepper sauce infused with hints of lime and passion fruit is the perfect pairing to bring out the subtle earthy undertones of your microwave ramen. I can also tell you that a drizzle of full-bodied Louisiana habanero on my homemade vanilla bean ice cream serves as an appetizing complement. For the truly brave connoisseur, I suggest sprinkling a few generous drops of Bhut Jolokia sauce atop a bowl of chili. Be warned, though; one drop too many and you might find yourself like I did, crying over a heaping bowl of kidney beans at the dining room table. Although I consistently attempt to cultivate the rarest and most expertly crafted bottles of molten spice, like an oenophile who occasionally sips on five dollar bottles of wine, I am neither fussy nor finicky. I have no qualms about dousing my omelets with Cholula, dipping my tofu in pools of Sriracha, or soaking my vegetarian chicken nuggets in the Frank’s Red Hot that my mom bought from the dollar store. No matter the quality or cost, when gently swirled, wafted, and swished; the sauces excite my senses. Each initial taste, both surprising yet subtly familiar, has taught me the joy of the unknown and the possibility contained within the unexpected.

Check out all specific details the writer uses in this portion of the essay! These moments both show the student’s skill as a writer and, more importantly, convey their very real passion for hot sauce. It doesn’t matter that it’s a little bit silly: what matters is showing the university that this student is dedicated to something .

3 – End by reflecting on how this aspect of your identity shapes who you are as a person and student

As always, these essays have to end with a bit of introspection: you’ve told us the story, now explain why it matters, as this student does.

My ceaseless quest for piquancy has inspired many journeys, both gustatory and otherwise. It has dragged me into the depths of the souks of Marrakech, where I purchased tin cans filled with Harissa. Although the chili sauce certainly augmented the robust aroma of my tagine, my food was not the only thing enriched by this excursion. My conquest has also brought me south, to the valleys of Chile, where I dined among the Mapuche and flavored my empanadas with a smoky seasoning of Merkén. Perhaps the ultimate test of my sensory strength occurred in Kolkata, India. After making the fatal mistake of revealing my penchant for spicy food to my friend’s grandmother, I spent the night with a raw tongue and cold sweats. I have learned that spice isn’t always easy to digest. It is the distilled essence of a culture, burning with rich history. It is a universal language that communicates passion, pain, and renewal. Like an artfully concocted hot sauce, my being contains alternating layers of sweetness and daring which surround a core that is constantly being molded by my experiences and adventures. I’m not sure what it is about spiciness that intrigues me. Maybe my fungiform papillae are mapped out in a geography uniquely designed to appreciate bold seasonings. Maybe these taste buds are especially receptive to the intricacies of the savors and zests that they observe. Or maybe it’s simply my burning sense of curiosity. My desire to challenge myself, to stimulate my mind, to experience the fullness of life in all of its varieties and flavors.

what format do i use for college admission essays

This student makes clear to colleges why this aspect of their personality matters. It has helped them learn and travel; it shows the student’s desire to “challenge” themselves and to “stimulate their mind,” which is exactly what a top-tier university is looking for.

The Creative/Artistic Format (Best if you have an unusual topic and like taking risks)

I’m cheating a little bit here: by definition, there’s no real format to these Creative/Artistic Essays. These are the most unique, the toughest to pull off, and the riskiest essays. But for certain students, they’re undoubtedly the right choice.

Although these essays aren’t as easy to bulletpoint out as the above, creative personal essays will always contain the following elements:

  • A unique gimmick
  • Meaningful information about the writer’s life or identity
  • A mature reflection

what format do i use for college admission essays

The Creative/Artistic Essays make your essay stand out to colleges, but require careful planning and editing to pull off. If you’re an artist type, or, alternatively, if you feel your application needs something to separate you from the pack, these can be the right choice.

Consulting with one of our expert college essay coaches can be the best way to ensure that your Creative/Artistic Essay helps and not hurts your application.

Below is a successful example, and some analysis of why this essay works:

“Is it bigger than a breadbox?” “Yes.” I have always been tall, decidedly tall. Yet, my curiosity has always surpassed my height. Starting at a young age, I would ask countless questions, from “How heavy is the Earth?” to “Where does rain come from?” My curiosity, displayed in questions like these, has truly defined me as a person and as a student. Therefore, it is not surprising that I became transfixed the first time I played 20Q (the electronic version of Twenty Questions). Somehow, a little spherical device guessed what I was thinking. The piece of technology sparked my curiosity and instilled in me a unique interest in 20Q. This interest would later reveal valuable character traits of mine while also paralleling various facets of my life. “Does it strive to learn?” “Yes.” I became determined to discover how 20Q guessed correctly. After some research, I discovered artificial intelligence, more specifically, artificial neural networks—systems which learn and improve themselves. This idea fascinated me. I wanted to learn more. I read avidly, seeking and absorbing as much information as I could. When given the opportunity years later, I signed up for the first computer programming class available to me. I found myself in an environment I loved. I would stay after class, go in during free periods, make my own apps, and work over Cloud-based IDEs. I prized the freedom and the possibilities. “Is it driven?” “Yes.” After my introduction to 20Q, I began to play Twenty Questions (the traditional parlor game) and became determined to rival the guessing accuracy of the artificial intelligence. At first I was mediocre. However, through long car rides with family, good-natured yet heated competitions with friends, logical strategy, and time, I became more effective. I discovered the “secrets” to success: practice and perseverance. “Does it apply what it learns?” “Yes.” As 20Q implements what it learns, so do I. Throughout high school, I applied the “secret” of practice to my basketball career. I spent countless hours sharpening my skills in 90° summer heat to 20° late-winter cold, countless afternoons playing pickup games with my friends, and countless weekends traveling to AAU basketball tournaments. As a result, I became a starter for my school’s varsity team. I applied another “secret,” this time the “secret” of perseverance, by dedicating myself to physical therapy after knee surgery in order to quickly return to football. Later that year, I became the first player in my grade to score a varsity touchdown. “Does it attempt to better itself?” “Yes.” Once I became proficient at Twenty Questions, I strengthened my resolve to become masterful. To do so, I needed to become a skillful inquisitor and to combine that with my analytical nature and interpersonal skills, all of which are vital for success in Twenty Questions. Because I had been debating politics with my friends since the 8th grade, I recognized that debate could sharpen these skills. I began to debate more frequently (and later more effectively) in English and government class, at the lunch table and family gatherings, and whenever the opportunity presented itself. This spurred in me an interest for how public policy and government work, leading me to attend Boys State and receive a nomination for The United States Senate Youth Program. “Does it think deeply?” “Yes.” So far, I have realized that thriving at Twenty Questions, just like life, is all about tenacity, rationality and interpersonal skills. I have found that, as in Twenty Questions, always succeeding is impossible; however, by persevering through difficulties and obstacles, favorable outcomes are often attainable. As I have become better at Twenty Questions, so too have I improved in many other aspects of my life. Nonetheless, I realize that I still have unbounded room to grow. And much like 20Q, I will continue to learn throughout my life and apply my knowledge to everything I do. “Are you thinking of me?” “Yes.” Source: Johns Hopkins Essays that Worked

Framing this essay as a round of 20 questions is the kind of risky creative move that, in this case, can really pay off.

It works here because it isn’t just being creative or artsy for the sake of it: this format really allows the student to express multiple important aspects of their personality as it relates to their application.

You’ll notice that, like most creative essays, it combines elements of the other essay formats. But it does so in a unique way that can’t be replicated: nobody else can write a 20 Questions style essay without ripping off this author.

If you can find a creative idea like this one that lets you express unique elements of your story or personality in a fun, attention-grabbing structure, then this option might be the best one for you.

You should think of the steps outlined in this blogpost as the middle of the essay writing process. First, you need to brainstorm and select your topic (see our guide on that here) . Then, based on that topic, you can use this post to identify what structure and format will work best for crafting your essay.

If you’ve settled on an essay format, it’s time to move on to actually writing the essay itself. We recommend starting by reviewing some of the past successful essays linked below and by first reading our post on the Diamond Strategy for topic selection.

Of course, there’s no substitute for professional help: our expert essay coaches have helped countless students with brainstorming, topic choice, organization, crafting, and final touches on essays that have helped these students gain admission to Ivies and other elite colleges. If you’re interested in working with one of our college essay coaches, reach out to us here !

Top College Essay Posts

  • 14 Best College Essay Services for 2023 (40 Services Reviewed)
  • Qualities of a Successful College Essay
  • 11 College Essays That Worked
  • How to Answer the UC Personal Insight Questions
  • How Colleges Read your College Applications (A 4-Step Process)
  • How to Write the Princeton Supplemental Essays
  • The Diamond Strategy: How We Help Students Write College Essays that Get Them Into Princeton (And Other Ivy League Schools)
  • What is the College Essay? Your Complete Guide for 202 4
  • College Essay Brainstorming: Where to Start
  • How to Write the Harvard Supplemental Essays
  • How to Format Your College Essay

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How To Format & Structure Your College Application Essay

How To Format & Structure Your College Application Essay

College essays are a key component of your college application to top universities. Your essays are a chance for admissions officers to get to know you beyond your grades, test scores, and ECLs. But how do you craft essays that reflect who you are AND impress the admissions officers?

First, it's important to understand that the essays you write in high school differ from what you have to write in your college application essays . Whether you’re writing the Common App Essay , Supplemental Essays, or UCAS Personal Statement , it's crucial that you prepare ahead of time to do your absolute best. Read ahead for guidelines on how to format and structure a college application essay and what mistakes to avoid.

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General College Essay Formatting Guidelines

The main focus of your college essay is the content. The format and structure should make the essay easy to read to maintain this focus.

A title to your college essay is generally not required and takes from your word count. It can also confine your essay to a single meaning, so if you decide to use titles, use them with care. Keep your font double-spaced with a line space between the paragraphs to keep the essay easy on the eyes.

When the word count is not given, staying around 600 words is a safe bet. While it’s important to share about yourself in your essay, oversharing could make you stand out from your competition — in the worst way possible!

Uploading Your Essay

If you are copying and pasting your essay into a text box, here are some necessary actions to take to ensure your essay will be received as intended.

  • Make sure that your essay is transferred over completely . Formatting on a different program initially than using the copy/paste function could cut your essay off, change your word count, alter the paragraph structure, and overall change the initial way you meant your essay to be read.
  • The smaller details, such as bold and italics, may not be possible depending on the platform . As the point of the essay is the text, not including bold/italics only makes for a more straightforward read — it might just be a blessing in disguise!

When attaching a document, you’ll need to be  more precise with your formatting, but here are a few rules of thumb to follow:

  • 1” margin is the standard, and difficult to go wrong with.
  • An easy-to-read font, such as Times New Roman and Arial, is the way to go . The last thing you want is for the admissions officers to have difficulty reading your essay due to a complicated font.
  • Download your college essay in an accepted format according to the submissions site.

3 Tips on How to Structure Your College Application Essay

Common App Essay Guide Part 2: Structure

The actual writing process may be scarier than the format- this is where you tell your story. A standard way of structuring your essay is in this story format, separated into the following 3 acts:

Act 1: The Hook

You want to get your reader excited. Introduce yourself, set the scene, grab their interest, and prepare them for Act 2.

Act 2: The Transformation

This is the event that occurs that drives a change in you. It can be something small, or something life-changing — what matters is it mattered to you, and caused a change to some degree.

Act 3: The Change

Now, in the aftermath of Act 2, you share how you are a different person because of it — more resilient, caring, patient, hardworking, etc.

While this is a general, relatively easy structure to use, it is not the only one! Students have used all kinds of creative structures to help themt stand out amongst other essays. While the story structure is not the be all, end all, it certainly allows for an effective way to share a transformative change within the word count.

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Red Flags To Avoid On Your College Essay

Top 5 Common App Personal Essay Red Flags

High-achieving students often have a tendency to underestimate how much work it takes to craft a good, strong college essay. It is not enough to do really well in all areas of your life if you are not able to reflect that in your essay!

Here are some easy-to-make mistakes to avoid in writing your college application essay:

Using your college essay as a resume

While you may want to share all of your accolades, there are other parts of the application dedicated to this. The essay allows for a more flexible way to share who you are as a person, how you have changed, and how you see yourself growing in the future.

Starting with generic quotes

Generic quotes do not tell the reader about who you are. Usually, these quotes are popular, and if many relate to it then it is not sharing your unique personality and changes you have undergone.

Trying to sound too academic

The college essay is different from your typical academic essays from English class. No need to have a thesaurus on hand — share your experiences as one individual to another.

Sounding different on your essay than the rest of your application

When admissions officers are reading your application, they are considering it holistically. You want to be consistent in your application, showing the same person through your activities as in your personal essay.

Focusing on achievement over growth

Writing about the time you won a volleyball game does not give much insight into who you are as a person the same way that sharing a transformative experience might.

Final Thoughts

By following the college application essay guidelines listed above, you will be able to focus all the attention on the content and give universities invaluable information about who YOU are — and who you could be on their campus. 

For more individualized, exclusive information from admissions experts, book a consultation now to start your journey to your dream university.

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How to Write the Common Application Essays 2023-2024 (With Examples)

The Common App essay is one of the most important parts of your application, but it can be extremely daunting if you’re not familiar with creative writing or what admissions officers are looking for.

In this blog post, we’ll provide advice on how to break down these prompts, organize your thoughts, and craft a strong, meaningful response that admissions officers will notice. If you’d like more free personalized help, you can get your essays reviewed and explore school-by-school essay help on CollegeVine.

Why the Common App Essay Matters

Admissions is a human process. While admissions committees look at grades, test scores, and extracurriculars, there are five students that have great qualifications in those areas for every spot in a university’s class. As an applicant, you need an admissions counselor to choose you over everyone else — to advocate specifically for you. 

This is where essays come in; they are an opportunity for you to turn an admissions counselor into an advocate for your application! Of your essays, the Common App is the most important since it is seen by most of the colleges to which you apply. It is also your longest essay, which gives you more space to craft a narrative and share your personality, feelings, and perspective.

It’s not hyperbole to say that getting the Common App essay right is the single most important thing you can do to improve your chances of admission as a senior. 

Overview of the Common App

The Common App essay is the best way for admissions committees to get to know you. While SAT scores, your past course load, and your grades provide a quantitative picture of you as a student, the Common App essay offers adcoms a refreshing glimpse into your identity and personality. For this reason, try to treat the essay as an opportunity to tell colleges why you are unique and what matters to you.

Since your Common App essay will be seen by numerous colleges, you will want to paint a portrait of yourself that is accessible to a breadth of institutions and admissions officers (for example, if you are only applying to engineering programs at some schools, don’t focus your Common App on STEM at the expense of your other applications — save that for your supplemental essays).

In short, be open and willing to write about a topic you love, whether it is sports, music, politics, food, or watching movies. The Common App essay is more of a conversation than a job interview.

What Makes a Great Common App Essay?

A great Common App essay is, first and foremost, deeply personal. You are relying on the admissions committee to choose you over someone else, which they are more likely to do if they feel a personal connection to you. In your essay, you should delve into your feelings, how you think about situations/problems, and how you make decisions.

Good essays also usually avoid cliche topics . A couple overdone themes include an immigrant’s journey (particularly if you’re Asian American), and a sports accomplishment or injury. It’s not that these topics are bad, but rather that many students write about these subjects, so they don’t stand out as much. Of course, some students are able to write a genuine and unique essay about one of these topics, but it’s hard to pull off. You’re better off writing about more nuanced aspects of your identity!

You should also, of course, pay close attention to your grammar and spelling, use varied sentence structure and word choice, and be consistent with your tone/writing style. Take full advantage of the available 650 words, as writing less tends to mean missed opportunities.

Finally, it’s a good practice to be aware of your audience – know who you are writing for! For example, admissions officers at BYU will probably be very religious, while those at Oberlin will be deeply committed to social justice.

See some examples of great Common App essays to get a better idea of what makes a strong essay.

How your Common App Essay Fits with Your Other Essays

The Common App is one part of a portfolio of essays that you send to colleges, along with supplemental essays at individual colleges. With all of your essays for a particular college, you want to create a narrative and tell different parts of your story. So, the topics you write about should be cohesive and complementary, but not repetitive or overlapping. 

Before jumping in to write your Common App essay, you should think about the other schools that you’re writing essays for and make sure that you have a strategy for your entire portfolio of essays and cover different topics for each. If you have strong qualifications on paper for the colleges you are targeting, the best narratives tend to humanize you. If you have weaker qualifications on paper for your colleges, the best narratives tend to draw out your passion for the topics or fields of study that are of interest to you and magnify your accomplishments. 

Strategy for Writing the Common App Essays

Because the Common App essay is 650 words long and has few formal directions, organizing a response might seem daunting. Fortunately, at CollegeVine, we’ve developed a straightforward approach to formulating strong, unique responses.

This section outlines how to: 1) Brainstorm , 2) Organize , and 3) Write a Common App essay.

Before reading the prompts, brainstorming is a critical exercise to develop high-level ideas. One way to construct a high-level idea would be to delve into a passion and focus on how you interact with the concept or activity. For example, using “creative writing” as a high-level idea, one could stress their love of world-building, conveying complex emotions, and depicting character interactions, emphasizing how writing stems from real-life experiences.

A different idea that doesn’t involve an activity would be to discuss how your personality has developed in relation to your family; maybe one sibling is hot-headed, the other quiet, and you’re in the middle as the voice of reason (or maybe you’re the hot-head). These are simply two examples of infinitely many ideas you could come up with.

To begin developing your own high-level ideas, you can address these Core Four questions that all good Common App essays should answer:

  • “Who Am I?”
  • “Why Am I Here?”
  • “What is Unique About Me?”
  • “What Matters to Me?”

The first question focuses on your personality traits — who you are. The second question targets your progression throughout high school (an arc or journey). The third question is more difficult to grasp, but it involves showing why your personality traits, methods of thinking, areas of interest, and tangible skills form a unique combination. The fourth question is a concluding point that can be answered simply, normally in the conclusion paragraph, i.e., “Running matters to me” or “Ethical fashion matters to me.”

You can brainstorm freeform or start with a specific prompt in mind.

Sometimes, it can be helpful to start by jotting down the 3-5 aspects of your personality or experiences you’ve had on a piece of paper. Play around with narratives that are constructed out of different combinations of these essential attributes before settling on a prompt. 

For example, you might note that you are fascinated by environmental justice, have had success in Model Congress, and are now working with a local politician to create a recycling program in your school district. You may also have tried previous initiatives that failed. These experiences could be constructed and applied to a number of Common App prompts. You could address a specific identity or interest you have associated with public advocacy, discuss what you learned from your failed initiatives, explore how you challenged the lack of recycling at your school, fantasize about solving waste management issues, etc. 

Selecting a prompt that you identify with

For example, consider the following prompt: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Perhaps you had been a dedicated and active member of your school’s debate team until one of your parents lost their jobs, leaving you unable to afford the high membership and travel dues. You decided to help out by getting a job after school, and responded to your familial hardship with grace and understanding (as opposed to anger). A few months later, and after speaking with your former debate coach and your parents, you set up a system to save up for your own trips so that you could still participate in debate!

In general, the most common mistake CollegeVine sees with Common App essays is that they aren’t deeply personal. Your essay should be specific enough that it could be identified as yours even if your name wasn’t attached. 

If you get stuck, don’t worry! This is very common as the Common App is often the first personal essay college applicants have ever written. One way of getting unstuck if you feel like you aren’t getting creative or personal enough is to keep asking yourself “why”

For example: I love basketball…

  • Because I like having to think on the fly and be creative while running our offense.

It can often help to work with someone and bounce ideas off them. Teachers are often a bad idea – they tend to think of essays in an academic sense, which is to say they often fail to apply the admissions context. Further, it is unlikely that they know you well enough to provide valuable insight. Friends in your own year can be a good idea because they know you, but you should be careful about competitive pressures applying within the same high school. Older friends, siblings, or neighbors who have successfully navigated the admissions process at your target universities (or good universities) strike that medium between no longer being competitive with you for admissions but still being able to help you brainstorm well because they know you.

Overall, there is no single “correct” topic. Your essay will be strong as long as you are comfortable and passionate about your idea and it answers the Core Four questions.

Common App essays are not traditional five-paragraph essays. You are free to be creative in structure, employ dialogue, and use vivid descriptions—and you should! Make sure that context and logic are inherent in your essay, however. From paragraph to paragraph, sentence to sentence, your ideas should be clear and flow naturally. Great ways to ensure this are using a story arc following a few major points, or focusing on cause and effect.

The traditional approach

This involves constructing a narrative out of your experiences and writing a classic personal essay. You are free to be creative in structure, employ dialogue, and use vivid descriptions—and you should! Make sure that context and logic are inherent in your essay, however. From paragraph to paragraph, sentence to sentence, your ideas should be clear and flow naturally. Great ways to ensure this are using a story arc following a few major points, or focusing on cause and effect.

The creative approach

Some students prefer to experiment with an entirely new approach to the personal essay. For example, a student who is passionate about programming could write their essay in alternating lines of Binary and English. A hopeful Literature major could reimagine a moment in their life as a chapter of War and Peace, adopting Tolstoy’s writing style. Or, you could write about a fight with your friend in the form of a third person sports recap to both highlight your interest in journalism and reveal a personal story. Creative essays are incredibly risky and difficult to pull off. However, a creative essay that is well executed may also have the potential for high reward.

Your Common App essay must display excellent writing in terms of grammar and sentence structure. The essay doesn’t need to be a Shakespearean masterpiece, but it should be well-written and clear.

A few tips to accomplish this are:

  • Show, don’t tell
  • Be specific
  • Choose active voice, not passive voice
  • Avoid clichés
  • Write in a tone that aligns with your goals for the essay. For example, if you are a heavy STEM applicant hoping to use your Common App essay to humanize your application, you will be undermined by writing in a brusque, harsh tone.

“Show, don’t tell” is vital to writing an engaging essay, and this is the point students struggle with most.  Instead of saying, “I struggled to make friends when I transferred schools,” you can show your emotions by writing, “I scanned the bustling school cafeteria, feeling more and more forlorn with each unfamiliar face. I found an empty table and ate my lunch alone.”

In many cases, writing can include more specific word choice . For example, “As a kid, I always played basketball,” can be improved to be “Every day after school as a kid, I ran home, laced up my sneakers, and shot a basketball in my driveway until the sun went down and I could barely see.”

To use active voice over passive voice , be sure that your sentence’s subject performs the action indicated by the verb, rather than the action performing onto the subject. Instead of writing “this project was built by my own hands,” you would say “I built this project with my own hands.”

Finally, avoid clichés like adages, sayings, and quotes that do not bring value to your essay. Examples include phrases like “Be the change you wish to see in the world” (it’s also important to know that sayings like these are often seriously misquoted—Gandhi did not actually utter these words) and lavish claims like “it was the greatest experience of my life.”

A few tips for the writing (and re-writing!) process

  • If you have enough time, write a 950 word version of your personal statement first and then cut it down to the official word limit of 650. In many cases, the extra writing you do for this draft will contain compelling content. Using this, you can carve out the various sections and information that allow you to tell your story best. 
  • Revise your draft 3-5 times. Any more, you are probably overthinking and overanalyzing. Any less, you are not putting in the work necessary to optimize your Common App essay.
  • It can be easy for you to get lost in your words after reading and rereading, writing and rewriting. It is best to have someone else do your final proofread to help you identify typos or sentences that are unclear.

Deciding on a Prompt

This section provides insights and examples for each of the 7 Common App essay prompts for the 2023-2024 cycle. Each of these prompts lends itself to distinct topics and strategies, so selecting the prompt that best aligns with your idea is essential to writing an effective Common App essay.

Here are this year’s prompts (click the link to jump to the specific prompt):

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. how did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience, reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. what prompted your thinking what was the outcome, reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. how has this gratitude affected or motivated you, discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others., describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. why does it captivate you what or who do you turn to when you want to learn more, share an essay on any topic of your choice. it can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design..

This prompt offers an opportunity to engage with your favorite extracurricular or academic subject, and it allows you to weave a narrative that displays personal growth in that area. An essay that displays your personality and a unique interest can be attention-grabbing, particularly if you have an unconventional passion, such as blogging about Chinese basketball or unicycling.

Don’t feel intimidated if you don’t have a passion that is immediately “unique,” however. Even an interest like “arctic scuba diving” will fail as an essay topic if it’s not written with insight and personality. Instead of attempting to impress the Admissions Officer by making up unusual or shocking things, think about how you spend your free time and ask yourself why you spend it that way. Also think about your upbringing, identity, and experiences and ask yourself, “What has impacted me in a meaningful way?”

Here Are A Few Response Examples:

Background – A person’s background includes experiences, training, education, and culture. You can discuss the experience of growing up, interacting with family, and how relationships have molded who you are. A background can include long-term interactions with arts, music, sciences, sports, writing, and many other learned skills. Background also includes your social environments and how they’ve influenced your perception. In addition, you can highlight intersections between multiple backgrounds and show how each is integral to you.

One student wrote about how growing up in a poor Vietnamese immigrant family inspired her to seize big opportunities, even if they were risky or challenging. She describes the emotional demand of opening and running a family grocery store. (Note: Names have been changed to protect the identity of the author and subjects in all the examples.)

The callouses on my mother’s hands formed during the years spent scaling fish at the  market in Go Noi, Vietnam. My mother never finished her formal education because she  labored on the streets to help six others survive. Her calloused hands not only scaled fish, they  also slaved over the stove, mustering a meal from the few items in the pantry. This image  resurfaces as I watch my mother’s calloused hands wipe her sweat-beaded forehead while she  manages the family business, compiling resources to provide for the family. 

Living in an impoverished region of Vietnam pushed my parents to emigrate. My two  year-old memory fails me, but my mother vividly recounts my frightened eyes staring up at her on my first plane ride. With life packed into a single suitcase, my mother’s heart, though,  trembled more than mine. Knowing only a few words of English, my mother embarked on a  journey shrouded in a haze of uncertainty. 

Our initial year in America bore an uncanny resemblance to Vietnam – from making one  meal last the entire day to wearing the same four shirts over and over again. Through thin walls, I  heard my parents debating their decision to come to the United States, a land where they knew  no one. My grandparents’ support came in half-hearted whispers cracking through long-distance  phone calls. My dad’s scanty income barely kept food on the table. We lived on soup and rice for  what seemed an interminable time. 

However, an opportunity knocked on my parents’ door: a grocery store in the town of  Decatur, Mississippi, was up for rent. My parents took the chance, risking all of their savings.  To help my parents, I spent most of my adolescent afternoons stocking shelves, mopping floors,  and even translating. My parents’ voices wavered when speaking English; through every attempt to communicate with their customers, a language barrier forged a palpable presence in each  transaction. My parents’ spirits faltered as customers grew impatient. A life of poverty awaited us in Vietnam if the business was not successful. 

On the first day, the business brought in only twenty dollars. Twenty dollars. My mother and my father wept after they closed the shop. Seeing the business as a failure, my mom commenced her packing that night; returning to Vietnam seemed inevitable. 

The next business day, however, sales increased ten-fold. More and more customers  came each successive day. My mom’s tears turned into—well, more tears, but they were tears of  joy. My mother unpacked a bag each night. 

Fifteen years later, my parents now own Blue Bear Grocery. My parents work, work,  work to keep the shelves stocked and the customers coming. The grocery store holds a special  place in my heart: it is the catalyst for my success. My parents serve as my role-models, teaching  me a new lesson with every can placed on the shelf. One lesson that resurfaces is the importance  of pursuing a formal education, something that my parents never had the chance of. 

When the opportunity to attend the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science  (MSMS) presented itself, I took it and ran, as did my parents by leaving Vietnam and by buying  the store. Although I am not managing hundreds of products, I am managing hundreds of  assignments at MSMS – from Mu Alpha Theta tutoring to lab reports to student government to British literature. 

Had I not immigrated, my hands would be calloused from the tight grip of the knife  scaling fish rather than from the tight grip on my pencil. My hands would be calloused from scrubbing my clothes covered in fish scales rather than from long hours spent typing a research paper. 

Although the opportunities that my parents and I pursued are different, our journey is  essentially the same: we walk a road paved with uncertainty and doubt with the prospect of success fortified by our hearts and our hands.

Identity – this can mean racial identity, sexual orientation, gender, or simply one’s place within a specific community (even communities as unique as, say, players of World of Warcraft). With the topic of racial identity, it’s important to remember the audience (college admissions counselors often lean progressive politically), so this might not be the best place to make sweeping claims about today’s state of race relations. However, reflecting on how your culture has shaped your experiences can make for a compelling essay. Alternatively, focusing on a dominant personality trait can also make for a compelling theme. For example, if you’re extremely outgoing, you could explain how your adventurousness has allowed you to learn from a diverse group of friends and the random situations you find yourself in. One important thing to note: the topic of identity can easily lack originality if you cover a common experience such as feeling divided between cultures, or coming out. If such experiences are integral to who you are, you should still write about them, but be sure to show us your unique introspection and reflection.

One student detailed how growing up as an American in Germany led to feelings of displacement. Moving to America in high school only exacerbated her feelings of rootlessness. Her transcultural experiences, however, allowed her to relate to other “New Americans,” particularly refugees. Helping a young refugee girl settle into the US eventually helped the writer find home in America as well:

Growing up, I always wanted to eat, play, visit, watch, and be it all: sloppy joes and spaetzle, Beanie Babies and Steiff, Cape Cod and the Baltic Sea, football and fussball, American and German. 

My American parents relocated our young family to Berlin when I was three years old. My exposure to America was limited to holidays spent stateside and awfully dubbed Disney Channel broadcasts. As the few memories I had of living in the US faded, my affinity for Germany grew. I began to identify as “Germerican,” an ideal marriage of the two cultures. As a child, I viewed my biculturalism as a blessing. I possessed a native fluency in “Denglisch” and my family’s Halloween parties were legendary at a time when the holiday was just starting to gain popularity outside of the American Sector. 

Insidiously, the magic I once felt in loving two homes was replaced by a deep­rooted sense of rootlessness. I stopped feeling American when, while discussing World War II with my grandmother, I said “the US won.” She corrected me, insisting I use “we” when referring to the US’s actions. Before then, I hadn’t realized how directly people associated themselves with their countries. I stopped feeling German during the World Cup when my friends labeled me a “bandwagon fan” for rooting for Germany. Until that moment, my cheers had felt sincere. I wasn’t part of the “we” who won World Wars or World Cups. Caught in a twilight of foreign and familiar, I felt emotionally and psychologically disconnected from the two cultures most familiar to me. 

After moving from Berlin to New York state at age fifteen, my feelings of cultural homelessness thrived in my new environment. Looking and sounding American furthered my feelings of dislocation. Border patrol agents, teachers, classmates, neighbors, and relatives all “welcomed me home” to a land they could not understand was foreign to me. Americans confused me as I relied on Urban Dictionary to understand my peers, the Pledge of Allegiance seemed nationalistic, and the only thing familiar about Fahrenheit was the German after whom it was named. Too German for America and too American for Germany, I felt alienated from both. I wanted desperately to be a member of one, if not both, cultures. 

During my first weeks in Buffalo, I spent my free time googling “Berlin Family Seeks Teen” and “New Americans in Buffalo.” The latter search proved most fruitful: I discovered New Hope, a nonprofit that empowers resettled refugees, or “New Americans,” to thrive. I started volunteering with New Hope’s children’s programs, playing with and tutoring young refugees. 

It was there that I met Leila, a twelve-­year-­old Iraqi girl who lived next to Hopeprint. In between games and snacks, Leila would ask me questions about American life, touching on everything from Halloween to President Obama. Gradually, my confidence in my American identity grew as I recognized my ability to answer most of her questions. American culture was no longer completely foreign to me. I found myself especially qualified to work with young refugees; my experience growing up in a country other than that of my parents’ was similar enough to that of the refugee children New Hope served that I could empathize with them and offer advice. Together, we worked through conflicting allegiances, homesickness, and stretched belonging. 

Forging a special, personal bond with young refugees proved a cathartic outlet for my insecurities as it taught me to value my past. My transculturalism allowed me to help young refugees integrate into American life, and, in doing so, I was able to adjust myself. Now, I have an appreciation of myself that I never felt before. “Home” isn’t the digits in a passport or ZIP code but a sense of contentedness. By helping a young refugee find comfort, happiness, and home in America, I was finally able to find those same things for myself.

The above essay was written by Lydia Schooler, a graduate of Yale University and one of our CollegeVine advisors. If you enjoyed this essay and are looking for expert college essay and admissions advice, consider booking a session with Lydia .

Interests – Interest are basically synonymous to activities, but slightly broader (you could say that interests encompass activities); participation in an interest is often less organized than in an activity. For instance, you might consider cross country an activity, but cooking an interest. Writing about an interest is a way to highlight passions that may not come across in the rest of your application. If you’re a wrestler for example, writing about your interest in stand-up comedy would be a refreshing addition to your application. You should also feel free to use this topic to show what an important activity on your application really means to you. Keep in mind, however, that many schools will ask you to describe one of your activities in their supplemental essays (usually about 250 words), so choose strategically—you don’t want to write twice on the same thing.

Read a successful essay answering this prompt.

This prompt lends itself to consideration of what facets of your personality allow you to overcome adversity. While it’s okay to choose a relatively mundane “failure” such as not winning an award at a Model UN conference, another (perhaps more powerful) tactic is to write about a foundational failure and assess its impact on your development thereafter.

There are times in life when your foundation is uprooted. There are times when you experience failure and you want to give up since you don’t see a solution. This essay is about your response when you are destabilized and your actions when you don’t see an immediate answer.

For example, if you lost a friend due to an argument, you can analyze the positions from both sides, evaluate your decisions, and identify why you were wrong. The key is explaining your thought process and growth following the event to highlight how your thinking has changed. Did you ever admit your fault and seek to fix the problem? Have you treated others differently since then? How has the setback changed the way you view arguments and fights now? Framing the prompt in this way allows you to tackle heavier questions about ethics and demonstrate your self-awareness.

If you haven’t experienced a “big” failure, another angle to take would be to discuss smaller, repeated failures that are either linked or similar thematically. For example, if you used to stutter or get nervous in large social groups, you could discuss the steps you took to find a solution. Even if you don’t have a massive foundational challenge to write about, a recurring challenge can translate to a powerful essay topic, especially if the steps you took to overcome this repeated failure help expose your character.

One student described his ignorance of his brother’s challenges — the writer assumed that because his brother Sam was sociable, Sam  was adjusting fine to their family’s move. After an angry outburst from Sam  and a long late-night conversation, the writer realizes his need to develop greater sensitivity and empathy. He now strives to recognize and understand others’ struggles, even if they’re not immediately apparent.

“You ruined my life!” After months of quiet anger, my brother finally confronted me. To my shame, I had been appallingly ignorant of his pain.

Despite being twins, Max and I are profoundly different. Having intellectual interests from a young age that, well, interested very few of my peers, I often felt out of step in comparison with my highly-social brother. Everything appeared to come effortlessly for Max and, while we share an extremely tight bond, his frequent time away with friends left me feeling more and more alone as we grew older.

When my parents learned about The Green Academy, we hoped it would be an opportunity for me to find not only an academically challenging environment, but also – perhaps more importantly – a community. This meant transferring the family from Drumfield to Kingston. And while there was concern about Max, we all believed that given his sociable nature, moving would be far less impactful on him than staying put might be on me.

As it turned out, Green Academy was everything I’d hoped for. I was ecstatic to discover a group of students with whom I shared interests and could truly engage. Preoccupied with new friends and a rigorous course load, I failed to notice that the tables had turned. Max, lost in the fray and grappling with how to make connections in his enormous new high school, had become withdrawn and lonely. It took me until Christmas time – and a massive argument – to recognize how difficult the transition had been for my brother, let alone that he blamed me for it.

Through my own journey of searching for academic peers, in addition to coming out as gay when I was 12, I had developed deep empathy for those who had trouble fitting in. It was a pain I knew well and could easily relate to. Yet after Max’s outburst, my first response was to protest that our parents – not I – had chosen to move us here. In my heart, though, I knew that regardless of who had made the decision, we ended up in Kingston for my benefit. I was ashamed that, while I saw myself as genuinely compassionate, I had been oblivious to the heartache of the person closest to me. I could no longer ignore it – and I didn’t want to.

We stayed up half the night talking, and the conversation took an unexpected turn. Max opened up and shared that it wasn’t just about the move. He told me how challenging school had always been for him, due to his dyslexia, and that the ever-present comparison to me had only deepened his pain.

We had been in parallel battles the whole time and, yet, I only saw that Max was in distress once he experienced problems with which I directly identified. I’d long thought Max had it so easy – all because he had friends. The truth was, he didn’t need to experience my personal brand of sorrow in order for me to relate – he had felt plenty of his own.

My failure to recognize Max’s suffering brought home for me the profound universality and diversity of personal struggle; everyone has insecurities, everyone has woes, and everyone – most certainly – has pain. I am acutely grateful for the conversations he and I shared around all of this, because I believe our relationship has been fundamentally strengthened by a deeper understanding of one another. Further, this experience has reinforced the value of constantly striving for deeper sensitivity to the hidden struggles of those around me. I won’t make the mistake again of assuming that the surface of someone’s life reflects their underlying story.

This prompt is difficult to answer because most high schoolers haven’t participated in the types of iconoclastic protests against societal ills that lend themselves to an awe-inspiring response. A more tenable alternative here could be to discuss a time that you went against social norms, whether it was by becoming friends with someone who seemed like an outcast or by proudly showing off a geeky passion.

And if you ever participated in a situation in tandem with adults and found some success (i.e., by blogging, starting a tutoring organization, or participating in political campaigns), you could discuss your experiences as a young person without a college degree in professional circles. However, avoid sounding morally superior (as if you’re the only person who went against this convention, or that you’re better than your peers for doing so).

Another way to answer this prompt is to discuss a time when you noticed a need for change. For example, if you wondered why medical records are often handwritten, or why a doctor’s visit can be long and awkward, maybe you challenged the norm in healthcare by brainstorming an electronic-recording smartphone app or a telemedicine system. In a similar way, if you led a fundraiser and recognized that advertising on social media would be more effective than the traditional use of printed flyers, you could write about a topic along those lines as well. Focus on what action or experience caused you to recognize the need for change and follow with your actions and resulting outcome.

As a whole, this prompt lends itself to reflective writing, and more specifically, talking the reader through your thought processes. In many cases, the exploration of your thought processes and decision-making is more important than the actual outcome or concept in question. In short, this essay is very much about “thinking,” rumination, and inquisition. A good brainstorming exercise for this prompt would be to write your problem on a sheet of paper and then develop various solutions to the problem, including a brief reason for justification. The more thorough you are in justifying and explaining your solutions in the essay, the more compelling your response will be.

While this prompt may seem to be asking a simple question, your answer has the potential to provide deep insights about who you are to the admissions committee. Explaining what you are grateful for can show them your culture, your community, your philosophical outlook on the world, and what makes you tick. 

The first step to writing this essay is to think about the “something” and “someone” of your story. It is imperative to talk about a unique moment in your life, as the prompt asks for gratitude that came about in a surprising way. You will want to write about a story that you are certain no one else would have. To brainstorm, ask yourself: “if I told a stranger that I was grateful for what happened to me without any context, would they be surprised?” 

Note that the most common answers to this prompt involve a family member, teacher, or sports coach giving the narrator an arduous task ─ which, by the end of the story, the narrator becomes grateful for because of the lessons they learned through their hard work. Try to avoid writing an essay along these lines unless you feel that your take on it will be truly original.

Begin your essay by telling a creative story about the “something” that your “someone” did that made you thankful. Paint a picture with words here ─ establish who you were in the context of your story and make the character development of your “someone” thorough. Show the admissions committee that you have a clear understanding of yourself and the details of your world. 

Keep in mind, however, that the essay is ultimately about you and your growth. While you should set the scene clearly, don’t spend too much time talking about the “something” and “someone.”

Your story should then transition into a part about your unexpected epiphany, e.g. “Six months after Leonard gave me that pogo stick, I started to be grateful for the silly thing…” Explain the why of your gratitude as thoroughly as you can before you begin to talk about how your gratitude affected or motivated you. Have a Socratic seminar with yourself in your head ─ ask yourself, “why am I grateful for the pogo stick?” and continue asking why until you arrive at a philosophical conclusion. Perhaps your reason could be that you eventually got used to the odd looks that people gave you as you were pogoing and gained more self-confidence. 

Finally, think about how learning to be grateful for something you would not expect to bring you joy and thankfulness has had a positive impact on your life. Gaining more self-confidence, for example, could motivate you to do an infinite number of things that you were not able to attempt in the past. Try to make a conclusion by connecting this part to your story from the beginning of the essay. You want to ultimately show that had [reference to a snippet of your introduction, ideally an absurd part] never have happened, you would not be who you are today.

Remember to express these lessons implicitly through the experiences in your essay, and not explicitly. Show us your growth through the changes in your life rather than simply stating that you gained confidence. For instance, maybe the pogo stick gift led you to start a pogo dance team at your school, and the team went on to perform at large venues to raise money for charity. But before your pogo days, you had crippling stage fright and hated even giving speeches in your English class. These are the kinds of details that make your essay more engaging. 

This prompt is expansive in that you can choose any accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked personal growth or new understanding.

One option is to discuss a formal accomplishment or event (whether it is a religious ritual or social rite of passage) that reflects personal growth. If you go this route, make sure to discuss why the ritual was meaningful and how specific aspects of said ritual contributed to your personal growth. An example of this could be the meaning of becoming an Eagle Scout to you, the accomplishment of being elected to Senior Leadership, or completing a Confirmation. In the case of religious topics, however, be sure to not get carried away with details, and focus on the nature of your personal growth and new understanding — know your audience.

Alternatively, a more relaxed way to address this prompt is using an informal event or realization, which would allow you to show more personality and creativity. An example of this could be learning how to bake with your mother, thus sparking a newfound connection with her, allowing you to learn about her past. Having a long discussion about life or philosophy with your father could also suffice, thus sparking more thoughts about your identity. You could write about a realization that caused you to join a new organization or quit an activity you did not think you would enjoy, as doing so would force you to grow out of your comfort zone to try new things.

The key to answering this prompt is clearly defining what it is that sparked your growth, and then describing in detail the nature of this growth and how it related to your perception of yourself and others. This part of the essay is crucial, as you must dedicate sufficient time to not undersell the description of how you grew instead of simply explaining the experience and then saying, “I grew.” This description of how you grew must be specific, in-depth, and it does not have to be simple. Your growth can also be left open-ended if you are still learning from your experiences today.

One student wrote about how her single mother’s health crisis prompted her to quickly assume greater responsibility as a fourteen-year-old. This essay describes the new tasks she undertook, as well as how the writer now more greatly cherishes her time with her mother.

Tears streamed down my face and my mind was paralyzed with fear. Sirens blared, but the silent panic in my own head was deafening. I was muted by shock. A few hours earlier, I had anticipated a vacation in Washington, D.C., but unexpectedly, I was rushing to the hospital behind an ambulance carrying my mother. As a fourteen-year-old from a single mother household, without a driver’s license, and seven hours from home, I was distraught over the prospect of losing the only parent I had. My fear turned into action as I made some of the bravest decisions of my life. 

Three blood transfusions later, my mother’s condition was stable, but we were still states away from home, so I coordinated with my mother’s doctors in North Carolina to schedule the emergency operation that would save her life. Throughout her surgery, I anxiously awaited any word from her surgeon, but each time I asked, I was told that there had been another complication or delay. Relying on my faith and positive attitude, I remained optimistic that my mother would survive and that I could embrace new responsibilities.

My mother had been a source of strength for me, and now I would be strong for her through her long recovery ahead. As I started high school, everyone thought the crisis was over, but it had really just started to impact my life. My mother was often fatigued, so I assumed more responsibility, juggling family duties, school, athletics, and work. I made countless trips to the neighborhood pharmacy, cooked dinner, biked to the grocery store, supported my concerned sister, and provided the loving care my mother needed to recover. I didn’t know I was capable of such maturity and resourcefulness until it was called upon. Each day was a stage in my gradual transformation from dependence to relative independence.

Throughout my mother’s health crisis, I matured by learning to put others’ needs before my own. As I worried about my mother’s health, I took nothing for granted, cherished what I had, and used my daily activities as motivation to move forward. I now take ownership over small decisions such as scheduling daily appointments and managing my time but also over major decisions involving my future, including the college admissions process. Although I have become more independent, my mother and I are inseparably close, and the realization that I almost lost her affects me daily. Each morning, I wake up ten minutes early simply to eat breakfast with my mother and spend time with her before our busy days begin. I am aware of how quickly life can change. My mother remains a guiding force in my life, but the feeling of empowerment I discovered within myself is the ultimate form of my independence. Though I thought the summer before my freshman year would be a transition from middle school to high school, it was a transformation from childhood to adulthood.

This prompt allows you to expand and deepen a seemingly small or simple idea, topic, or concept. One example could be “stars,” in that you could describe stargazing as a child, counting them, recognizing constellations, and then transforming that initial captivation into a deeper appreciation of the cosmos as a whole, spurring a love of astronomy and physics.

Another example could be “language,” discussing how it has evolved and changed over the course of history, how it allows you to look deeper into different cultures, and how learning different languages stretches the mind. A tip for expanding on these topics and achieving specificity is to select particular details of the topic that you find intriguing and explain why.

For example, if you’re passionate about cooking or baking, you could use specific details by explaining, in depth, the intricate attention and artistry necessary to make a dish or dessert. You can delve into why certain spices or garnishes are superior in different situations, how flavors blend well together and can be mixed creatively, or even the chemistry differences between steaming, searing, and grilling.

Regardless of your topic, this prompt provides a great opportunity to display writing prowess through elegant, specific descriptions that leverage sensory details. Describing the beauty of the night sky, the rhythms and sounds of different languages, or the scent of a crème brûlée shows passion and captivation in a very direct, evocative way.

The key to writing this essay is answering the question of why something captivates you instead of simply ending with “I love surfing.” A tip would be to play off your senses (for applicable topics), think about what you see, feel, smell, hear, and taste.

In the case of surfing, the salty water, weightlessness of bobbing over the waves, and fresh air could cater to senses. Alternatively, for less physical topics, you can use a train of thought and descriptions to show how deeply and vividly your mind dwells on the topic.

Well-executed trains of thought or similar tactics are successful ways to convey passion for a certain topic. To answer what or who you turn to when you want to learn more, you can be authentic and honest—if it’s Wikipedia, a teacher, friend, YouTube Channel, etc., you simply have to show how you interact with the medium.

When brainstorming this particular essay, a tip would be to use a web diagram, placing the topic in the middle and thinking about branching characteristics, themes, or concepts related to the topic that are directly engaging and captivating to you. In doing so, you’ll be able to gauge the depth of the topic and whether it will suffice for this prompt.

In the following example, a student shares their journey as they learn to appreciate a piece of their culture’s cuisine.

As a wide-eyed, naive seven-year-old, I watched my grandmother’s rough, wrinkled hands pull and knead mercilessly at white dough until the countertop was dusted in flour. She steamed small buns in bamboo baskets, and a light sweetness lingered in the air. Although the mantou looked delicious, their papery, flat taste was always an unpleasant surprise. My grandmother scolded me for failing to finish even one, and when I complained about the lack of flavor she would simply say that I would find it as I grew older. How did my adult relatives seem to enjoy this Taiwanese culinary delight while I found it so plain?

During my journey to discover the essence of mantou, I began to see myself the same way I saw the steamed bun. I believed that my writing would never evolve beyond a hobby and that my quiet nature crippled my ambitions. Ultimately, I thought I had little to offer the world. In middle school, it was easy for me to hide behind the large personalities of my friends, blending into the background and keeping my thoughts company. Although writing had become my emotional outlet, no matter how well I wrote essays, poetry, or fiction, I could not stand out in a sea of talented students. When I finally gained the confidence to submit my poetry to literary journals but was promptly rejected, I stepped back from my work to begin reading from Whitman to Dickinson, Li-Young Lee to Ocean Vuong. It was then that I realized I had been holding back a crucial ingredient–my distinct voice. 

Over time, my taste buds began to mature, as did I. Mantou can be flavored with pork and eggplant, sweetened in condensed milk, and moistened or dried by the steam’s temperature. After I ate the mantou with each of these factors in mind, I noticed its environment enhanced a delicately woven strand of sweetness beneath the taste of side dishes: the sugar I had often watched my grandmother sift into the flour. The taste was nearly untraceable, but once I grasped it I could truly begin to cherish mantou. In the same way the taste had been lost to me for years, my writer’s voice had struggled to shine through because of my self-doubt and fear of vulnerability.

As I acquired a taste for mantou, I also began to strengthen my voice through my surrounding environment. With the support of my parents, peer poets, and the guidance of Amy Tan and the Brontё sisters, I worked tirelessly to uncover my voice: a subtle strand of sweetness. Once I stopped trying to fit into a publishing material mold and infused my uninhibited passion for my Taiwanese heritage into my writing, my poem was published in a literary journal. I wrote about the blatant racism Asians endured during coronavirus, and the editor of Skipping Stones Magazine was touched by both my poem and my heartfelt letter. I opened up about being ridiculed for bringing Asian food to school at Youth Leadership Forum, providing support to younger Asian-American students who reached out with the relief of finding someone they could relate to. I embraced writing as a way to convey my struggle with cultural identity. I joined the school’s creative writing club and read my pieces in front of an audience, honing my voice into one that flourishes out loud as well.

Now, I write and speak unapologetically, falling in love with a voice that I never knew I had. It inspires passion within my communities and imparts tenacity to Asian-American youth, rooting itself deeply into everything I write. Today, my grandmother would say that I have finally unearthed the taste of mantou as I savor every bite with a newfound appreciation. I can imagine her hands shaping the dough that has become my voice, and I am eager to share it with the world.

Your GPA and SAT don’t tell the full admissions story

We’ll let you know what your chances are at your dream schools!

This prompt allows you to express what you want to express if it doesn’t align directly with the other prompts. While this prompt is very open-ended, it doesn’t mean you can adapt any essay you’ve written and think it will suffice. Always refer back to the Strategy section of this article and make sure the topic and essay of your choice addresses the Core Four questions necessary for a good Common App essay.

This prompt, more than the others, poses a high risk but also a high-potential reward. Writing your own question allows you to demonstrate individuality and confidence. Here, you can craft an innovative essay that tackles a difficult topic (for example, whether to raise or lower taxes) or presents information with a unique format (such as a conversation with an historical figure).

We encourage you to try something unconventional for this prompt, like comparing your personality to a Picasso painting, using an extended philosophical metaphor to describe your four years of high school, or writing in a poetic style to display your love of poetry. If you are extremely passionate about a topic or an expert in a certain area, for example Renaissance technology or journalism during World War II, you can use this prompt to show your authority on a subject by discussing it at a high level.

Be careful to frame the essay in a way that is accessible to the average reader while still incorporating quality evidence and content that would qualify you as an expert. As always, exercise caution in writing about controversial social or political topics, and always make sure to consider your audience and what they’re looking for in a student.

Sometimes an unconventional essay can capture Admissions Officers’ attention and move them in a profound way; other times, the concept can fly completely over their heads. Be sure to execute the essay clearly and justify your decision by seeking high-quality feedback from reliable sources. As always, the essay should demonstrate something meaningful about you, whether it is your personality, thought process, or values.

Here’s what the experts have to say about this prompt…

This prompt, like the others, is really asking you to tell the story of who you are. Your essay should be personal and should talk about something significant that has shaped your identity.

Here are a few broad themes that can work well: academic interest; culture, values, and diversity; extracurricular interests; and your impact on the community. You should highlight one of these themes using creative, vividly descriptive narrative. Make sure to not fall into the common pitfall of talking about something else -- an extracurricular activity, for example -- more than yourself.

A student I advised had a great idea to respond to this prompt -- an essay about how they do their best thinking while sitting on a tree branch near their home. Not only was it unique and personal, but it allowed the student to show what they think about, dream about, and value. That's the main goal for any applicant responding to prompt 7.

what format do i use for college admission essays

Alex Oddo Advisor on CollegeVine

All of the Common App prompts are broad in scope, but this one really takes the cake! I typically advise using the first six prompts as guardrails for your brainstorm, but in doing so, you may come up with a topic that doesn’t cleanly fit with any of the first six prompts. That’s where this prompt can come in handy.

Or, you might have an idea that’s really out there (like writing about your love of sonnets as a series of sonnets). Essentially, this prompt is a good fit for essays that are anywhere from slightly unconventional to extremely atypical.

If this all feels a bit confusing - don’t worry! How you write your story is much more important than what prompt you end up choosing. At the end of the day, these are just guides to help you cultivate a topic and are not meant to stress you out.

what format do i use for college admission essays

Priya Desai Advisor on CollegeVine

Students who want to complete the CommonApp’s seventh prompt need to have already gone through the other prompts and determined that their story cannot fit with those. Thus, generally speaking, I advise my students to not use the final prompt unless it is absolutely necessary.

If an admission officer believes that your essay could have been used with one of the other prompts, this may lead them to have a perception about you as a student that might not be accurate.

Nevertheless, as my colleagues have pointed out, what matters is the essay the most and not necessarily the prompt. That being said, the test of whether or not you as a student can follow directions is part of the prompt selection and how well you answer it. If you choose the final prompt and yet your answer could work with another available prompt, this will not put you in your best light.

In conclusion, only use this prompt when absolutely necessary, and remember that the purpose of the personal statement is to give the admissions officers a glimpse into who you are as a person, so you want to use this space to showcase beautiful you.

what format do i use for college admission essays

Veronica Prout Advisor on CollegeVine

Where to get your common app essay edited.

At selective schools, your essays account for around 25% of your admissions decision. That’s more than grades (20%) and test scores (15%), and almost as much as extracurriculars (30%). Why is this? Most students applying to top schools will have stellar academics and extracurriculars. Your essays are your chance to stand out and humanize your application. That’s why it’s vital that your essays are engaging, and present you as someone who would enrich the campus community.

Before submitting your application, you should have someone else review your essays. That’s why we created our free  Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools.  Find the right advisor for you  to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

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what format do i use for college admission essays

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Advice for Writing Application Essays

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Advice for Writing Successful Application Essays

When you sit down to write your application essays, there is very little left that you can control. You should have already taken, or retaken, the SAT and ACT, your grades from your first three years of high school are set on your transcript, and your recommenders all have their impressions of you that are unlikely to change before the recommendation deadline. The only thing that left in your control is your writing for the application essay.

As with all things related to your college application, you will need to start drafting your application essay far ahead of the due date. In fact, you should move each school’s deadline up two weeks so that no unexpected events prevent you from completing and submitting your application. The reason that you need so much time to work on your essay is primarily because many schools will ask you to write about similar topics, but to do so in different ways. You will need enough time to draft essays that address each of these questions or prompts for each school to which you are applying.

Don't use boilerplate essays. That is, resist the urge to reuse the exact same essay for different schools if each of them is giving you a slightly different writing prompt. You can, of course, adapt the same essay for similar prompts. Many schools do allow you to use the Common Application essay for admission to several participating schools. For more information on the Common Application and to check which schools participate as members, click here .

Although using the Common Application does simplify the processes, make sure that you review each of the schools’ application requirements. as many of these same schools also request that you submit a second essay along with the Common Application essay. For instance, in addition to answering one of the standard Common Application questions, Amherst College asks that you write an additional essay responding to one of several quotations.

Before you can start writing your essay, you will need to begin by reading the prompts and questions carefully. Even the Common Application has six prompts that you can choose from. Don’t feel as though you must choose one immediately after reading them. You should ask yourself what sticks out the most for you after having read through them. Think about what is most salient for you.

Brainstorm by putting your thoughts on paper. You can free write (writing without stopping or censoring yourself), create word association maps (visually clustering concepts that you feel go together), or keep a journal over the course of several days so that you can collect your thoughts in one place. See the Purdue OWL's PowerPoint on “ Finding your Focus ” for more details on these strategies.

After you have generated several ideas, reflect on where you find the most intensity or excitement in what you were writing. If nothing jumps out at you, keep brainstorming or talk with others about some possible topics until something grabs you.

Once you know what want to write about, put a rough draft on paper. Don’t be afraid of stray thoughts if they lead you to something more interesting than you had set out to write. Just make sure that you eventually come to have a rough draft that is about one thing.

Look over your draft and check for the following.

  • Your writing should be personal. After reading your essay, does it seem like anyone could have written this? Make sure that your essay captures who you are.
  • You writing should show, not tell, through vivid language. Successful essays relate an experience or analyze a pattern from the writer’s life. It is not enough to make general claims about what impacted your decision to go to college, for instance; you must elaborate by including evidence that answers “how” and “why” when you make your claims.

It is important to note that admissions officers care as much about your structure, style, and insights as they do about your content. That is not meant to add an extra layer of anxiety to your writing process, but to highlight the fact that you don’t necessarily need to have something life-changing to write about in order to write a successful essay. As Dowhan, Dowhan and Kaufman note in Essays that Will Get You into College , “Personal does not have to mean heavy, emotional or even inspiring” (10). In fact, as the authors explain, students might over rely on the significant event that they write about to speak for itself and don’t “explain what it meant to them or give a solid example of how it changed them. In other words, they do not make it personal” (10).

Finally, your writing should be about a sustained topic. You must use vivid description with a purpose. What is it that you learned because of this experience? What message can you decipher from the series of events that you present? What led you to your conclusions?

Once you have completed your rough draft, put it away for a few days. Afterwards, read the question again and look through your essay. Ask yourself if the essay answers the prompt. Is it personal? Does it use vivid language? Is it focused on one topic? Rewrite whatever needs to be strengthened. This is a great time to have other people look through your draft and get their reaction. Make sure that you ask someone early, and that you trust this person’s judgment; they will be putting in a lot of time to help you, so don’t disregard anything that is inconvenient or that you don’t want to hear.

Again, giving yourself plenty of time to work on this essay is vital. You should have enough time to rewrite or restructure your essay based on the feedback that you have received. As you are drafting and revising, feel free to fix any mistakes that you catch in terms of spelling, grammar, and mechanics, but don’t spend too much time editing early on in the writing process. Working on lower-order concerns can give you the impression that the essay is ready to submit prematurely. Instead, use this time to strengthen the main points of your essay.

To supplement the advice offered on this page, you can find a handout on writing the admissions application essay here .

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Your chance of acceptance, your chancing factors, extracurriculars, how to format a college admission essay.

Hey everyone, I'm starting to work on my college admission essays and wondering how I should format them. Is there a specific format or layout I should follow? Any tips or examples you can provide would be greatly appreciated!

Hey! Formatting your college admission essay is important because it helps make your essay easy to read and visually appealing. Here are some general guidelines you can follow to ensure a well-formatted essay:

1. Font: Stick with a standard, easy-to-read font like Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri. Avoid decorative or fancy fonts that may be difficult to read.

2. Font size: Use a 12-point font size, which is generally the default setting in most word processing programs. This size is easy on the eyes and professional-looking.

3. Margins: Set your margins to 1 inch on all sides. This is typically the standard margin size and will help keep your essay looking clean and organized.

4. Line spacing: Use double-spacing throughout your essay. This makes it easier for readers to follow along and gives them room to make notes or comments if necessary.

5. Indentation: Indent the first line of each paragraph by using the Tab key or 5 spaces. This visually separates paragraphs and makes your essay easier to read.

6. Align your text to the left rather than justifying the margins. Justified text can create awkward gaps between words, making it harder to read.

7. Headings and titles (if needed): Use a consistent and clear style for any headings or titles you may include in your essay, such as a slightly larger font or boldface. Be sure to stay within the essay's word limit.

8. Personal information: If the college requires you to include your name, application ID, or other identifying information in your essay, be sure to follow their guidelines. If they don't specify, consider including your name and application ID in the header or footer of your essay.

9. Proofread: A well-formatted essay is only as good as its content, so be sure to proofread and edit your work before submitting it. Check for spelling and grammar errors, awkward phrasing, and inconsistencies in your formatting.

10. Save as a PDF: Once you have your essay formatted and finalized, save it as a PDF. This ensures your formatting stays consistent across different devices and software.

Remember, the most important thing is to make your essay easy to read and visually appealing, so keep any formatting decisions you make clean and consistent. Good luck with your applications!

About CollegeVine’s Expert FAQ

CollegeVine’s Q&A seeks to offer informed perspectives on commonly asked admissions questions. Every answer is refined and validated by our team of admissions experts to ensure it resonates with trusted knowledge in the field.

Frequently asked questions

How do i format a college essay.

Your college essay’s format should be as simple as possible:

  • Use a standard, readable font
  • Use 1.5 or double spacing
  • If attaching a file, save it as a PDF
  • Stick to the word count
  • Avoid unusual formatting and unnecessary decorative touches

Frequently asked questions: College admissions essays

When writing your Common App essay , choose a prompt that sparks your interest and that you can connect to a unique personal story.

No matter which prompt you choose, admissions officers are more interested in your ability to demonstrate personal development , insight, or motivation for a certain area of study.

The Common App essay is your primary writing sample within the Common Application, a college application portal accepted by more than 900 schools. All your prospective schools that accept the Common App will read this essay to understand your character, background, and value as a potential student.

Since this essay is read by many colleges, avoid mentioning any college names or programs; instead, save tailored answers for the supplementary school-specific essays within the Common App.

Most importantly, your essay should be about you , not another person or thing. An insightful college admissions essay requires deep self-reflection, authenticity, and a balance between confidence and vulnerability.

Your essay shouldn’t be a résumé of your experiences but instead should tell a story that demonstrates your most important values and qualities.

When revising your college essay , first check for big-picture issues regarding your message and content. Then, check for flow, tone, style , and clarity. Finally, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors .

If your college essay goes over the word count limit , cut any sentences with tangents or irrelevant details. Delete unnecessary words that clutter your essay.

If you’re struggling to reach the word count for your college essay, add vivid personal stories or share your feelings and insight to give your essay more depth and authenticity.

If you’ve got to write your college essay fast , don’t panic. First, set yourself deadlines: you should spend about 10% of your remaining time on brainstorming, 10% on outlining, 40% writing, 30% revising, and 10% taking breaks in between stages.

Second, brainstorm stories and values based on your essay prompt.

Third, outline your essay based on the montage or narrative essay structure .

Fourth, write specific, personal, and unique stories that would be hard for other students to replicate.

Fifth, revise your essay and make sure it’s clearly written.

Last, if possible, get feedback from an essay coach . Scribbr essay editors can help you revise your essay in 12 hours or less.

Avoid swearing in a college essay , since admissions officers’ opinions of profanity will vary. In some cases, it might be okay to use a vulgar word, such as in dialogue or quotes that make an important point in your essay. However, it’s safest to try to make the same point without swearing.

If you have bad grades on your transcript, you may want to use your college admissions essay to explain the challenging circumstances that led to them. Make sure to avoid dwelling on the negative aspects and highlight how you overcame the situation or learned an important lesson.

However, some college applications offer an additional information section where you can explain your bad grades, allowing you to choose another meaningful topic for your college essay.

Here’s a brief list of college essay topics that may be considered cliché:

  • Extracurriculars, especially sports
  • Role models
  • Dealing with a personal tragedy or death in the family
  • Struggling with new life situations (immigrant stories, moving homes, parents’ divorce)
  • Becoming a better person after community service, traveling, or summer camp
  • Overcoming a difficult class
  • Using a common object as an extended metaphor

It’s easier to write a standout essay with a unique topic. However, it’s possible to make a common topic compelling with interesting story arcs, uncommon connections, and an advanced writing style.

Yes. The college application essay is less formal than other academic writing —though of course it’s not mandatory to use contractions in your essay.

In a college essay , you can be creative with your language . When writing about the past, you can use the present tense to make the reader feel as if they were there in the moment with you. But make sure to maintain consistency and when in doubt, default to the correct verb tense according to the time you’re writing about.

The college admissions essay gives admissions officers a different perspective on you beyond your academic achievements, test scores, and extracurriculars. It’s your chance to stand out from other applicants with similar academic profiles by telling a unique, personal, and specific story.

Use a standard font such as Times New Roman or Arial to avoid distracting the reader from your college essay’s content.

A college application essay is less formal than most academic writing . Instead of citing sources formally with in-text citations and a reference list, you can cite them informally in your text.

For example, “In her research paper on genetics, Quinn Roberts explores …”

There is no set number of paragraphs in a college admissions essay . College admissions essays can diverge from the traditional five-paragraph essay structure that you learned in English class. Just make sure to stay under the specified word count .

Most topics are acceptable for college essays if you can use them to demonstrate personal growth or a lesson learned. However, there are a few difficult topics for college essays that should be avoided. Avoid topics that are:

  • Overly personal (e.g. graphic details of illness or injury, romantic or sexual relationships)
  • Not personal enough (e.g. broad solutions to world problems, inspiring people or things)
  • Too negative (e.g. an in-depth look at your flaws, put-downs of others, criticizing the need for a college essay)
  • Too boring (e.g. a resume of your academic achievements and extracurriculars)
  • Inappropriate for a college essay (e.g. illegal activities, offensive humor, false accounts of yourself, bragging about privilege)

To write an effective diversity essay , include vulnerable, authentic stories about your unique identity, background, or perspective. Provide insight into how your lived experience has influenced your outlook, activities, and goals. If relevant, you should also mention how your background has led you to apply for this university and why you’re a good fit.

Many universities believe a student body composed of different perspectives, beliefs, identities, and backgrounds will enhance the campus learning and community experience.

Admissions officers are interested in hearing about how your unique background, identity, beliefs, culture, or characteristics will enrich the campus community, which is why they assign a diversity essay .

In addition to your main college essay , some schools and scholarships may ask for a supplementary essay focused on an aspect of your identity or background. This is sometimes called a diversity essay .

You can use humor in a college essay , but carefully consider its purpose and use it wisely. An effective use of humor involves unexpected, keen observations of the everyday, or speaks to a deeper theme. Humor shouldn’t be the main focus of the essay, but rather a tool to improve your storytelling.

Get a second opinion from a teacher, counselor, or essay coach on whether your essay’s humor is appropriate.

Though admissions officers are interested in hearing your story, they’re also interested in how you tell it. An exceptionally written essay will differentiate you from other applicants, meaning that admissions officers will spend more time reading it.

You can use literary devices to catch your reader’s attention and enrich your storytelling; however, focus on using just a few devices well, rather than trying to use as many as possible.

To decide on a good college essay topic , spend time thoughtfully answering brainstorming questions. If you still have trouble identifying topics, try the following two strategies:

  • Identify your qualities → Brainstorm stories that demonstrate these qualities
  • Identify memorable stories → Connect your qualities to these stories

You can also ask family, friends, or mentors to help you brainstorm topics, give feedback on your potential essay topics, or recall key stories that showcase your qualities.

Yes—admissions officers don’t expect everyone to have a totally unique college essay topic . But you must differentiate your essay from others by having a surprising story arc, an interesting insight, and/or an advanced writing style .

There are no foolproof college essay topics —whatever your topic, the key is to write about it effectively. However, a good topic

  • Is meaningful, specific, and personal to you
  • Focuses on you and your experiences
  • Reveals something beyond your test scores, grades, and extracurriculars
  • Is creative and original

Unlike a five-paragraph essay, your admissions essay should not end by summarizing the points you’ve already made. It’s better to be creative and aim for a strong final impression.

You should also avoid stating the obvious (for example, saying that you hope to be accepted).

There are a few strategies you can use for a memorable ending to your college essay :

  • Return to the beginning with a “full circle” structure
  • Reveal the main point or insight in your story
  • Look to the future
  • End on an action

The best technique will depend on your topic choice, essay outline, and writing style. You can write several endings using different techniques to see which works best.

College deadlines vary depending on the schools you’re applying to and your application plan:

  • For early action applications and the first round of early decision applications, the deadline is on November 1 or 15. Decisions are released by mid-December.
  • For the second round of early decision applications, the deadline is January 1 or 15. Decisions are released in January or February.
  • Regular decision deadlines usually fall between late November and mid-March, and decisions are released in March or April.
  • Rolling admission deadlines run from July to April, and decisions are released around four to eight weeks after submission.

Depending on your prospective schools’ requirements, you may need to submit scores for the SAT or ACT as part of your college application .

Some schools now no longer require students to submit test scores; however, you should still take the SAT or ACT and aim to get a high score to strengthen your application package.

Aim to take the SAT or ACT in the spring of your junior year to give yourself enough time to retake it in the fall of your senior year if necessary.

Apply early for federal student aid and application fee waivers. You can also look for scholarships from schools, corporations, and charitable foundations.

To maximize your options, you should aim to apply to about eight schools:

  • Two reach schools that might be difficult to get into
  • Four match schools that you have a good chance of getting into
  • Two safety schools that you feel confident you’ll get into

The college admissions essay accounts for roughly 25% of the weight of your application .

At highly selective schools, there are four qualified candidates for every spot. While your academic achievements are important, your college admissions essay can help you stand out from other applicants with similar profiles.

In general, for your college application you will need to submit all of the following:

  • Your personal information
  • List of extracurriculars and awards
  • College application essays
  • Transcripts
  • Standardized test scores
  • Recommendation letters.

Different colleges may have specific requirements, so make sure you check exactly what’s expected in the application guidance.

You should start thinking about your college applications the summer before your junior year to give you sufficient time for college visits, taking standardized tests, applying for financial aid , writing essays, and collecting application material.

Yes, but make sure your essay directly addresses the prompt, respects the word count , and demonstrates the organization’s values.

If you plan ahead, you can save time by writing one scholarship essay for multiple prompts with similar questions. In a scholarship tracker spreadsheet, you can group or color-code overlapping essay prompts; then, write a single essay for multiple scholarships. Sometimes, you can even reuse or adapt your main college essay .

You can start applying for scholarships as early as your junior year. Continue applying throughout your senior year.

Invest time in applying for various scholarships , especially local ones with small dollar amounts, which are likely easier to win and more reflective of your background and interests. It will be easier for you to write an authentic and compelling essay if the scholarship topic is meaningful to you.

You can find scholarships through your school counselor, community network, or an internet search.

A scholarship essay requires you to demonstrate your values and qualities while answering the prompt’s specific question.

After researching the scholarship organization, identify a personal experience that embodies its values and exemplifies how you will be a successful student.

A standout college essay has several key ingredients:

  • A unique, personally meaningful topic
  • A memorable introduction with vivid imagery or an intriguing hook
  • Specific stories and language that show instead of telling
  • Vulnerability that’s authentic but not aimed at soliciting sympathy
  • Clear writing in an appropriate style and tone
  • A conclusion that offers deep insight or a creative ending

While timelines will differ depending on the student, plan on spending at least 1–3 weeks brainstorming and writing the first draft of your college admissions essay , and at least 2–4 weeks revising across multiple drafts. Don’t forget to save enough time for breaks between each writing and editing stage.

You should already begin thinking about your essay the summer before your senior year so that you have plenty of time to try out different topics and get feedback on what works.

Your college essay accounts for about 25% of your application’s weight. It may be the deciding factor in whether you’re accepted, especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurricular track records.

In most cases, quoting other people isn’t a good way to start your college essay . Admissions officers want to hear your thoughts about yourself, and quotes often don’t achieve that. Unless a quote truly adds something important to your essay that it otherwise wouldn’t have, you probably shouldn’t include it.

Cliché openers in a college essay introduction are usually general and applicable to many students and situations. Most successful introductions are specific: they only work for the unique essay that follows.

The key to a strong college essay introduction is not to give too much away. Try to start with a surprising statement or image that raises questions and compels the reader to find out more.

The introduction of your college essay is the first thing admissions officers will read and therefore your most important opportunity to stand out. An excellent introduction will keep admissions officers reading, allowing you to tell them what you want them to know.

You can speed up this process by shortening and smoothing your writing with a paraphrasing tool . After that, you can use the summarizer to shorten it even more.

If you’re struggling to reach the word count for your college essay, add vivid personal stories or share your feelings and insight to give your essay more depth and authenticity.

Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit to write a developed and thoughtful essay.

You should aim to stay under the specified word count limit to show you can follow directions and write concisely. However, don’t write too little, as it may seem like you are unwilling or unable to write a detailed and insightful narrative about yourself.

If no word count is specified, we advise keeping your essay between 400 and 600 words.

In your application essay , admissions officers are looking for particular features : they want to see context on your background, positive traits that you could bring to campus, and examples of you demonstrating those qualities.

Colleges want to be able to differentiate students who seem similar on paper. In the college application essay , they’re looking for a way to understand each applicant’s unique personality and experiences.

You don’t need a title for your college admissions essay , but you can include one if you think it adds something important.

There are no set rules for how to structure a college application essay , but these are two common structures that work:

  • A montage structure, a series of vignettes with a common theme.
  • A narrative structure, a single story that shows your personal growth or how you overcame a challenge.

Avoid the five-paragraph essay structure that you learned in high school.

Campus visits are always helpful, but if you can’t make it in person, the college website will have plenty of information for you to explore. You should look through the course catalog and even reach out to current faculty with any questions about the school.

Colleges set a “Why this college?” essay because they want to see that you’ve done your research. You must prove that you know what makes the school unique and can connect that to your own personal goals and academic interests.

Depending on your writing, you may go through several rounds of revision . Make sure to put aside your essay for a little while after each editing stage to return with a fresh perspective.

Teachers and guidance counselors can help you check your language, tone, and content . Ask for their help at least one to two months before the submission deadline, as many other students will also want their help.

Friends and family are a good resource to check for authenticity. It’s best to seek help from family members with a strong writing or English educational background, or from older siblings and cousins who have been through the college admissions process.

If possible, get help from an essay coach or editor ; they’ll have specialized knowledge of college admissions essays and be able to give objective expert feedback.

When revising your college essay , first check for big-picture issues regarding message, flow, tone, style , and clarity. Then, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors.

Include specific, personal details and use your authentic voice to shed a new perspective on a common human experience.

Through specific stories, you can weave your achievements and qualities into your essay so that it doesn’t seem like you’re bragging from a resume.

When writing about yourself , including difficult experiences or failures can be a great way to show vulnerability and authenticity, but be careful not to overshare, and focus on showing how you matured from the experience.

First, spend time reflecting on your core values and character . You can start with these questions:

  • What are three words your friends or family would use to describe you, and why would they choose them?
  • Whom do you admire most and why?
  • What are you most proud of? Ashamed of?

However, you should do a comprehensive brainstorming session to fully understand your values. Also consider how your values and goals match your prospective university’s program and culture. Then, brainstorm stories that illustrate the fit between the two.

In a college application essay , you can occasionally bend grammatical rules if doing so adds value to the storytelling process and the essay maintains clarity.

However, use standard language rules if your stylistic choices would otherwise distract the reader from your overall narrative or could be easily interpreted as unintentional errors.

Write concisely and use the active voice to maintain a quick pace throughout your essay and make sure it’s the right length . Avoid adding definitions unless they provide necessary explanation.

Use first-person “I” statements to speak from your perspective . Use appropriate word choices that show off your vocabulary but don’t sound like you used a thesaurus. Avoid using idioms or cliché expressions by rewriting them in a creative, original way.

If you’re an international student applying to a US college and you’re comfortable using American idioms or cultural references , you can. But instead of potentially using them incorrectly, don’t be afraid to write in detail about yourself within your own culture.

Provide context for any words, customs, or places that an American admissions officer might be unfamiliar with.

College application essays are less formal than other kinds of academic writing . Use a conversational yet respectful tone , as if speaking with a teacher or mentor. Be vulnerable about your feelings, thoughts, and experiences to connect with the reader.

Aim to write in your authentic voice , with a style that sounds natural and genuine. You can be creative with your word choice, but don’t use elaborate vocabulary to impress admissions officers.

Admissions officers use college admissions essays to evaluate your character, writing skills , and ability to self-reflect . The essay is your chance to show what you will add to the academic community.

The college essay may be the deciding factor in your application , especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurriculars.

Some colleges also require supplemental essays about specific topics, such as why you chose that specific college . Scholarship essays are often required to obtain financial aid .

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What format should I use for my college essay?

Read the prompt and essay instructions thoroughly to learn how to start off a college essay. Some colleges provide guidance about formatting. If not, the best course of action is to stick with a college standard like the MLA format.

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How to Structure an Essay

essay structure

Essay writing is a fundamental skill, a basic task, that is expected of those who choose to pursue their undergraduate and master’s degrees. It constitutes a key requirement for students to complete a given course credit. However, many students and early career researchers find themselves struggling with the challenge of organizing their thoughts into a coherent, engaging structure. This article is especially for those who see essay writing as a daunting task and face problems in presenting their work in an impactful way.  

Table of Contents

  • Writing an essay: basic elements and some key principles  
  • Essay structure template 
  • Chronological structure 
  • Problem-methods-solutions structure 
  • Compare and contrast structures 
  • Frequently asked questions on essay structure 

Read on as we delve into the basic elements of essay writing, outline key principles for organizing information, and cover some foundational features of writing essays.  

Writing an essay: basic elements and some key principles

Essays are written in a flowing and continuous pattern but with a structure of its own. An introduction, body and conclusion are integral to it. The key is to balance the amount and kind of information to be presented in each part. Various disciplines may have their own conventions or guidelines on the information to be provided in the introduction.  

A clear articulation of the context and background of the study is important, as is the definition of key terms and an outline of specific models or theories used. Readers also need to know the significance of the study and its implications for further research. Most importantly, the thesis or the main proposition should be clearly presented.  

The body of the essay is therefore organized into paragraphs that hold the main ideas and arguments and is presented and analyzed in a logical manner. Ideally, each paragraph of the body focuses on one main point or a distinct topic and must be supported by evidence and analysis. The concluding paragraph should bring back to the reader the key arguments, its significance and food for thought. It is best not to re-state all the points of the essay or introduce a new concept here. 

In other words, certain general guidelines help structure the information in the essay. The information must flow logically with the context or the background information presented in the introductory part of the essay. The arguments are built organically where each paragraph in the body of the essay deals with a different point, yet closely linked to the para preceding and following it. Importantly, when writing essays, early career researchers must be careful in ensuring that each piece of information relates to the main thesis and is a building block to the arguments. 

Essay structure template

  • Introduction 
  • Provide the context and share significance of the study 
  • Clearly articulate the thesis statement 
  • Body  
  • Paragraph 1 consisting of the first main point, followed by supporting evidence and an analysis of the findings. Transitional words and phrases can be used to move to the next main point. 
  • There can be as many paragraphs with the above-mentioned elements as there are points and arguments to support your thesis. 
  • Conclusion  
  • Bring in key ideas and discuss their significance and relevance 
  • Call for action 
  • References 

Essay structures

The structure of an essay can be determined by the kind of essay that is required.  

Chronological structure

Also known as the cause-and-effect approach, this is a straightforward way to structure an essay. In such essays, events are discussed sequentially, as they occurred from the earliest to the latest. A chronological structure is useful for discussing a series of events or processes such as historical analyses or narratives of events. The introduction should have the topic sentence. The body of the essay should follow a chorological progression with each para discussing a major aspect of that event with supporting evidence. It ends with a summarizing of the results of the events.  

Problem-methods-solutions structure

Where the essay focuses on a specific problem, the problem-methods-solutions structure can be used to organize the essay. This structure is ideal for essays that address complex issues. It starts with presenting the problem, the context, and thesis statement as introduction to the essay. The major part of the discussion which forms the body of the essay focuses on stating the problem and its significance, the author’s approach or methods adopted to address the problem along with its relevance, and accordingly proposing solution(s) to the identified problem. The concluding part offers a recap of the research problem, methods, and proposed solutions, emphasizing their significance and potential impact. 

Compare and contrast structures

This structure of essay writing is ideally used when two or more key subjects require a comparison of ideas, theories, or phenomena. The three crucial elements, introduction, body, and conclusion, remain the same. The introduction presents the context and the thesis statement. The body of the essay seeks to focus on and highlight differences between the subjects, supported by evidence and analysis. The conclusion is used to summarize the key points of comparison and contrast, offering insights into the significance of the analysis.  

Depending on how the subjects will be discussed, the body of the essay can be organized according to the block method or the alternating method. In the block method, one para discusses one subject and the next para the other subject. In the alternative method, both subjects are discussed in one para based on a particular topic or issue followed by the next para on another issue and so on.  

Frequently asked questions on essay structure

An essay structure serves as a framework for presenting ideas coherently and logically. It comprises three crucial elements: an introduction that communicates the context, topic, and thesis statement; the body focusing on the main points and arguments supported with appropriate evidence followed by its analysis; and a conclusion that ties together the main points and its importance .  

An essay structure well-defined essay structure enhances clarity, coherence, and readability, and is crucial for organizing ideas and arguments to effectively communicate key aspects of a chosen topic. It allows readers to better understand arguments presented and demonstrates the author’s ability to organize and present information systematically. 

Yes, while expert recommend following an essay structure, early career researchers may choose how best to adapt standard essay structures to communicate and share their research in an impactful and engaging way. However, do keep in mind that deviating too far from established structures can hinder comprehension and weaken the overall effectiveness of the essay,  By understanding the basic elements of essay writing and employing appropriate structures such as chronological, problem-methods-solutions, or compare and contrast, researchers can effectively organize their ideas and communicate their findings with clarity and precision. 

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Get accurate academic translations, rewriting support, grammar checks, vocabulary suggestions, and generative AI assistance that delivers human precision at machine speed. Try for free or upgrade to Paperpal Prime starting at US$19 a month to access premium features, including consistency, plagiarism, and 30+ submission readiness checks to help you succeed.  

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25 Inspiring College Essay Topic Ideas

June 24, 2024

If you’ve ever wondered what other people write about in their college application essays, you’re not alone. Just as reading a range of novels can expose you to unique takes on similar themes, seeing others’ college essay topic ideas can open you up to new possibilities, spark creativity, and enhance your brainstorming process. Since we read hundreds of essays per year, we wanted to round up a collection of past topics from actual students to inspire your essay-writing endeavors. Moreover, we’ve paired those topics with targeted brainstorming questions that will set you off on your own path to success. Ready? Let’s dive in.

How do I find the right college essay topic ideas?

Like a well-hidden geocache , the right college essay topic ideas can only be uncovered with some effort. In general, the right college essay topic:

  • is interesting and/or exciting to you
  • demonstrates a quality, value, or perspective that can’t be found elsewhere on your application

While deciding, focus on asking yourself the right types of questions. For example, let’s say you’re down to two topics: a moral/ethical dilemma you recently faced, or the nonprofit you started last year. In this scenario, most students may assume they *should* write about the nonprofit–after all, it’s the more “impressive” of the two, right?

However, let’s divorce ourselves from “should.” Instead, ask yourself: if I write this essay, what will admissions officers learn about me that they can’t learn about elsewhere? Through starting this nonprofit, what have I learned about myself? Can I show my reader what I value, or how I handle problems? Or will I basically be re-hashing what is already in my activities list or honors section ?

Alternatively, the ethical/moral dilemma you recently faced completely threw you for a loop. It made you rethink a closely held belief and forced you to confront how you handle challenging situations.

Ask yourself: what will admissions officers learn about me that they can’t learn about elsewhere? What have I learned about myself? Can I handle this subject tactfully—without complaining, blaming others, or coming to a conclusion that feels forced/too neat? Can I be vulnerable?

Be honest with yourself, and a clear winner will emerge.

How do I find “unique” college essay topic ideas?

Every year, our students wonder how to ensure that their essay stands out, often asking us questions along these lines:

How do I make sure that my essay topic is different from everyone else’s?

If I write about my sports injury, will it sound like every other sports essay?

If I write about my parent’s illness, will that be just another sob story?

We get it—it’s natural and normal to be curious about what admissions officers want to hear, or wonder whether particular college essay topic ideas will strengthen your application more than others. While there is some strategy involved with topic selection, the way you write about and reflect on any given topic is usually much more important than the topic itself.

To that end, college essay topics/themes we see on a regular basis include:

  • Coming-of-age, most often a realization that changed their perspective or inspired personal growth
  • A challenging situation or moral dilemma
  • A passion or intellectual curiosity
  • A meaningful aspect of their family/identity/cultural background
  • An important community

We see these topics frequently because they are universal to the teenage experience. This does not make them bad or mean you should avoid them. On the contrary, it makes them classic, timeless, and relatable (remember, you’re trying to create a personal connection with your reader!).

Accordingly, use the above college essay topics/themes as a way to start collecting ideas for your own personal statement, and know you are in very good company if you write an essay on one of them.

Bottom line: you make a college essay topic “unique” by writing about yourself, in your own style and voice, with plenty of detail and specifics. You share what you learned and how you grew. That’s it!

Where can I find examples of college essay topic ideas?

Sometimes, you just need a list of examples. Let’s go back to our geocaching reference above. What the heck is a geocache, anyway? What will you find inside one? Do people use certain types of containers? Perusing a few examples will help you build an idea of what to expect when you go exploring. Okay, I could be looking for anything from Tupperware containers to film canisters…or fake rocks…what?!

Accordingly, in providing you with this list of college essay topic ideas, we want to validate and inspire you. These are real college essay topics developed by real college applicants, so it’s very likely you can connect or identify with at least a few of them. If a topic resonates with or sounds interesting to you, try writing down some thoughts on the associated brainstorming question and see where it takes you.

Inspiring College Essay Topic Ideas

  • Central Story : A parent’s struggle with addiction, and the author’s struggle to cope with the changes happening at home
  • Reflection/Resolution : How the author found themselves again—and learned to cope—by leaning into activities that they loved
  • Brainstorming Question : Has your parent or guardian ever faced a significant health problem, such as a chronic illness, terminal diagnosis, or addiction? How did it impact you?
  • Central Story : After volunteering at a homeless shelter for years, the author realized he had been avoiding personal connection with the men he served meals to
  • Reflection/Resolution : Prioritizing connection, even if uncomfortable, and finding new, tangible ways to understand and assist this population
  • Brainstorming Question : Have you ever had a perspective-changing volunteer opportunity? If so, what was your perspective before you started, and what is it now?

College Essay Topic Ideas — Continued

  • Central Story : Navigating interactions with customers at a part-time job
  • Reflection/Resolution : Finding ways to connect with and appreciate patrons, and understand how important her job was
  • Brainstorming Question : Do you work in a customer service role? What have been your most memorable interactions, positive or negative? How have they impacted you?
  • Central Story : After years of being a competitive ballet dancer and having aspirations to dance in college, the author is struck with the realization that she does not actually want to be a professional ballerina
  • Reflection/Resolution : Coming to terms with her decision, and embracing who she is without ballet
  • Brainstorming Question : Have you ever had a college-related or professional goal that changed? Why did it change, and how did you deal with it?
  • Central Story : How a difficult incident during a baseball game changed the author’s relationship with the sport, and pushed him toward new realizations about his future
  • Reflection/Resolution : Embracing his own power to make a difference by immersing himself in research, and discovering new fields that he is interested in pursuing in college
  • Brainstorming Question : Has a particular situation ever shocked or deeply upset you? What realizations did you have about yourself? About others?
  • Central Story : The author’s fiction writing journey and realization that women of color are underrepresented or presented as one-note in most literature
  • Reflection/Resolution : The author’s commitment to crafting characters that not only represented her but reflected her values and beliefs, and creating a writing community in the process
  • Brainstorming Question : Do you have a hobby or passion that you could spend hours a day/week engaging in? How did you get started, and what experiences have been most special/important to you?
  • Central Story : How a strategy-based board game gave the author the skills needed to take a volunteer opportunity to the next level
  • Reflection/Resolution : What the author learned about himself in the process, and the importance of being open to what all types of experiences can teach you
  • Brainstorming Question : What’s your go-to “fun” activity? What (perhaps surprising) skills have you learned from it? Have you been able to apply them in other areas of your life?
  • Central Story : The author’s intensive preparation for synchronized swim team tryouts
  • Reflection/Resolution : How the author dealt with the disappointment of not making the team, and learned important lessons about failure and resilience
  • Brainstorming Question : Have you ever tried—and failed—at something that took weeks, months, or even years to prepare for? What was that like? How did you cope, and what did you learn about yourself in the process?
  • Central Story : The author’s longing for a stable community after experiencing a housing crisis
  • Reflection/Resolution : How volunteering at a local nonprofit committed to building homes helped him find the community he was searching for, and inspired his future career path
  • Brainstorming Question : What activity is most meaningful to you? How is it enabled you to make an impact on others? How has it impacted you personally?
  • Central Story : The author’s first encounter with coral bleaching, and ensuing environmental activism
  • Reflection/Resolution : How he found balance between activism and his personal life so that he could bring his best self to every project
  • Brainstorming Question : Do you participate in any activities that feel consuming on multiple levels? How do you find balance? Has that been a difficult journey?
  • Central Story : The author’s love of connecting with friends and family through baking, even when the time commitment involved became difficult to navigate
  • Reflection/Resolution : How the author learned to juggle multiple types of commitments, leading to increased joy and intention
  • Brainstorming Question : What personal hobbies are most meaningful to you, and why? Have you ever struggled to find time for your favorite hobby amidst other obligations? How did you navigate that?
  • Central Story : How the author struggled with coming out
  • Reflection/Resolution : How joining a supportive LGBTQ community helped the author make peace with her identity, and also begin helping others who may be struggling with their identity
  • Brainstorming Question : Is there an aspect of your sexual or cultural identity that you’ve struggled to accept? What has that journey been like for you? What actions have you taken along the way, and what have you learned about yourself in the process?
  • Central Story : The author’s determination to help other students feel less isolated and more involved at school, which stemmed from his own early experiences as an immigrant
  • Reflection/Resolution : How the author implemented actual changes that resulted in more connection, school spirit, and personal fulfillment
  • Brainstorming Question : Have you ever tried to solve a particular issue in your community? What issue did you try to solve, and why? What steps did you take to solve it, and what was the outcome?
  • Central Story : How the author’s early love of Spanish led to learning additional languages
  • Reflection/Resolution : How learning languages has allowed for deeper cultural exploration and appreciation, along with an exploration of the author’s own personal history and goal to pursue linguistics in college
  • Brainstorming Question : Do you already know what you want to pursue in college? How did you come to that conclusion, and what experiences have informed or influenced it along the way?
  • Central Story : How the author’s perfectionism often caused her to avoid trying new things, which she realized after a massive project went sideways
  • Reflection/Resolution : The author began trying new activities outside her comfort zone that introduced her to new interests and inspired further exploration
  • Brainstorming Question : Do you ever feel like you hold yourself back? In what ways? How have you tried to overcome those hurdles?
  • Central Story : The author’s lifelong interest in his favorite animal
  • Reflection/Resolution : What attributes of this animal the author is most fascinated by, how those attributes connect to his own life/experiences, and what he’s learned about himself in the process
  • Brainstorming Question : What are your “favorites”—favorite color, favorite animal, favorite song, favorite movie, favorite place, etc? Why are they your favorite? What can your “favorites” tell us about you?
  • Central Story : How the author’s boredom with piano stemmed from always following sheet music strictly as written
  • Reflection/Resolution : How learning a new musical term—and experimenting with it—enabled the author to find the joy in music again
  • Brainstorming Question : Have you participated in any activities that lost their appeal at some point? How did you react, and what was the outcome?
  • Central Story : The author’s love for a certain childhood craft
  • Reflection/Resolution : How rekindling her love for this craft led to a fascination with repetition and patterns that ultimately inspired her college major
  • Brainstorming Question : As a child, what activities did you love most? Do you still engage in any of them? If so, why are they so important to you?
  • Central Story : The toxic environment within the author’s first school play, which made her start to lose her passion for music
  • Reflection/Resolution : How quitting theater and investing her energy in different, more supportive activities allowed her to reclaim her love of singing
  • Brainstorming Question : Have you ever quit an important sport, club, or other activity? What led to that decision, and how did you move forward?
  • Central Story : How the author’s love of fashion—and its history—led to a particularly optimistic sewing project
  • Reflection/Resolution : How the process of trial and error during her project—as well as her continued work on it—represents her resilience, passion, and love of learning
  • Brainstorming Question : Have you ever undertaken a project that didn’t go according to plan? What ups and downs did you encounter, and how did you navigate them?
  • Central Story : How the author confronted her perception of entrepreneurship as well as her own role within her company
  • Reflection/Resolution : How asking difficult questions, conducting research, and being willing to pivot led the author to adjust her mindset and personal philosophy
  • Brainstorming Question : Have you ever realized that you might need to adjust a previously held belief or perspective? How did you come to that conclusion, and what did you do about it?
  • Central Story : The author’s reluctance and nervousness to return to India, where she spent her childhood
  • Reflection/Resolution : How reconnecting with her culture, especially its literature, led her to embrace herself more fully and even helped inform her future career path
  • Brainstorming Question : Do you ever feel torn between two different worlds or cultural identities? How have you navigated and/or tried to come to terms with that?
  • Central Story : How the author’s self-doubt and fear began to negatively impact her sports performance
  • Reflection/Resolution : How a teammate’s influence enabled the author to start trusting herself, leading to increased self-confidence and new levels of risk-taking
  • Brainstorming Question : Have you ever dealt with an ongoing struggle that started to take over your life? What enabled you to start adopting a healthier outlook?
  • Central Story : The author’s realization that her method of communication in leadership roles may be hindering, rather than helping, progress
  • Reflection/Resolution : How adjusting her communication methods, focusing on collaboration, and readjusting her perspective led to a new definition of personal and professional success
  • Brainstorming Question : Have you ever realized that your way of doing things may be negatively impacting a particular group or team? If so, what did you do about it?
  • Central Story : An ethical dilemma that the author experienced while serving on her school paper
  • Reflection/Resolution : How the author arrived at her decision, and what she learned about her own decision-making process
  • Brainstorming Question : Have you ever been confronted with a moral or ethical dilemma? If so, how did you arrive at a decision? Do you regret or stand behind that decision—why or why not?

Final Thoughts — College Essay Topics

After identifying an interesting and personally significant essay topic, you’ll want to focus on further brainstorming as well as execution. Not sure what to do next? College Transitions’ highly skilled essay coaches can help— click here to see available packages or schedule a free consultation.

Additional resources you may find useful:

  • Common App Essay Prompts
  • How to Brainstorm a College Essay
  • 10 Instructive Common App Essay Examples
  • College Application Essay Topics to Avoid
  • How to Start a College Essay
  • How to End a College Essay
  • Best College Essay Help
  • College Essay

Kelsea Conlin

Kelsea holds a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Tufts University, a graduate certificate in College Counseling from UCLA, and an MA in Teaching Writing from Johns Hopkins University. Her short fiction is forthcoming in Chautauqua .

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IMAGES

  1. 32 College Essay Format Templates & Examples

    what format do i use for college admission essays

  2. 32 College Essay Format Templates & Examples

    what format do i use for college admission essays

  3. How should a college essay be formatted. How to Format and Structure

    what format do i use for college admission essays

  4. 32 College Essay Format Templates & Examples

    what format do i use for college admission essays

  5. How to Write In College Essay Format

    what format do i use for college admission essays

  6. College Essay Format

    what format do i use for college admission essays

VIDEO

  1. Use College Resources To Get Better Grades

  2. College admission essays be like #gorillatag #memes #funny #trynottolaugh #shorts @peternugget

  3. PSJA High School Essay Writing Workshop

  4. UC Essay Bootcamp Day 1: Crafting College Admissions Stories. // AcceptU India

  5. Admission Workshop: Writing Your College Essay

  6. How Do Admissions Officers Decide Who To Accept?

COMMENTS

  1. College Application Essay Format Rules

    The college application essay has become the most important part of applying to college. In this article, we will go over the best college essay format for getting into top schools, including how to structure the elements of a college admissions essay: margins, font, paragraphs, spacing, headers, and organization.. We will focus on commonly asked questions about the best college essay structure.

  2. How to Format a College Essay: Step-by-Step Guide

    Again, we'd recommend sticking with standard fonts and sizes—Times New Roman, 12-point is a standard workhorse. You can probably go with 1.5 or double spacing. Standard margins. Basically, show them you're ready to write in college by using the formatting you'll normally use in college.

  3. How to Format A College Essay: 15 Expert Tips

    Clearly delineate your paragraphs. A single tab at the beginning is fine. Use a font that's easy to read, like Times, Arial, Calibri, Cambria, etc. Avoid fonts like Papyrus and Curlz. And use 12 pt font. You may want to include a college essay heading with a page number and your application ID.

  4. How to Format and Structure Your College Essay

    There are three traditional college essay structures. They are: In-the-moment narrative. Narrative told over an extended period of time. Series of anecdotes, or montage. Let's go over what each one is exactly, and take a look at some real essays using these structures. 1. In-the-moment narrative.

  5. What is the format of a college application essay?

    Top. Generally, essays for college admission follow a simple format that includes an opening paragraph, a lengthier body section, and a closing paragraph. You don't need to include a title, which will only take up extra space. Keep in mind that the exact format can vary from one college application to the next.

  6. College Essay Format & Structure

    There are no set rules for how to structure a college application essay, but you should carefully plan and outline to make sure your essay flows smoothly and logically. Typical structural choices include. a series of vignettes with a common theme. a single story that demonstrates your positive qualities. Although many structures can work, there ...

  7. Tips for Writing an Effective Application Essay

    Follow these tips to write an impactful essay that can work in your favor. 1. Start Early. Few people write well under pressure. Try to complete your first draft a few weeks before you have to turn it in. Many advisers recommend starting as early as the summer before your senior year in high school.

  8. Ultimate Guide to Writing Your College Essay

    Tips for writing an effective college essay. College admissions essays are an important part of your college application and gives you the chance to show colleges and universities your character and experiences. This guide will give you tips to write an effective college essay.

  9. How to Write a College Essay

    Making an all-state team → outstanding achievement. Making an all-state team → counting the cost of saying "no" to other interests. Making a friend out of an enemy → finding common ground, forgiveness. Making a friend out of an enemy → confront toxic thinking and behavior in yourself.

  10. College Essay Format: Top Writing and Editing Tips for 2024

    1. Be authentic. One of the most essential parts of how to format a college application essay is to be authentic. The college wants to know who you are, and they will be reading dozens of essays a day. The best way to make yours stand out is to just be yourself instead of focusing on what you think they want to hear.

  11. How to Write College Application Essays

    How to Structure Your Essay. A college application essay (like any academic essay) should have an introduction, a conclusion, and body paragraphs. Additionally, it should have overall coherence (that is, it should make a point) and cohesion (that is, it should flow well from paragraph to paragraph).

  12. College Application Essay Format: The Definitive Guide

    On your college application essay, use the first paragraph as an introduction, and the last paragraph as your conclusion that wraps everything up. Put the meat of the essay in between. Let the story build and flow to its natural conclusion. Mastering College Essays: Insider Tips from FLEX College Prep. Watch on.

  13. How to format and structure a college essay: A definitive guide

    1 - Start with a surprising "I am…" statement. This essay structure depends on hooking your reader's attention from the first line, so you want to start with something memorable, unexpected, and maybe even a bit confusing. Though often this means saying "I am…" it could just as easily be "I believe…" or "I have…".

  14. How To Format & Structure Your College Application Essay

    1" margin is the standard, and difficult to go wrong with. An easy-to-read font, such as Times New Roman and Arial, is the way to go. The last thing you want is for the admissions officers to have difficulty reading your essay due to a complicated font. Download your college essay in an accepted format according to the submissions site.

  15. College Application Essay Guide: A How-to With Samples!

    College Application Essay Guide: A How-to With Samples! By College Raptor Staff Last updated on May 7, 2024. As you near the end of your college application process, you will need to work on one of the most important parts: the college essay. This piece of writing lets you show admissions officers who you are beyond your grades and test scores.

  16. How to Write the Common Application Essays 2023-2024 ...

    Be specific. Choose active voice, not passive voice. Avoid clichés. Write in a tone that aligns with your goals for the essay. For example, if you are a heavy STEM applicant hoping to use your Common App essay to humanize your application, you will be undermined by writing in a brusque, harsh tone.

  17. How to Write the Best College Application Essay

    1. Open Strong. Knowing how to start a college essay can create a strong opening paragraph that immediately captures the reader's interest. You want to make the admissions officer reading your essay curious about what you say next. 2. Show You Can Write.

  18. How To Write A College Essay: A Step-By-Step Guide

    Pick a Topic That's Meaningful to You. Apply the adage "write what you know" to your college essay: Think about what makes you unique, then apply this knowledge to the larger theme of your ...

  19. Advice for Writing Application Essays

    Don't use boilerplate essays. That is, resist the urge to reuse the exact same essay for different schools if each of them is giving you a slightly different writing prompt. You can, of course, adapt the same essay for similar prompts. Many schools do allow you to use the Common Application essay for admission to several participating schools.

  20. How to format a college admission essay?

    5. Indentation: Indent the first line of each paragraph by using the Tab key or 5 spaces. This visually separates paragraphs and makes your essay easier to read. 6. Align your text to the left rather than justifying the margins. Justified text can create awkward gaps between words, making it harder to read. 7.

  21. How do I format a college essay?

    The college admissions essay accounts for roughly 25% of the weight of your application. At highly selective schools, there are four qualified candidates for every spot. While your academic achievements are important, your college admissions essay can help you stand out from other applicants with similar profiles.

  22. Taking your college essay to the next level

    8 years ago. Each college may have their own essay prompt. If you're using the Common App, here are the topics for the 2016 - 2017 essays: 1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it.

  23. What format should I use for my college essay?

    What format should I use for my college essay? Read the prompt and essay instructions thoroughly to learn how to start off a college essay. Some colleges provide guidance about formatting. If not, the best course of action is to stick with a college standard like the MLA format.

  24. How to Structure an Essay

    1. What is an essay structure? An essay structure serves as a framework for presenting ideas coherently and logically. It comprises three crucial elements: an introduction that communicates the context, topic, and thesis statement; the body focusing on the main points and arguments supported with appropriate evidence followed by its analysis; and a conclusion that ties together the main points ...

  25. College Essays That Worked And How Yours Can Too

    The secret to a standout college essay lies in its authenticity, depth, and emotional resonance. ... The college essay is a pivotal piece of the college application showcasing your individuality ...

  26. 25 Inspiring College Essay Topic Ideas

    Accordingly, use the above college essay topics/themes as a way to start collecting ideas for your own personal statement, and know you are in very good company if you write an essay on one of them. Bottom line: you make a college essay topic "unique" by writing about yourself, in your own style and voice, with plenty of detail and specifics.