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Essay Writing Tips

Review these guidelines and suggestions if you need to write essays for college scholarships or admissions applications. 

Purpose of an Essay

An essay presents you with an opportunity to share your thoughts and insights, highlight accomplishments, convey your outlook on life, and to “talk” directly to a scholarship review board or admission's committee. View it as a process of introducing yourself. 

From the reviewer’s perspective, the purpose of a college essay is to evaluate your communication skills and to understand you as a person beyond your grades and test scores. 

Choosing a Topic

Regardless of whether you are required to answer a specific question or come up with your own question, here are some suggestions about approaching your topic.

  1. Discussing yourself is a great way to convey who you are. No one knows more about you than you! 
  2. Show rather than tell! Pick a topic that allows you to relate a story or experience that illustrates an important aspect of yourself. Maybe you worked at a summer camp one summer. Rather than describe every aspect of that summer, pick one incident or story as a way of expressing your thoughts about a topic such as education or leadership. Narrow your topic so that it is specific and also illustrative. 
  3. Do not be afraid to write on something that is unique or a little off-the-wall. Admissions counselors and scholarship committees often appreciate a refreshing approach to a question. Taking a unique perspective is also a great way to express your creativity. 
  4. Tell the college, university, or scholarship committee what you are going to bring to the institution or your goals for the scholarship. Rather than saying “I want to be active in eight clubs; I want to study in your excellent history department; I want to take advantage of your urban environment,” tell your reader why you chose this school and how your goals fit with the mission of the school.  
The Writing Process

So, you’ve got a great topic and now you are ready to write? Read on for some helpful suggestions to guide your writing process.

  • Before you begin writing, take some time to organize your thoughts in an outline or framework. An outline will help your thoughts to flow smoothly and progress logically from one conclusion to another.
  • Use plain, simple English. While you do not want to be informal in your writing, be sure to sound like yourself on paper. Don’t try to impress by sounding like an encyclopedia. Remember that the best writing sounds like a good conversation.
  • Write and REWRITE! Never send in a first draft. Write a draft and set it aside for a day or two and then come back to it. Read the draft aloud to yourself or someone else to hear how it sounds and flows.
  • PROOFREAD! Have someone else read your writing for sentence structure, grammar, and spelling.
  • Type your essays. A handwritten essay that is sloppy will give an unfavorable impression to your readers.
Dos
  • Do have your essay proofread—share it with a teacher, friend, parent, sibling, and/or advisor!
  • Do check for spelling and grammar. 
  • Do reveal yourself in your writing.  
  • Do write in your own voice.  
  • Do think “small” regarding the topic and write about something you know. 
  • Do avoid writing on global issues like homelessness or religion or world peace. Such topics are too complicated and weighty to give justice to your views in 600 or less. Also, such topics do not give the reader a great deal of insight into you. 
  • Do avoid writing about how making a B in a hard course or “being benched” during the last football game was the hardest thing you ever overcame. Lots of people write about these experiences, and they rarely offer greater insight into you. 

Don'ts

  • Don’t write what you think an admissions counselor or a committee might want to read.
  • Don’t write about a topic that would make your reader blush or become embarrassed.
  • Don’t exaggerate to impress.
  • Don’t use flowery or inflated writing.
  • Don’t ramble--be concise in your writing.
  • Don’t send an essay out before it has been proofread by you and someone else.

Other Ideas and Sample Essays

Looking for Suggestions for Winning Essay Topics?