The college application essay can be one of the most difficult, yet fun, essays you’ll ever write. As the personality piece of your college application, your essay is your sense of humor, accomplishments, challenges, and life aspirations condensed into 250-500 words. Which approach should you take? What story will you tell? Below are the top five tips from us to you for what makes the best college application essay, as well as a sample essay.
For a crash course on what you need, check out this 10-step guide to college essay essentials.
Top 5 things to have in your college application essay:
- A catchy title (if possible). If the school you’re applying to allows a title, use one that stands out. A title that alludes to a literary character (The Anti-Romeo of the Twenty-first Century) or uses alliteration (The Nerd of North Newbury) are some examples of titles that stand out. Be careful to make sure your essay supports the gravity of your title!
- A showcase of personal qualities. Your personality needs to completely shine through in these few paragraphs. Whether you take a humorous or dramatic approach, your voice needs to come through as clear as possible.
- A lesson learned. Every good application essay needs a tale on how you constructively dealt with challenge and/or failure, so something you perceived to be so. Having to adjust to or overcome an ethical, social, or personal dilemma not only shows that you are aware of such constrictions, but that you are perceptive enough to acknowledge and overcome such boundaries.
- Well-written and enjoyable to read. Correct structure and grammar is a given. What you also need is great story-telling skills
- Subtle list of accomplishments. Nobody wants to hear a braggart, but they do want to hear about what you’ve accomplished. Insert your accomplishments subtly into your essay but don’t make it the focal point of your story.
We will now go through an example of college essay. For a step-by-step approach, click here.
Example #1: The Pebble in my Toms
My name is Keane, but I’m more frequently referred to as ‘be quiet’, ‘get that for your sister’, or ‘hand me the remote’. As the youngest of three high-achieving children with even higher-achieving parents, I have walked in more shadows than I can recount. This is my tale of finally standing out.
For as long as I can remember, I have tried to blend in with my older sister and brother. I would watch the same movies (if my parents allowed), eat the same ice cream flavors (even though I thought pistachio was disgusting), and deny that chemistry was awesome (even though I loved the concept of bonding molecules and aced all my science classes). So even though my older siblings probably did not enjoy having me tag along with them, at least they had something to talk to me about.
I even went as far as to buy the same sparkly Toms shoes as my sister.
I wore those Toms everywhere. I wore them as I presented my President Clinton speech in history, wore them as I watched my sister run at her track meets, wore them as I wistfully watched my brother at basketball practice, and only took them off to sleep. But as the months wore on, I started feeling an ache on my left arch, as if there was a pebble in my sole. I would check the shoe but there was nothing there. So I kept wearing them, until one day I had to change into tennis shoes for tennis tryouts. I thought it would be a bad omen to leave them behind, but it was my brother that convinced me I would only showcase my natural talent if I gave it my all, with a shoe that wasn’t bothersome. So I did, and I made the team.
Since then, I have been Varsity Tennis Captain, National Lincoln-Douglas debate champion, won our district science scholarship, and was Tony in our high school’s production of West Side Story. Being a scholarship winner for our science scholarship was an incredible accomplishment as I was going through three Advanced Placement courses as well as coping with both my siblings leaving home. I’ve had a wonderful three years of high school and extremely excited about my senior year as reigning tennis captain and now vice-president of my home town’s Boys and Girls Club. In fact, for Thanksgiving my junior year, I asked my siblings to join me for our annual shelter giveaway, and they did. And told me something I couldn’t believe.
They had actually put pebbles in my Toms shoes.
Before high school, they realized I was giving sacrificing my own interests to be with them and they knew it was a hindrance to my development, especially regarding my passion for science. So they both devised a plan to put pebbles in my shoe where I wouldn’t find them to make me shed my shoes and symbolically find my own path and make my own footprints. They saw all the talent that I kept latent and wanted me to unleash my individuality in my own way before they left. I am forever grateful for their loving, devious ways, that made me discover who I really was and who I can be.
This is my story of coming into my own, and I hope to continue my chapters with this university.
This essay covers all five points of a well-rounded essay: catchy subject title, a showcase of personal qualities with Keane’s love and loyalty for family, a lesson learned with his sibling’s pebble trick (even if he didn’t put the pebble in, he was able to accept the lesson in good humor and it had led him to a successful place), a good story, and a subtle list of his accomplishments (academic and extra-curricular) throughout the essay. For more practice on giving your essay a distinct voice, try this course on quality paragraph and essay writing.