15 Essay Tips

The Choice

Associated Colleges of the Midwest

The College Essay

Colleges that ask students to write essays really do want to know the person behind the numbers. A good essay can present a student as an interesting and valuable person who is worth knowing, who is genuine, thoughtful, engaging, and able to handle what he or she has set out to do.

How does the essay fit into the decision making process? While a superb essay will not cancel out a poor high school record, a well-written essay can make a student with a solid high school record stand out from the other applicants.

In general, essays are evaluated on three basic criteria:

• The student's ability to use standard written English that is correctly written, punctuated, and contains correct grammar, usage and syntax.
• The content, substance and depth of insight which reflects the student's ability to think about him/her-self and to convey authentic feelings or opinions about a topic.
• Creativity and originality which shows an individual who would bring qualities such as intellect, initiative, energy and a fresh viewpoint to the college community.

It’s never too early to get started on writing a college essay. As many students now file the Common Application, as a starting point consider working with the following essay guidelines:

Below are the newly released Common Application Essay Prompts to help you get thinking about your admissions essay. You will only need to pick one. I hope you will take a couple of minutes to watch the youtube video below, so that you can learn more about how to begin thinking about this important component of college applications.

Helpful Video here.


  1. 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.
  2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  4. Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

How do you begin writing? The college essay is quite different from the essays students are familiar with writing for school. Typically the school based essay begins with an opening paragraph in which you state your thesis, continues with three supporting paragraphs, and concludes with a paragraph in which you summarize your essay and offer your conclusion. The college essay is narrative in nature, and requires a great deal of self-knowledge and a willingness to risk sharing a small “slice” of who you are. A number of different organizations and individuals offer advice on how to master the college essay. The following web sites offer some sound recommendations and also provide some great examples:

• The admissions staff at Carleton College put together a list of the top 15 Essay Tips from individuals who actually read your essays and evaluate them in the admission process (

• As well as advice from the Associated Colleges of the Midwest ( .

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