Empowerly’s Guide to Essays

black and red typewriter
Madeleine Karydes
Madeleine Karydes

Madeleine attended UC Berkeley and double-majored in English and Media Studies. She is now an integral part of the Empowerly team.

The college essay reigns supreme in holistic college applications. Given that your GPA and test scores may be de-emphasized going forward, the essay can be make or break. Telling your story within 500 words, in a compelling, mature fashion? It’s a tall order. At Empowerly, we understand what you’re facing! In fact, we’ve put together the official Empowerly’s Guide to Essays to get your gears turning, no matter what stage you’re on right now.

From brainstorming exercises to overcome writer’s block to editing tips, each phase takes time. We have instructions and expert advice to keep you on the right track. And dare we say–even have some fun? Check out the guide below to take the first step to writing an admissions essay you’re proud to submit!

Why exactly are admissions essays so important?

The admissions essay is referred to by a handful of names, which you may have heard before:

  • personal statement, or personal essay
  • college admissions essay, or just college essay
  • short answer response(s)
  • writing sample
  • student essays
  • and more!

Ultimately, why do these particular essays have such impact on your admissions chances? Well, for starters, they are the one area of your college application where the narrative really is in your hands. You can explain or expand, offer context and insight, and provide a coherent thread for the rest of your application. That is, if you write well! Admissions officers know what they’re looking for when they read applications, so you better get to the point.

It’s important to remember that:

  • Admissions officers read hundreds of applications every admissions cycle.
  • They are subject to feeling tired and forgetting things about you, soon after you read them.
  • You need to battle these obstacles by creating a holistic picture of you that is impactful and memorable!

So how do you do that? We recommend building up your writing skills long in advance of senior year. Practice journaling, writing about yourself, and editing effectively. For advice on how to do all of these things (and more!) read through our guide. This should keep you on track to write a truly spectacular essay, every time.

Here is the official Empowerly Guide to Essays:

Go ahead, download it! This is Empowerly’s Guide to Essays. We want you to write with this guide at your side.

We’re proud to provide this knowledge free of charge to any student who needs help. Read through it, share it with friends, post it on social media, and reference it any time.

This is a preview of some of our key takeaways…

Remember These Two Quotes:

A. Always aim to “show, not tell.”

College admissions is one of the few ties when you are welcome to brag about your accomplishments (although a healthy dose of humility will be appreciated by admissions officers). Choose a tone that accurately conveys your accomplishments, being tactful in weaving them into a story. Write about what you did and why it matters.

B. “Make sure your essay is about you, not your grandma,” is a phrase heralded at admissions presentations across our nation.

This is certainly an easy mistake to make, as to write about a sick relative that has inspired your interest in medicine or an entrepreneurship family friend. However, while your essay should be focused on your feelings and actions, do not be afraid to give the admissions officer a broader picture of why you are the way that you are. There is no way for an admissions officer to know how your familial background has influenced your academic interests, or how your role models have catalyzed your career aspirations. Provide the details, but don’t go overboard in discussing others.

Think Theme.

Either choose a distinct topic to write about or if your essay has multiple vignettes, then select a theme to tie them together. Don’t try to write about too many things at once. Crowding your essay can make you seem scattered in your approach. Instead, every element of your essay ought to build to support your thesis.

After writing your essay, it is important to check that each paragraph, and each concept in your writing, support this main point. If a section does not meet this point consider removing it as extraneous.

Stay Succinct.

It’s important to avoid excessive adjectives or effusive language. Cut unnecessary phrases like “I think” or “I feel.” The officer assumes that you are the author of this work, so anything started as a statement will already be attributed to your thoughts or beliefs. Keep your sentences short and to the point.

You can find all this and more in Empowerly’s Guide to Essays. We’ve worked hard to build a comprehensive guide that can take you from idea to execution.


Still struggling?

Don’t hesitate to reach out for help. The sooner you start working towards your goals, the more time you have to create something you’re proud of. We will be happy to answer your questions about how to get started and set you up with a complimentary consultation session to share more information about our program and approach. The Empowerly counselors have experience helping with essays, applications, scholarships, and more. Let us help you shine.

Questions? Let us know!