How to Write an Impactful College Admissions Essay

Female student thoughtful looking away and thinking about idea for an essay
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.

You’ve filled out the application and requested your letters of recommendation. Now it’s time for the fun part: the college admissions essay.

Writing a personal statement can be daunting, but it’s also a great way to show colleges who you are.

With these tips, you’ll be ready to write a powerful college admissions essay.

Getting started

  • Start early. Don’t put off working on your college personal statement! Start in the summer before your senior year if possible. This will give you time to focus on your essay without the school-year distractions of classes and homework.
  • Answer the question. Read the prompt carefully, and be sure you address the question in your essay. 
  • Know the requirements. Many colleges request supplemental written pieces in addition to the longer essay. Take note of what else you need to write, and budget your time accordingly.
  • Be specific. Narrow down your topic to a small moment or specific experience. It’s tempting to share as much about yourself as possible, but resist the temptation to write an autobiography. Think of your college admissions essay as an exercise in storytelling: how can you share your beliefs, skills, and abilities with a specific story?
  • Check the length. Some colleges may provide a word count. If not, keep it around 650 words.

Writing the essay

  • Start with a rough draft. Don’t worry about the perfect format yet, just get all your thoughts written out. A rough draft will help you clarify your main points and get them organized.
  • Write a strong opening. Good writing pulls the reader in with a strong first sentence. Don’t spend too much time introducing your topic; get to the point right away to keep your reader interested.
  • Be yourself. College essay readers want to learn more about you as a person. Avoid overly complicated “SAT words” and keep your essay focused on your unique perspective rather than thinking about what they want to hear.
  • Show, don’t tell. It’s cliché but true: a solid essay will contain strong language that demonstrates your skills and experiences rather than simply listing them. Rather than telling something like, “I was determined,” you could show it by saying, “In that moment, I knew I had to grit my teeth and get it done.” 
  • Be authentic. You don’t need a happy ending to have a great college admissions essay. Focus on writing a true, compelling story that showcases your personality.

Editing the essay

  • Reread, reread, reread. Typos and misspelled words are easy to miss because your brain automatically corrects them as you read. So try reading your essay from the bottom up to catch those mistakes. You can also read it out loud to yourself to hear how it flows and catch any awkward phrasing.
  • Add a title. While titles aren’t often required, adding one can make your essay stand out. Much like the strong opening, a compelling title will draw your reader in. 
  • Hire an editor. It’s not enough for you to edit your own essay. For something so important, you should consider an expert editor who knows the college admissions process well.  Empowerly provides essay editing from editors who know what colleges are looking for and can help you create an impactful essay.

Questions? Let us know!