Crafting a College Essay that Leaves an Impression

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Originally published Jun 10, 2017, updated Apr 29, 2021
Crafting a College Essay that Leaves an Impression

Are you wondering how to create an essay that leaves an impression on the admissions staff? If so, here are some tips to help you craft a perfect college essay to get admission to your dream school. But, before we dive into the tips part, let's have a look at the structure you need to follow.

College Admission Essay Structure

So, are you wondering how the college admissions essays look like? Well, they are no different than any other personal essay. Depending on the type of essay you are writing, you can follow three structures. First is the standard structure.

Standard Essay Structure

Introduction

This is the first part of your essay where you introduce your topic. What you write in your entire introductory paragraph depends on the topic.

Body

This is the central part of the personal statement, and it may have 2 to 4 paragraphs. Remember each paragraph should include a distinct idea or a piece of new information. And always start the sections with a topic sentence. It is a sentence that introduces the topic of your paragraph. Also, make sure you maintain cohesion and coherence throughout your piece.

Conclusion

This is the last paragraph of your essay. This includes your concluding thoughts and the summary of key elements you mentioned earlier in the essay. This could be the most boring part, so make sure you make it interesting by adding a question or interesting statement.

The Feelings and Needs Exercise

Before you start to structure a personal essay that includes an experience involving your emotions, try to do this exercise. This will help you logically organize your thought and feelings.

  • Challenge 1: If you have to discuss a personal story, what was the number one challenge related to your sharing story? Pen it down.
  • Challenge 2: Now, think of a second challenge that you faced during the time you are discussing.
  • Effects: What impact these challenges had on you? How was the behavior of others around you? Were you cornered? Or did the challenges make you stronger?
  • Feelings: How did these challenges make you feel? Confused? Frustrated? Disappointed? Resilient? Try to describe your inner world. Naming your emotions will help the reader understand what was going on in your head at the moment.
  • Needs: During the story events, what were your needs? What was it you needed? Love? Safety? Reassurance? Advice? A listening ear?

However, make sure you don't state these needs explicitly. The events in your story should naturally imply these needs. Stating these needs may make your piece sound eerie. Imagine a student saying, "I needed love" or "I needed respect and connection". This is, for sure, going to sound awkward. So, identify your needs to understand your story better and reflect those needs in your writing indirectly.

  • What I did about it: So, here comes the important question, what did you do to overcome the challenges and satisfy your needs? Describe the actions you took.
  • What I’ve learned/gained: Finally, what did you achieve? What were the key takeaways? Did you find a sense of purpose? Were you able to discover something new? Did the experience help you understand yourself on a deeper level? For instance, you may write: "It taught me to never take someone for granted, to remain critical of authority figures, to never judge a divorced person, to question the norms, and the best of all, to enjoy all the emotions."

Doing this exercise will help you describe an experience or write a compelling narrative in your essay that will leave an impression on the reviewer.

Tips to Follow for an Impressive College Essay

Read the Instructions Carefully

This may sound obvious to you, but with all the stress and excitement this phase brings, it needs to be highlighted. High school students often end up reading the instructions incompletely. As a result, they fail to meet the exact requirements defined by the admissions committee.

Hence, when you do your test prep, make sure you also follow the application essay guidelines. If you don't, the admissions officer would assume you were not able to follow the directions. Ensure you know the required page and word limits, and organize your submission accordingly.

Once you have read the instructions carefully, create an outline to organize your essay. While doing so, decide what message do you want your essay to carry.

Collect Information

While you are preparing for your essay, keeping a collection system is a good practice. You can collect information and ideas either on your phone or index cards or anything you like. Just don't think you can store it in your brain. Store the ideas that your brain creates outside it so that when inspiration hits you and you store it somewhere, you can come back to it later when you are free. Even when brainstorming, you must jot down your ideas somewhere and later finalize them.

Choose A Topic That You Are Passionate About

The entire application process can be stressful, but writing a great college essay can be fun and refreshing if you choose to write about an exciting experience. If the essay prompt is already given, or if you decide it, either way, choose a story that leaves an impact on the reviewer.

Kick-off With A Catchy Introduction

An interesting essay may be a little hard to craft, but it is possible to know the tricks. If you want to grab your reader's attention, you need to deliver a great introduction.

Always remember, the admissions officers have a limited amount of time to review essays. Hence, start with a vivid story that will keep them engaged. But don't forget that this paragraph should reveal what your essay is about. An anecdote or interesting personal experience is a great way to start your writing piece. It could be anything, for instance:

  • an experience that changed your life during a vacation;
  • a friend at middle school that taught you a great life lesson;
  • any extracurricular activity that brought a positive change in your life;
  • an ethical dilemma;
  • your first day at a new school;
  • the first-time experience of something, etc.

Doing so will help you demonstrate some of your personality's best traits and offer insight for the reviewer to know who you are.

Use Your Own Voice

Always remember the admissions committee is looking for quality of thinking that is authentic. So, don't try to rewrite something that numerous people have written several times. Instead, base your essay on your own beliefs and unique experiences.

This supplemental essay is your chance to impress the admissions staff. Hence, make sure it reflects the positive side of your personality, your ambitions, and skills.

Avoid Cliches

It is okay to look for common app essay examples available online for inspiration. However, don't get yourself influenced by these examples and use too many cliche statements.

Remember, hundreds of other students apply for the same college, and you need to be unique. The admission officer reviews thousands of essays every year, so it's only rational that they will notice the unique ones.

Be Specific and Get Personal

Remember to be specific about your passions and interests. This will also help you avoid cliches. For instance, if you are applying for a Master's program in Sociology, you may write:

"I am honored to apply for the Masters of Sociology program at the University of Virginia because as long as I can remember, I have had a passion for contributing my bit for the betterment of the society."

Instead, you should write:

"When I was 16, a document on TV about lives of underprivileged children changed the way I looked at life. I felt helpless at that moment. Later, I decided to be a sociologist to come up with solutions to the existing social problems."

It is okay to open up about your feelings and get personal in your essay. Don't overlook the experiences or moments that were awkward or embarrassing. Including such memories normally helps your statement meet the college application essay goals. Also, it enables you to be specific and engage the reader. Craft your story in a way that demonstrates your skills and ambitions too. The admissions officer wants to know your personality traits better. They are not just interested in your transcript. So, let them know your interests and passions by sharing a wonderful life experience. Write in a way that your essay lets your personality shine through.

Provide Examples Or Evidence To Support Your Ideas

If you have to write on an essay question already given in the application guidelines, make sure whatever you write is linked with the question/prompt. Give the reviewer a glimpse into how your mind works on the given topic. This will make your essay more credible. Hence, spend a good amount of time pondering how you will link the essay question to your personal qualities.

But, remember whichever idea you express, include specific examples or vivid details to develop those ideas. Of course, your personal experiences do count as examples.

Write Several Drafts

If you can't seem to pen down your thoughts and ideas clearly in the first attempt, don't worry! Just write whatever comes to your mind in the first draft. Then, fine-tune your ideas and language when you are done. Then read again and ensure your ideas flow logically and your piece of writing is coherent. Rewrite, restructure or omit details that look redundant. When you are finally done with the essay, don't forget to proofread it for grammar or punctuation mistakes.

Read It Out Aloud

After proofreading, re-read your essay, but this time, aloud. You can also record it while you read it out aloud. This will help you check if the entire piece is in a logical order.

Have Someone Edit Your Essay

Reading your work, again and again, will help you ascertain that there are no typos or silly errors. But, you might need a fresh perspective by having someone else edit it. Therefore, ask your parent, older sibling, or teacher to check if the essay sounds perfect and depicts your personality. They are likely to identify mistakes you couldn't catch. Taking someone's knowledgable's help will ensure your piece is immaculate. So, don't hesitate.

College Essay Prompts

Here are some common app college essay topics:

  1. Some students have a special interest or a talent or a background so meaningful that they believe their application would be incomplete without mentioning it. Please share that something special, if it sounds like you.
  2. Reminisce a time when you faced a setback or a challenge. How did you overcome it, how did it influence you, and what were the takeaways?
  3. 3. Describe a problem you would like to solve. It could be anything of personal importance, no matter the level of the problem. Explain what significance it holds and what steps you could take to solve it.
  4. 4. Reflect on a time when you challenged an idea or questioned a belief. What instigated that thinking process? What were the consequences?
  5. Describe an event that led to your personal growth and gave you a chance to understand yourself better.
  6. Write an essay on any topic of your choice.
  7. Discuss a concept or idea you find so interesting or engaging that it makes you lose track of time.
  8. Pen down your most awkward moment ever and how you were able to overcome it and discuss your learnings from it.
  9. What was your most difficult decision in life. Why did you take that decision? Were you confident about making it work, or did you fail?
  10. Are you a risk-taker or believe in staying in your lovely comfort zone? Discuss a risk you took that paid off brilliantly or a time you played safe.

Common Application College Essay Example

My Foreign Exchange Program Experience

"At the age of 16, I found my first friend in a world that was entirely new for me. I was enrolled in a foreign exchange student program and living with the Smiths family in New York City. Mr. Smith was the coordinator of the program, and Mrs. Smith was a dentist. They had a 7-year-old daughter named Lisa. I would babysit Lisa every day after school for about 3 to 4 hours. She would read stories to me, and we would play puzzles and word games. She would talk about his life at school, and I would enjoy listening to his stories and learning new words. Smiths seemed like my first family in the new city.

I also had a second family. It was the Jones family, who were friends of Smiths. Mr. Jones was an elementary school teacher, and Mrs. Jones taught high school. When I moved into their house, I immediately became fond of the couple. We would watch animated movies together, bake cakes together, and go fishing on the weekend together. We would sometimes sit on the cozy couch and talk about our thoughts and life. Within a month or so, I started calling them mom and dad.

When my exchange student program was finished, I had the option of returning to my country, but I decided to stay. I wanted to experience new things and meet different people. However, I had the burden of finding a new host family and a new school for myself. After a struggle of a few days, I was able to find the Williams family in California. They were certainly unique in their way.

The host mom Jennifer was a single mom. She had two daughters of her own and one adopted son. Her children were always on their best behavior. Jennifer would treat me the same way she treated her children. She made me do the chores; I would feed the dog, clean the bathroom on the weekend, and fix dinner. I also had to follow the family rules: no lights after midnight, no food in the rooms, and no c0omputer after 8 pm. The first two months were extremely hard for me, but eventually, I managed to adjust. I lived with them for nine months and then found a new host family as Jennifer had to move to the countryside.

Hence, my fourth family was the Browns family. They had four kids who were all different from each other. Danielle was an obsessive gamer, Rebecca was a books lover, Chris was a sporty person, and Micheal was into music. But after dinner, we would all play Wii Sports together. Some days, we would gather in the living room, and Micheal would play the piano while we sang hymns.

The 28 months I spent with four different families was too short of understanding them all completely. But, I would say each of them shaped me in some way or the other. The seven-year-old Lisa taught me that we could learn new things even from someone way younger than us. The Jones family instill in me the value of spending time together as a family. Jennifer taught me to reserve judgment about adopted kids and single mothers. The Browns family taught me to respect each other's differences and appreciate each other's unique qualities.

My life as a student in America also taught me that getting along well with others is crucial. The four families I lived with made me more sensitive to the needs of others. I have learned to identify when someone needs help or someone needs to talk. I have learned how to be a good ear to someone and how it is not always necessary to give advice. All in all, I have become quite adaptable. And, I can proudly say that I am ready to embrace change, learn new things, and be shaped by whatever life throws at me."

Bottomline

Organizing your story events and major elements will help you write an essay that is perfectly structured and have the power to compel the reader.

Tasha Kolesnikova
Content Team Member

I write articles and do SEO-optimisation here at Studybay. I'm obsessed with creating content both people and Google love, surfing in Portugal, and dancing Jazz-funk.