In our last post, we talked about the importance of showcasing who you are on the college essay. The sample essay written by one our our Breckenridge students did an excellent job of portraying positive personality traits and a valuable life lesson. The college essay is an important piece of the college admissions process. Here are 8 tips you can use to help you write your best college essay.

Top Ten Tips for the Best College Essay

  1. Start by brainstorming.  What makes you unique? Where do your talents shine?
  2. Make a list of 2-3 adjectives that describe you. This can be hard for many students! Feel free to elicit the help from a friend or family member to help you come up with words that begin to paint the picture of who you are.
  3. Jot down a few experiences where you learned a lesson, had an epiphany, changed your worldview, etc.
  4. Think outside the box. Don’t feel obligated to write about what you think you are supposed to write about (i.e. building houses in an impoverished country). Your most memorable, inspiring, passionate moment might be just that – a seemingly unimportant moment.
  5. Let your thoughts pour onto the paper. In your first draft(s), don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, grammar, or even whether or not your paper is structured logically. Start to tell your story.
  6. Show-don’t tell. Paint a picture with your words. Make the reader feel as though they are IN the moment with you. Use descriptive language (without over-doing it on thesaurus.com).
  7. Captivate your reader, hook, line and sinker. Most people have heard about using a hook. The first sentence of your essay should make the reader want to keep reading. That’s your hook. But what about the second sentence? What follows your hook should continue to draw your reader in. Check out the first paragraph from the sample essay below to see what we mean.
  8. Answer every aspect of the prompt. Some colleges request a personal statement. If this is the case for you, great! You can write about almost anything. But if there is a specific prompt, check and double check that you have clearly addressed what they ask.
  9. YOU do your first round of edits. You might need to re-order paragraphs, add additional detail, cut out repetitive language.
  10. Be selective about who you ask to edit your college essay. Keep in mind that the college essay is NOT like a typical paper you would write in English class. Just because someone you know is really really good at English doesn’t mean that they know what qualities a good college essay should have. Your friend/neighbor/teacher may have written a college essay and even been admitted to college. But you don’t know their whole story. Maybe their college essay was weak, but they had a great GPA and great test scores. We have seen many students whose outstanding essays were edited by well-meaning friends/neighbors/teachers and the result was a dull, predictable (though grammatically correct) paper.

The most important thing to remember is to use your voice and showcase who you are. Your transcripts tell your academic story to college admissions staff, it’s up to you to show them the incredible person you are.

Sample College Essay #2, From a Vail, CO student

“A Hint of What Was to Follow”

“Who’s sitting in the teacher’s seat?” I thought as I entered my third grade classroom. Ms. Drogsvold then instructed “Class, criss-cross applesauce!” She introduced us to astrophysicist Dr. Bennett, a well-dressed man with a youthful aura, who appeared more of a kid like me. Holding a book in his hands, “Max Goes to the Moon”, he invited us to follow him on a journey through space.

Captivated, I scooted closer. The astrophysicist wielded his own gravitational field. Peering over his glasses, Dr. Bennett and his story encouraged me to explore boundless possibilities.

Avidly, I listened to his omnipresent voice as Max, the dog, and his owner, Tori, journeyed to a place very foreign to me: outer space. As Max pounced about on the lunar surface, I was entranced. Dr. Bennett’s storytelling skills transported me further still.

After his reading, we received a challenge. The Summit Writes contest allowed our class to write a sequel, sending Max and Tori to another breathtaking destination. Inspired, I set to work immediately, swirling storylines in my head. Reaching beyond the moon was no small feat, but I challenged myself to delve and recreate by sending Max and Tori to the Ice Age. I imagined the time machine SK41, an intrepid device that would whisk Max and Tori off to the Pleistocene epoch. They faced off against a saber-toothed tiger and a South camel. I wrote,“[Max and Tori] experienced a mix of all kinds of colors as they traveled through time and space. It was a very beautiful sight, and a hint of what was to follow.”

Several days later, I heard my name being announced over the intercom; I had won the contest.

Overjoyed by my accomplishment, I proudly sent a copy of “Max Goes to the Ice Age” to Dr. Bennett. Impressed by Max’s new adventure, he suggested we co-author a republication. An opportunity to work alongside Dr. Bennett gave me the chance to dive into infinite exploration.

Using our common passion for learning as a foothold, we two explorers experimented, launching ideas off of each other. After working with Dr. Bennett, a greater sense of achievement followed the second publication.

In the blink of an eye, 9 News arrived at Summit Cove Elementary School to interview me. The bouncy 9 Newsman asked,

“So, what do people think about your book?”

“Well, my friends say, ‘Wow, that’s a neat book you got there!’ They gasp!”

This spark of fame, (1,000 copies sold and one was even sent to South Africa), juxtaposed with my naivety, exposed me to the complications of the publication process. Instructed to keep a level of continuity among my illustrations, I monotonously pursued sketching. My story had seemed limitless, why should Max and Tori look exactly the same on each page? Why couldn’t I explore Max as a Saint Bernard or Tori with red hair? The rote speeches I rehearsed at bookstores overcame my 10-year-old mind with weariness.  I had written my story from inspiration, thus lacking the understanding of the responsibility that comes with recognition.

“Max Goes to the Ice Age” is my origin story. It took me through time and space, and was indeed full of beautiful sights, even though, at the time, I could not foresee its impact. It introduced me to a dichotomy in life: imagination and mechanization. Now, at 18, I understand that good things do not come easily. In my copy of “Max Goes to the Moon,” Dr. Bennett signed, “To Logan (my favorite young author!) – Wishing you continued success with your own writing and science. Reach for the stars!” His words remind me of the importance of inspiration in the midst of obstacles, the power of creativity paired with inquiry, and the notion that no feat, no matter how overwhelming, should go unattempted. While it’s gravity that keeps me on the ground, it is inspiration that keeps me reaching for the stars.