Tips For Writing A Compelling College Admissions Essay

The college application essay is a space for applicants to tell their story. How you tell your story matters more so than what your story is about.

“It’s not just about the topic, but why it’s important to you and how you can showcase who you are as a student and an individual through that topic,” Jennifer Gayles, director of admission and coordinator of multicultural recruitment at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, tells US News.

Judy Gruen, a former Accepted admissions consultant, recently put together a comprehensive guide on how to write a compelling college application essay and what steps you’ll need to take before, during, and after the essay writing process.


Prior to writing, Gruen recommends that applicants spend time brainstorming potential questions and ideas. She calls it ‘freewriting.’

“Focus on the essay questions that appeal to you most,” Gruen writes. “Then let yourself free-associate with images, words, memories, and writing strategies based on these essay questions. Write whatever comes to mind, without thinking, censoring, or deliberating.”

The process of freewriting, Gruen says, helps applicants identify key ideas for essay themes.

“Based on having had some distance from the ideas and revisiting them with fresh eyes, identify where your energy, honesty, convictions, and interests lie,” Gruen writes. “You may already be homing in on your essay theme.”


An essential step before writing your essay is to create an outline of what your essay will cover.

“Making an outline helps you stay focused on the details of your story and its most vital elements,” Gruen writes. “It also keeps you mindful of the architecture of your story: What comes first? What needs to follow?”


Each essay you write should be catered to a specific school. Gruen recommends researching school materials and identifying each school’s values to inform your essay writing.

“For each school, write a list of attributes you cull from their materials: talented, diverse backgrounds, self-starters, and community minded,” Gruen writes.


Writing is a multi-step process that requires a number of revisions. In order to create the most compelling essay, Gruen says applicants need to edit and polish their essay for the smaller details.

“Start by checking adverbs and adjectives — have you gone overboard with them?” Gruen writes. “For instance, many people write ‘very unique’ when, if something is unique, it is one-of-a-kind. How much more one-of-a-kind can it be? Often the word unique is not needed either — not only is it a completely overused word, but let your details show rather than tell.”

Sources: Accepted, US News

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