Preparing Your Application III: Writing College Essays

A big part of the college application process is writing essays. Your essays are your chance to use your own words to tell colleges about who you are and about why you’ve decided that the colleges you’re applying to are a great fit for you. Familiarize yourself early on with the essays you’ll need to write for the school’s you’re applying to; it’s often helpful to have enough time to step away from each essay, take a break, then return to look at it with fresh eyes.

What Are Schools Looking For in College Essays?

Colleges ask for you to write essays as part of your application for several reasons. Articulating yourself clearly and compellingly through writing is a skill that students applying to selective colleges must have. No one is expected to write papers like a professor from the day they show up on campus, but classes at selective colleges involve lots of writing, and admissions counselors want to make sure they’re setting you up to be successful in writing-intensive classes.

While your test scores, grades, and recommendation letters give us a nice sense for what you’ve accomplished while in school, essays are a way we can understand a little bit about who you are—what you think about, what things are important to you, how you look at the world, what your personality is like. Finding your voice and using it to express yourself in writing can be one of the most challenging, but also one of the most rewarding, parts of applying to selective colleges.

Typically, you will prepare a personal statement that will be sent to every college that you’re applying to. Then, most selective schools also have supplemental essays or short response questions that are specific to them, designed to see if you are good fit for their campus community.

Learn more about writing a Personal Statement.

Learn more about writing School-Specific Essays.


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