How to Write a USA College Application Essay

When thinking about applying to university, prospective high school students or international students are concerned with their grades, test scores and college application process, but underneath the statistics, what US universities and colleges want to see is an individual that stands out. This is where college application essays come in.

Students in the US high schools have to navigate entrance exams, pick up extracurricular activities, and excel academically from school to college. Far from being supplemental to your GPA or test scores, the college application essays are where you create a meaningful connection to the person reading it. Admissions officers are looking for thoughtful and honest essays that reflect your true self.

What's essential to writing a good college admissions essay?

1. Firstly, there needs to be an understanding of the different types of university applications available.

2. Planning your college essays are just as important as writing the essay, so start as early as possible and think about what goals you're trying to achieve.

3. Next, it's time to start the writing process, and here you need to use your voice to detail the ideas you want to convey.

4. There are some common dos and don'ts that you need to know to impress admissions officers.

What are the types of college applications in the US?

Unlike other university application systems, for example, the British UCAS application, the US has three different types of applications. Most importantly, each needs a college admissions essay customised to your personal experiences and learning, so it's still important to know exactly how to craft a college admissions essay that will connect with admissions officers.

The three US application systems are:

The Common Application: This is made up of 600 institutions across the US and allows prospective students to apply to many colleges and universities at once. This includes ivy league institutions.

The Universal College Application (UCA): The UCA is also a one essay fits all. The applicants can choose up to 44 member colleges and apply with a single essay.

Individual Institution Application: Finally, you can apply individually to schools where you will likely be asked to answer, "why this college?" style questions

The Common Application centers around an essay prompt. These prompts or essay topics change every year, and usually, there is a choice of up to seven topics. Applicants will consider which essay topic best reflects their experiences and skills and choose just one prompt. The UCA personal statement asks for 650 words or less and is the final stage on a five-page form. Meanwhile, any individual institution application will also require a personal essay but might be as short as 250 words.

Most importantly, every option will involve writing something personal to impress admissions officers, so let's delve into how to plan out a college application essay.

How to plan a college application essay

Every piece of writing needs a carefully executed plan to ensure coherence. With limited space, what you want to convey needs to be succinct, genuine, and reflective of your personality. Consider that your essay will sit in a pile of other essays and admissions officers may only take a few minutes to read your application.

Before you do anything else, investigate the schools you are applying to and do your research.

The first step is to consider what the university or college is looking for in its students. How can you reassure them of your determination, ambition, work ethos, and what will you contribute? The admissions board wants to know that who they select will succeed and bring prestige to the institution. How you answer these questions should underpin the framework of your essay.

Secondly, consider what your essay goals are? Perhaps your varied coursework already showcases your intellectual ability and ambitions. Think about which aspects of your personality you want to reveal to the admissions board.

As we examined in a previous article, extracurricular activities are an integral part of your application. Here think about drawing upon other areas of your life outside of schoolwork and the skills you have developed in a relevant job, or as part of a club, or even a volunteer project.

After you have an idea of all things that set you apart from other students, you will have more information than you can physically fit into the application. Focus on three or four ideas and present them in a detailed and thoughtful way.

The essay prompt is there to provide some creativity in how you answer but remember they will want to see that you can follow directions, so do flesh out your ideas but make sure it's in a way that answers the prompt.

Writing the perfect college admissions essay

Now you should have jotted down the main ideas you want to include, your essay goals, and the details you're going to include about yourself that will impress your top choices.

Starting at the beginning may seem like the logical place to start, but that first opening line needs to be killer, so perhaps start further into the essay and come back to that later. Everyone's writing process is different, though, so don't feel under pressure to do things in a particular order.

It might be useful to think of a coherent narrative to tie the personal essay together. This isn't just about recounting the things you have accomplished; it's a reflective piece of writing that draws upon your experiences and how these have impacted you.

The more details you can include, the more memorable you will be. Add imagery and use specific examples that give personality to your essay. Replacing general nouns with specific examples provides a more enriching reading experience. It gives a better all-round picture of who you are.

Admissions officers will also gauge your level of intellect and education from the words you choose. Good diction is fundamental to any writing and using higher-level vocabulary will elevate your college essay. Replace colloquialisms and slang with something less casual and try to avoid simple and unimaginative words.

These institutions want to see that you can write at college level and know you can keep up with the coursework coming your way! If you can turn out an essay with complex sentences, with a great command of figurative language and other sophisticated writing techniques, then you will instantly improve your chances.

Lastly, the writing process can be overwhelming, and it's easy to make mistakes along the way. This is exactly why it's best to have someone proofread your college essay. This could be a friend, family, or a teacher. A fresh pair of eyes will pick up on mistakes in your grammar, word choice, and most importantly, they can tell you if it all makes sense.

What we imagine in our heads doesn't always translate, so it's vitally important that others understand your essay. From here, you can re-draft until you complete an essay that is true to your character and one that will hopefully get you that college place!

Top tips for writing a unique college admissions essay

Planning and writing your college application essay is easier with some essential tips in mind. Ultimately you want the essay to be unique, genuine, and well-written, but what should you look out for?

  1. Don't simply rehash your resume - be specific and write something admissions officers won't find anywhere else on your application

  2. Be authentic - Get the balance right when you're making an individual college application and show how you will contribute to that school's culture with specific examples, and don't write what you think they want to hear

  3. Sound like yourself – when thinking about your word choice (diction), it is better to choose more sophisticated language but not to the extent that it sounds unnatural to how you talk, so keep your voice in mind when writing the essay

  4. Make sure the essay answers the prompt – through the Common Application process, there are general prompts the essay should address, so make sure your essay topic ties in with the question you choose

  5. Triple-check spelling and grammar – proofreading your essay is essential. You need to look out for common typos and get someone to go over the essay to catch errors you may miss

  6. Watch your deadlines – the application process can be time-consuming, so create a calendar of submission deadlines and set yourself planning and writing deadlines to keep track of time

  7. Be careful with humor – what people find funny can be very subjective, so make sure you set the right tone in your essay

  8. Using quotes – if you do want to use a quote, make sure it's attributed to the right person and stay away from overused quotes

The college essay is all about telling a good story

In conclusion, prospective university students don't need to be perfect because admissions officers are looking for unique perspectives to enhance the institution. They will only see this in essays that tell a good story with an authentic voice.

Furthermore, each institution has its own set of requirements which can be hard to navigate, especially when applying individually to the university or college of your dreams.

At ClassRx, we provide specialized admissions strategists for individual US universities to help you get an edge over your fellow applicants.

Interested in learning how our admissions strategists can help you navigate the US college admissions process? Get in touch and request a meeting today.