College Application Essay

The essay is an opportunity for students to personalize their college application beyond grades and scores. It can also be one of the more nerve-wracking parts of the application process. Help your students learn the skills they need to write an application-worthy essay.

What the Essay Can Do for Students

A powerful, well-written essay can make a difference and elevate an applicant in an admission committee’s eyes when colleges have to choose between applicants with similar qualifications.

Students can also use the essay to show that they’ve thought carefully about why they’re a good match for the college they’re applying to. They can show their commitment to learning and their eagerness to contribute to the college community.

What Is a Well-Written Essay?

Admissions officers read a lot of essays, and a well-written one can make a refreshing change. Advise your students to check their essays against these criteria:

  • Does the essay provide a direct answer to the essay question?
  • Does it have a strong opening paragraph that captures the reader’s interest?
  • Does it put forth a comprehensive argument or narrative? Does the student make a point and stick to it?
  • Does it have a natural style that’s comfortable for the student and appropriate for the subject matter?
  • Did the student use effective word choice, syntax, and structure?
  • Does it contain correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling?
  • Is it succinct? Did the student pay attention to the recommended length?

How to Help Your Students

A common concern for admissions officers is just how much help a student has received with their essay. Many colleges even ask applicants to sign statements saying that the essays they’ve submitted are their own work. This can cause counselors to wonder how much help is too much. Here are some appropriate ways to help your students:

  • Suggest they get advice from teachers who understand the role of the essay and who know them well.
  • Recommend brainstorming techniques that help them face the blank page.
  • Look over the student’s essay for signs that a parent may have “helped” too much.
  • Give general feedback on a finished or nearly finished essay. You can point out areas that need revision, but don’t rewrite or edit—the essay must be the student's work.

And remember: Your encouragement, ideas, and overall support will go a long way.