Most students who are preparing to apply to college recognize that the college essay is a critical component of their application.

Students understand that what they say in their college essay(s) provides context for the rest of their application and helps an admission officer to make their decision either for or against extending an offer of admission. 

The concept of the college essay is easy to understand.

What students have a difficult time with is actually writing one.

The 4 most important parts of a great college application essay:


A cohesive, personal point of view needs to come across in your essay.

For a typical high school student, analytical writing – as it relates to literature or theory- is something they are familiar with.

Students can break down the major themes and devices used in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, relaying in written word the subtle concepts of magic, foolishness, transformation, but can they do the same for their own stories?


Universal Truths / Experiences

Writing a successful college application essay requires a student to reflect on their own life in a way that many young individuals have never been asked to do before.

The college application essay asks that a student be curious about their experiences; it asks that a student pose questions to themselves about those experiences:

  • What did this activity/event/accomplishment mean to me?
  • What did I learn from this moment?
  • Am I any different now than I was back then?

It is when a student begins to deeply and critically reflect on their own life that we begin to see a strong college application essay emerge.


The “Golden Nugget”

In FLEX College Prep’s college essay classes, we refer to unique essay topics as “golden nuggets”. These golden nuggets are often found within larger essay topics and, much like sifting through sand for real gold, require some work to locate.

In class, FLEX students and instructors engage in personal interviews, in which instructors ask intuitive questions to help students probe for valuable epiphanies, character traits, and lessons learned.

It is important that students not be distracted by the common misconception that every student must talk about a big event that changed their lives.

Often, the most captivating essays address a miniscule moment in time that spurred on a shift in perspective. In a visual sense, we are looking for the pebble that caused a ripple in the ocean, rather than the calculable wave itself.

When we place more weight on the small moments that shape our character, the resulting story becomes less contrived and more authentic to who we really are.


‘Impact’ & ‘Purpose

This “authentic voice” is a term many students will hear recycled again and again by their counselors, admissions officers, and perhaps even parents.

But how can we expect students to craft essays in their own authentic voice, when they are still in the process of crafting their own authentic selves?

The answer lies in a student’s likes and dislikes.

Naturally, when people are engaged in activities they enjoy, they are more likely be themselves than when they are partaking in activities that they dislike. The same theory applies to essay topic choice.

Students should write essays about topics that they like. And while this seems somewhat self explanatory, many students get trapped by the myth that there are specific essay topics that an admission office wants to hear.

Tips for making sure you nail your college application essay:


Tell A Story

The myth unfolds as follows:

1 essay about an extracurricular activity
+ 1 essay about an academic subject
+ 1 essay about a life challenge
= guaranteed admission to college!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if admission to college was so simple?

Unfortunately, this formula disregards one key element: personal experience. Every student’s experiences are different,

so students shouldn’t feel pressured to write about the same topics as their friends.

In fact, students are encouraged to choose topics that showcase their quirky, nerdy, strange, fun-loving, compassionate, curious-selves, for admissions officers to marvel at.

  • Tell us about that time you won the national yo-yo championship.
  • Describe what it felt like to build a functioning bridge for the local park.
  • Share your pride in inspiring your little sister to love chemistry.

The little moments are the ones that make us who we are, and when a student writes about them, their authentic voice tends to shine through.


Be Yourself

When a student is successfully able to,

  • choose a topic they like,
  • share a small experience about related to that topic,
  • and reflect on how the lessons gleaned from that experience has shaped their character,

they will be on their way to writing an outstanding college application essay.

Remember that admissions officers, especially those representing private universities, are looking to enroll people who fit the personality and moral character of their college.

When writing a college application essay, it is important to consider which schools will be reviewing your essay and how they may interpret your statement.

A college application essay can function as your metaphorical introductory handshake with a university, so if nothing else, be sure to project confidence and positivity. Oh, and don’t forget to start writing early!

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