Written By:


Daniel Chao
Princeton '19


A Guide to Writing Your College Admissions Essay – Part 2

So now that you’ve got your essay written down, the biggest question floating through your mind is probably, “Is it good?”

The answer is probably a big, fat no. Before you do ANY editing, you have to make sure that your topic / general idea is something that’s fit to submit. Then your essay will probably have to go through a hefty amount of editing.

“Well, what do I have to do to make it better?” 

The first thing you probably want to do is try to characterize the theme your essay, in a few words, of what you want the admissions officers to see. This could be a belief that you stand by, an important aspect of your personality, or an idea central to your identity. Remember that you are writing an essay, and the theme of your essay should basically be like your thesis, except never explicitly stated. Some of mine include “small changes and fixes can lead to big improvements” and “openness to explore new ideas.” While the theme itself may not be much different from the other applicants, the story that you use to describe it will be. It is very similar to how several novels can share the same theme, but the way they develop it differs immensely.

If you have trouble with thinking of the theme, you’ll likely need to write a new essay. While the essay may actually tell a good story, it will, more often than not, lack the “character development” aspect of your essay. Don’t worry, this was me for a lot of the first essays I wrote. Often times, when I asked myself what I was trying to get at, I chuckled a little and slowly dragged my essay over into my computer’s trash folder.

Now if the answer is yes, ask yourself if this theme is central to who you are as a person. Get ready, you’re going to have to do a TON of soul searching. The theme should be something that you live and breathe by, and your day-to-day actions somewhat reflect that idea. For me, I didn’t realize it until after I wrote down my essay, but focusing on small changes plays a huge role in how I approach pretty much all my extracurriculars. If it doesn’t pass this test, then you should strongly consider writing a new essay on something else.

OK I get it, you spent all this time on an essay and now you’re thinking about rewriting it? Just keep in mind that each essay plays a huge role in admissions and you want it to be pretty much as good as possible. The last thing you want is to submit an essay that does not successfully show off your personality because you were simply too lazy to write one more draft.

Second, have you revealed other aspects of your personality?

Good news is, if you have reached this part, then you probably won’t have to rewrite your entire essay, just modifying parts here and there.

The essay should be more than just a theme and an entertaining story. Each sentence should reveal little bits about what kind of person you are or play an essential part in developing your story (but the focus should be on you). Remember the tip in part 1 of the blog about show, don’t tell. The goal is so that any random stranger who comes across your essay would be able to feel like he (or she!) has known you well for a long time. This is ultimately what you want the admissions officer to do so that they can decide whether or not you are truly a good fit for their school.

If your essay is really well written, you might be able to pick apart your sentences and analyze how your descriptions reveal your character (sort of like analyzing a passage or novel when writing a timed or take home essay).

If some of the sentences don’t really hold much meaning, then you may want to replace them with a description that reveals something about you or just cut it out altogether. I know; it hurts to cut out entire sentences of your essay, but it’s all for a greater cause, right?

And finally, is your essay going to make the admissions officer feel warm and fuzzy inside?

I would really recommend finishing off your essay with a statement that shows that you’re optimistic and excited for the future. This way, no matter how sad or happy the essay topic, you’ll have the admissions officer remembering something positive about you.

Now imagine you’re the admissions officer. It’s 1 A.M., you’re on your fifth cup of coffee, and you feel as if your eyes are going to fall out looking at the next college app. The last thing you want is to read an dramatic essay that will leave you feeling even worse.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s perfectly OK to write about a sad topic, but the key is that you need to spend as much, if not more, time talking about positive experiences and lessons learned as you would with the sad story. If done correctly, you can leave an immensely positive and deep impression on anyone who reads your essay, but only if you spend enough time rebuilding up the mood of your story.

OK, so I’ve done all this, and my essay topic seems to work out pretty well.

Once you’ve got these parts down, you can NOW think about the easy stuff: the word limit/minimum (although if the essay is truly developed you wouldn’t have to worry about the minimum), grammar, more vivid descriptions, etc. Give your essay to your trusted friends, family, teachers, dog, cat, and even the local circus monkey. It is a good idea to have different opinions on your essay because in your eyes you would always have an amazing essay. I guarantee you almost everyone you know would be more than happy to proofread your essay. Ask them (or the ADME team!) whether the essay sounds like you, whether they are left with a better understanding of you, and how you can make your essay better.

Just keep in mind that you do not have to accept all of the feedback you receive. This is your essay and it is up to you to decide what changes need to be made. While I did agree with many of my friends’ comments on my essays, there were several pieces that I felt did not help my essay. And that was totally fine because I knew the direction my essay needed to go in, and thus I could figure out the steps I needed to take to get there.

Remember don’t be afraid to write a bad essay or rewrite a bad essay. Every step you take now is a step forward, and one that will help you through your college apps. Spend the time now doing all that you can to help with your essay, and you won’t regret it come March.

Hope you enjoyed reading this, and contact us if you have any questions or need an extra set of eyes reading your essay!