Writing Your College Essay


When Chris asked me to write about how to write a great college essay, I was a bit hesitant on how much advice I could actually offer. The thing is, my college essay worked for me because it was about me. Actually, it was about my grandfather. However, the important thing was that my essay portrayed the kind of person I was 2 years ago, when I was applying for colleges. Though the subject of my essay was my grandfather, the essay expressed who I was; my goals, my personality, my priorities, and how my experiences with my grandfather made me that person. At least, I think it did that well, and I guess at least one admission officer thought so. 

Anyways, I’m ranting. My point is that knowing what I wrote my essay on probably won’t help you write your own. I’ve seen essays about people, essays about eggs, about hobbies, and about stapling. Each of these was written in completely different styles, with different tones, and by extremely different people.  Why are these essays all good though? They all express the author’s personality extremely well. That is the important thing about college essays. Out of everything that goes into a college application, the essay is the one thing that is completely yours, from the idea to the writing. That’s why the essay should completely highlight who you are. 

This means that when you start writing your essay, I suggest you take some time to reflect upon who you are. It’s not easy to do, especially if you’ve only had eighteen years of life and even fewer experiences to draw on. Moreover, being honest with yourself about your personality, your strengths, and your weaknesses is hard. However, self-reflection is something that I believe is important to do each year, and it’s something many of my mentors have mentioned they do. Of course, ask other people for help in this process, but ultimately, spend some time on self-reflection. After all, only after you understand who you are can you write a great essay about you.

I realize that what I’ve written so far is relatively abstract and doesn’t have much concrete help. So, to make this article actually helpful, I’m including some actual tips.

  • You might get lucky and be struck with inspiration for a topic. I wasn’t, and I doubt that many people did. I suggest jotting down any topics that may come to you and writing a paragraph or two on each just to see how it goes. If something isn’t turning out well, eliminate it. Develop ideas that have potential, and narrow down as you go. 
  • Work on tone. This is pretty hard to do well, but a good essay should “sound” like you. Basically, it’s not just the content of your essay that’s important – it’s also how they are expressed. If you’re generally happy, your essay should “sound” happy just from reading it. If you’re serious, your essay should reflect that. Inject personality into your essay, and it’ll be that much better.
  • Edit, edit, and edit. This essay has the potential to shape the next four years of your life. No pressure, but make sure you do your essay due diligence. Check for grammatical errors, word usage, flow, tone, etc. Also, get others to read your essay. Fresh eyes and opinions are invaluable. Take their advice, and try to understand it, don’t just make changes blindly. 
  • Start early. You don’t have to finish it months before its due, but start thinking about it, jot ideas down, start developing drafts. The earlier you start, the less you’ll need to rush, and the better you can make it. 
  • Relax! While I completely understand the importance of this essay and the weight put on it, don’t overstress about it. While I personally think pressure is good for performance, too much of it is harmful. If you need to, relax; go enjoy something calming, mindless, and fun. It’ll refresh your body and your mind, making your final essay better. Stress will come once you’re college, don’t do it to yourself now. 

I hope my advice has been of some help to you all, and I wish you the best of luck with your applications!

Yujie Wu is a member of Yale University’s class of 2015.