College Essays: The Basics


Conversations around your junior and senior year of high school are often focused on what your next steps will be, exploring college, military, career and other programs. For students planning on college, the questions center on what type of school, including size, location, and programs offered. Sometimes what you plan to major in will help you choose a college. Added to those questions are the small details most people don’t think about. 


For example, how much money you need to budget for application fees, dates and deadlines, opportunities for scholarships, and more. The list seems endless. At the start of senior year and even as early as late summer, you can get ahead of the rush, by focusing on college application essays. 


There is a good chance that a school you apply to will take the Common App, but regardless, the prompts are a good starting point for other schools with their own application process. Also, many schools will add unique supplemental questions to get a more complete picture of you as an applicant. 


Don’t Worry

College essays feel really important, but it might surprise you that they often have word counts that are much shorter than papers you have written in school! And, they aren’t research papers. They are about you and what you care about. Knowing this ahead of time might help you write with more confidence and authenticity. These essays show the institution a more detailed version of who you are. 


Start Writing Early 

Just get started! Preparing for these essays can be one of the best practices. The essay is an important part of the college application, but putting it off doesn’t help. Start by writing 1 or 2 sentences for each prompt. By doing this and building on them slowly, it will give you the confidence to pick your best work to submit. 


Dig Deeper

Once you dig deeper with your prompts, you’ll have a better idea of which essay is best to submit! After you have gotten past the first few sentences of each prompt, see which ones you are able to build on. The ones you are able to write more confidently about will be the best ones to move forward with! 


Be Genuine when Writing Your Essays

This is your chance to show off your best version of yourself. Make sure you write about your experiences and the qualities that make you, you. Depending on the prompt, you might connect an essay to your past, your present or your future – even your dreams! This is your chance to set yourself apart from all the other applicants. There is no one else like you! 



Make sure to proofread! While writing about yourself, it can be easy to write casually, which could lead to grammar or even spelling issues. Be sure to go back and check your work multiple times to catch any errors. Read it aloud a few times and share it with another person to look at your work to make sure it’s the best quality.  


This is an important piece of your college journey. Start it off strong by developing your very best work. You may be surprised that the college essay isn’t like writing a paper. Keep in mind they are shorter and about you! Remember the sooner you start and the more you practice with different prompts the more successful you’ll be! You got this!


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