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Whether you are applying for admission at your college of choice or applying for scholarship opportunities fresh out of high school, you will probably have some essays to write. It is not uncommon for colleges to require essays as part of the application process—and many non-merit-based scholarships also rely on personal essays to evaluate candidates.

Are you feeling uneasy about writing a scholarship or college application essay? Take a deep breath; even without much writing expertise, the following tips and best practices can help set you up for success.

What Do Colleges Look for in Essays?

Simply put, colleges and scholarship programs alike request application essays to learn more about you as an applicant. Admissions staff want to get a better feel for who you are, what draws you to their school (or scholarship program), and your aspirations. Ultimately, they use your essay content to better gauge whether you are a good fit for their school.

Colleges also use essays to assess how well you can follow directions. You will most likely be asked to choose a prompt on a particular topic. Ideally, your essay will address all the key points you were asked to cover in the prompt without going too far off-topic.

Getting Started on the College Essay

So, where do you even begin when it comes to writing a good essay? Here are a few things to consider.

Choosing an Essay Prompt

Typically, a college or scholarship program will offer you a prompt or a series of prompts on which to focus your essay content. If you have your choice of prompts, select the one you feel the most passionate about or think you will be able to address with the most confidence.

Understanding the Requirements

Once you have a better idea of the topic you will be covering in your essay, take some time to understand the specific requirements that your essay will need to meet. You must follow these requirements so that your application is not disqualified.

How Long Should a College Essay Be?

Some colleges or programs may be very explicit about how long your submission should be. Do not exceed the maximum length (whether it be a certain number of pages or a certain number of words), as you need to be respectful of the reader’s time and demonstrate that you can follow directions. If there is no guidance on length, try to stick to a few pages.

Are There Any Format Requirements?

Following formatting requirements will improve readability and demonstrate that you can follow directions. You might be asked, for example, to submit your essay in a double-spaced format with a specific font and font size. You might be asked to adhere to a specific style guide (such as MLA or AP), which may involve the addition of a cover page or other special formatting.

What Are the Essay Submission Guidelines?

Be sure to make note of any other submission guidelines as well. This may include instructions on where to send digital essay files, how to attach them to an application, and submission deadlines.

Writing the College Essay

Now that you understand your essay topic and requirements, it is time to move on to the fun part: writing it! Here are some tips to remember as you start your application or scholarship essay.

Brainstorming and Topic Selection

One of the most challenging aspects of starting a college essay is deciding what to write about. This is where taking the time to brainstorm can make all the difference. Whether you are choosing from a list of prompts or working off one topic, set aside a few minutes to brainstorm creative ways to approach it. Write down all ideas that come to mind; you can then narrow them down until you know which angle you wish to take.

Craft a Compelling Introduction

Every writer has a different process that works for them. Some may prefer to write the introduction first, whereas others may do better writing the essay’s body first and crafting the introduction last. Regardless, you will want to  ensure your introduction stands out and draws your readers in. This will set your college essay apart from others in the pile.

Organize Ideas Logically and Effectively

Ensure your essay follows a logical flow of ideas from one paragraph or section to the next. To accomplish this, it can be helpful to outline your essay before you begin writing. With an outline, you can determine the general structure and flow of ideas that you will use to make your point, which will help you stay focused and on-topic.

Showcase Personal Growth and Reflection

Often, college essay prompts are centered around the concepts of personal growth and reflection. Admissions teams want to see how you have evolved as a person or even changed your way of thinking about a particular topic, so try to focus on examples of these concepts whenever possible in your writing.

Use Descriptive Language and Vivid Details

The person reading your essay will likely be reading dozens of others on the same day. Many (if not all) of them may even cover the same or similar topics. With this in mind, you can help your essay stand out by using as much descriptive language, vivid details, and specific examples as possible.

Summarize With a Strong Conclusion

All essays should end with a firm conclusion paragraph, which summarizes the main points of your essay and ties up any loose ends. This is also an excellent opportunity to leave a lasting impression on your reader, so take notice of the importance of a well-written conclusion.

Be Honest and Authentic

Perhaps above all else, write your essay in your most authentic and genuine voice. Ultimately, your essay should reflect who you are as a person—so there is no reason to be anything other than sincere.

Editing and Submitting the College Essay

Once you are done writing, taking a step back and revising is essential. This will allow you to polish your essay and make sure you are submitting your absolute best work.

Read Your Draft First Out Loud, Then Revise

It might seem silly, but reading your draft aloud is a fantastic revision strategy. You will notice that when you read your words aloud, you can spot typos and other errors more easily. From there, you can also revise to improve any areas of weakness.

Always Have Someone Else Proofread

Having another set of eyes look at your writing to get some constructive feedback never hurts. Ask a trusted friend or family member to read through your essay and note any grammar errors, spelling mistakes, or instances of awkward phrasing.  The admissions counselor reviewing your essay should not be the first person to see it other than yourself.

Other Essay-Writing Tips

In addition to the practical advice above, there are some other general tips to keep in mind if you are looking to improve your essay writing.

Expand Your Library

Take advantage of the many resources that are available to you when writing your admissions essay. This means not relying only on sources you find through Google or a quick online search but taking things a step further. When applicable, try pulling other resources from your local library or even incorporating quotes from personal interviews into your writing. This will give it more credibility and help you stand out from other applicants.

Make a Timeline for the Writing Process

Do not expect to be able to craft a quality essay overnight. Give yourself plenty of time to brainstorm, outline, research, draft, and revise your essay until you are 100 percent happy with the results. This may mean setting up a timeline with specific deadlines for each stage of your writing process, which will help you stay on track and avoid last-minute scrambling.

Do Your Research and Use Reliable Sources

One of the most important things to remember when writing an essay is that not all sources are created equal. With so much information floating around on the internet, verifying any statistics or facts will be your job before you submit your essay. Take time to fact-check and verify that your sources are reliable and current (this also means not using data or statistics that are more than a few years old).

Keep Your Audience in Mind

When writing your college essay, always keep your audience in your mind. You are not writing for just anybody; you are writing to a panel of admissions staff (or those in a similar position). Having a specific persona in mind as you write can help you better focus your ideas and keep them relevant.

Use AI Essay Writing Tools Responsibly

These days, there are all kinds of artificial intelligence (AI) tools that can be useful when it comes to brainstorming and writing your essay. There is nothing wrong with using AI essay writing tools to develop ideas or expand on topics—but remember that you cannot expect an AI tool to write your essay for you. Most colleges and universities have strict policies against using AI-generated writing and may even use software to detect AI-generated text.

Do Not Be Shy: Add a Personal Touch

Your essay should showcase who you are as a person while also following the guidelines of the prompt. Do not be afraid to add some personal anecdotes when appropriate. Your reader will most likely appreciate any personal connection you can make to the topic at hand, and drawing upon your own experiences can really help to set your writing apart.

Start Your College Application With Confidence

With these college essay writing tips, you will be well on your way to a compelling and engaging essay that you can feel good about submitting. At Post University, we take pride in supporting our applicants through every step of the process. Whether you are applying for an online or on-campus program—or are interested in applying for financial aid—we have resources to help. Learn more about our program offerings and admissions process today, then get started with your application.