Seven Tips for Writing College Admissions Essays

by Stuart Nachbar, Daytripper University Contributor *


College admissions essays are nothing like the usual writing assignments that a high school senior has been asked to do for teachers to earn grades. For those who do not like to write, they’re something to be feared. However, when a student has a combination of suspect grades and/or test scores with a dislike for classroom education, a half-hearted effort also means a missed opportunity.

College admissions offices require essays for good reasons. They help them to know more about their prospective students as well as assess their writing ability.  And the essays are also a way for prospective students to thoroughly and thoughtfully consider their interests in a school, and sometimes to demonstrate their creativity. 

Prospective college students are advised to follow these seven tips as they work on their essays. 

  1. Answer the question. College admissions officers consider an applicant’s ability to read as seriously they consider their ability to write. Also consider: if you were asked this question in a face-to-face meeting, how would the person seated across from you feel if you ignored the question, and talked about something else? 

  2. Never, ever, lie on an essay, and better yet, don’t even think about it. This does everyone—the prospective student, their parents, the admissions office, and the college itself—a huge disservice. The people on the college side may recover from the embarrassment, but the student and parents may not. 

  3. Write each essay in your voice. Never, ever have someone other than the student write the essay, and have the student write in a way that they “sound” as if they were to speak to an admissions officer in person. Experienced admissions officers know when an applicant has not written their essay, and they teach the less experienced ones to know the telltale signs of an “unrepresentative” submission. Not to mention that you might be invited to meet that admissions officer on campus, possibly for an interview. You want to make the admissions officer feel comfortable knowing that they met a person who wrote a strong essay.

  4. When essays ask you to elaborate on something that you might have covered briefly in another essay, be consistent. Sometimes college essays will build upon each other. For instance, if you briefly mention a possible major when you write about your interests in a school, then prepare to elaborate in the same voice for an essay that asks you to explain about your interests in a major. If you talk about another major, your application is more likely to be denied at a school that has selective admissions. 

  5. Check grammar, punctuation and spelling before pressing ‘Submit’. Do the essay in Word or Pages first, then run it through the spelling and grammar check before it is uploaded online. Not all admissions officers were English majors, and most are not expert writers. But most can catch the more obvious grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes, especially if they read your essay on a computer screen.

  6. Do not use the essay to show how smart you are. These essays are not a space to demonstrate mastery of complex academic material that admissions officers may not understand. But they are a great space to share enthusiasm for the material, even “teach” it in a way that will leave them more curious about you as a prospective student, and where you might fit in, or help to diversify, the incoming class.  No college wants to have a class where so many students have so few academic or pre-professional interests. 

  7. Happiness is always better than sadness. Leave admissions officers smiling after they read your essays. They have many to read, and they are human, just like you. They would prefer to read something that stands out, and leaves them smiling, than something negative that leaves them concerned that their school might not be right for you. This is especially true for colleges that are “need aware” and selective at the same time you need scholarship aid. In those situations admissions officers consider your standing in the applicant pool against your needs, and the college’s costs to provide them for you. 

College admissions essays may be a bane or pain to many students, but concise, thoughtful and well written ones can help get into colleges that might otherwise say no. They are your main space to make a strong impression on those who have the say to get you to yes.  

For assistance in college admissions essays and other steps in the college admissions process, contact Stuart at or call 609-406-0062.

* As founder of Educated Quest, Stuart Nachbar provides personalized college, transfer and graduate/professional school admissions advisory services to help students and parents make the best-informed decisions their future education. Having worked around higher education for over three decades as an admissions advisor, author, urban economic development professional and senior-level software marketing executive, he knows the “inside baseball” about how colleges do business. Stuart holds a BA and MBA from Rutgers University, a Master of Urban Planning for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a Certificate in College Admissions Counseling (with Distinction) from UCLA. He and his wife, Carol, live in Central New Jersey.