Writing College Essays

General Guidelines

  1. Follow directions exactly.

  2. If guidelines are not given, one page single spaced or two page double spaced is appropriate.

  3. Be informal and conversational.

  4. Avoid humorous essays.

  5. Watch spelling; there is no excuse for error.

  6. Avoid overly familiar quotations or definitions.

  7. Do not repeat lists of activities.

  8. Do not allow parents to write the essay.

  9. Try dialogue.

  10. Think small: anecdotes and rich details are welcomed.

  11. Be free with format.

  12. Do not write about writing, SATs, or the college process.

  13. Accentuate the positive, even in a painful experience.

  14. Grab the reader in the first few sentences---they are critical.

Goals of the Essay

  1. To help the reader get to know you – regard the essay as a window to your personality, values and goals.

  2. To illustrate your uniqueness.

  3. To enable the reader to evaluate your writing.

  4. To help the reader create a full picture of you.

How to write

  1. Decide your message first.

  2. Write as if you are brainstorming – then revise.

  3. Spend as much time thinking as you do writing.

  4. If you are stuck, have a brainstorming session with someone close to you.

  5. If you write about an activity or an experience, focus on what it means to you, not on how good you are or what you have accomplished.

  6. Don’t ask yourself or anyone else “What should I write about?” The appropriate question is “What should I tell them about me?” Reorganize your thinking. Test the “success” of your essay, ask someone to read it, and then ask, “What do you think it says about me?”

  7. Finally, ask yourself, “If the college housing office was to place me with roommates based on my essay, would they be able to choose compatible people? Would it give them enough information to make a sound decision?”