notebook for a college essay

7 Tips for a Standout College Admissions Essay

Nothing has the power to intimidate even the most diligent student quite like the college admissions essay. How to choose the right topic and steer clear of clichés while showing admissions committees that you’re a great fit?

Never fear! We’ve got a list of tips to help you make a great impression with a stellar essay.

1. Read the prompt a few times before starting

While most admissions essays fall in the “personal statement” category, they usually involve some specific prompt or question. Now, imagine yourself in the admissions officers’ shoes: what are they trying to learn from you? Diving right into the essay is tempting, but it’s better to take the time at the beginning.

2. Be yourself

It’s a natural instinct is to think that an admissions committee wants to see you at your most formal. While you definitely must use complete sentences and avoid slang or silliness, you can also let your personality shine through! It is a “personal” statement after all. Showing your genuine self goes a long way and will make you more memorable.

3. Use active verbs

Chances are, some sort of personal narrative will be in your essay. Action verbs are your best friend: use them to tell a story that engages the reader. Focus on actions that show how you learned, changed, or grew. Also, expand your vocabulary so that you don’t repeat the same two or three verbs over and over.

4. Organize your essay

All those high school English essays are about to pay off, even if this one doesn’t require you to quote books or cite MLA or APA citations. Once you know your overall ideas, sketch out an outline to make the essay flow logically from introduction to main body to conclusion. It also helps to map out what you want to address in each section or where you want to use each example for maximum effect.

5. Mix up your sentence structures

An admissions essay shouldn’t just answer the prompt—it should demonstrate why you’re ready to be an excellent college student. One of the easiest ways to make your writing more sophisticated is to alternate between different sentence structures. Connect two related ideas into a compound sentence or start with the relative clause instead of the main one. The key is to avoid a long string of sentences that are all structured identically.

6. Paint a picture

When telling your story, select vivid words and details to give the anecdote some texture. If other people appear in the narrative, call them by name so that readers can follow along and feel a little more invested in and connected to your story. Great books and movies draw us into their world – the same applies to these essays!

7. Proofread, then ask someone else to

Before submitting, always proofread for spelling, grammar, and mechanics! You can check it yourself, use an online tool to run a grammar check, or both. It also may help to have a trusted person take a second look at your essay—sometimes they’ll catch something you didn’t see.

In general, admissions essays should be concise, clear, grammatically correct, and genuine. Follow these tips, and you can’t go wrong!


Looking for more great resources? Read our other articles on how to do an annotated bibliography in MLA, what is an MLA works cited page,  or our grammar guides on various parts of speech. Best of all, they are all free to read!