What makes a great college essay?

Application Process

Our counselors answered:

What makes a great college essay?

Lily Trayes
Founder and CEO Ivy League Placement

What makes a great college essay?

Here is my video response to the question.

Laura O'Brien Gatzionis
Founder Educational Advisory Services

The essay angst

A great college essay is an essay that is interesting, pithy and well written. You want both to keep the reader's attention and to make the reader want you to be a member of the next freshman class at the reader's college. Write actively about something you know well. This is your chance to make your application stand out and your one opportunity to have a real voice appear in the file. Tell the reader something about yourself that might not be included in the rest of the application.

Mollie Reznick
Associate Director The College Connection

What makes a great college essay?

The personal statement is arguably one of the most important components of a student’s college application. It is the student’s chance to lend his application a third dimension, to transcend his grades and test scores, and figuratively speak to the admissions officers. This opportunity should not be taken lightly. When approaching the personal statement, the cardinal rule students should keep in mind is: if any other person on the planet could have written the same essay, trash it and start over again. The essay at its very core should be PERSONAL. It should reveal positive qualities about the applicant (maturity, responsibility, compassion, commitment, etc) through the lens of an engaging narrative. Tell a story about your life that an admissions officer would find compelling and/or amusing that is a vehicle for showcasing your strength of character.

Tam Warner Minton
Consultant College Adventures

Be original

Do you have any idea how many essays are written about summer camp, admiring your mom or dad, how terrorism is a bad thing, and your resume? BORING. Try to be original with your topic. It is okay if you have something different to say in one of these essay topics, but most of them are depressingly similar. BE CREATIVE. Use your own voice. Write in the first person. Write as if you are speaking with someone, expressing yourself on a given topic. Of course it must be well written, but the admission committee wants to hear what you think, what you feel, what you would do. Eliminate unnecessary words. ? Okay: "Over the years it has been pointed out to me by my parents, friends, and teachers -- and I have even noticed this about myself, as well -- that I am not the neatest person in the world." ? Better: "I'm a slob." Don't Forget to Proofread Typos and spelling or grammatical errors can be interpreted as carelessness or just bad writing. Don't rely on your computer's spell check. It can miss spelling errors like the ones below. ? "After I graduate form high school, I plan to work for a nonprofit organization during the summer." ? "From that day on, Daniel was my best fried." If you are funny, be humorous. If you are intellectual, be philosophical. If you are creative, be original and write an essay that will stand out.

王文君 June Scortino
President IVY Counselors Network

short and sweet

admissions counselor only has a few min to read your essay and his or her attention is the key here. most college essay are very much the same so if you can make your essay stand out, you must delivery a great college essay that the counselor will remember and share with other counselors. a great college essay must use personal experiences to delivery a big message focused on passion of learning, motivation for excellences, and personal value in contributing to community as a whole.

Kathryn Lento

Authenticity...your voice!

This is an opportunity for you to tell a story that you connect with in your own voice. The reader should learn something important about you through the story that might not come through in your application. As a reader, I want to finish an essay and say this kids is funny or brave or caring or clever or an individualist. I don't want to read it and say, who is this kid?

Dr. Fisher
College Counselor Fisher Educational Consultants

Essays that Work

A great college essay is one that certainly doesn't repeat what is written on the rest of your application. The college desires to know about you not the character in a book. Who are you? What motivates you? What challenges have you encountered and how have you dealt with those situations. I tell students the following: The admissions official has just read 25 essays and is falling asleep. Lo and behold your essay is next as his/her eyes begin to close. Will the first few sentences keep the admissions person up and eager to read your essay. If the answer is no, start again. Also, I ask the following: In each paragraph of the essay, what did admissions learn about you that they did not already know. Piece together all the things one found out about you and what did the college admissions person now know about you that made them back you for admissions.

Bill Pruden
Head of Upper School, College Counselor Ravenscroft School

The Great College Essay: Give Them a Window into You

Few things are as eternal as the search for the great college essay. But given the range of factors that go into the decision making process, it is hard to know if the "successful" essays ones really tipped the balance. That being said, the essay is something you can control so you want to make it good. Quite simply, a great college essay helps illuminate who you are. You need to take the opportunity to present yourself in a way that gives the reader--the potential decision maker--a greater understanding of who you are and what you will bring to the community they are seeking to create. The worst things you can do is write an essay that is generic, one where if your name was replaced by another, the reader could not tell the difference. The people in the admissions office are trying to learn about you and the essay is often the last chance you have to shape their impression and understanding of you. Make it yours.

Barak Rosenbloom
College essay mentor, guide and editor essaymentors.com

What makes a great college essay?

You want the admissions officer who reads your essay to go home and say “wow, I read 75 essays today. I’m sick of high school students, of their summer trips and grandparents and their views on the Civil War and Romeo and Juliet. But there was this one kid whose essay I brought home for you to read...” You want to be that one kid. Let's start with what a great essay isn’t: -- It isn’t an academic paper. A lot of students I work with have only learned to write well-reasoned essays with a thesis paragraph, evidence paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph. Academic essays are important, but they don't make for compelling personal essays. -- It isn’t a sales pitch touting your fantastic features. Proclaiming, “I’m a hard worker, conscientious, funny and tall” isn’t believable. Anyone can say that. Let your recommendations do the job of explicitly saying what a great/talented/funny/thoughtful person you are. -- It isn’t about anyone or anything other than you. Franklin Roosevelt is not applying to college, and no matter how much you admire him, he can’t help you. The same with France. A great essay shows you for who you are. It tells a story that illuminates some of your personality or strengths. The ones I find most powerful show learning, growth and self-awareness. Sometimes, the hard work is in understanding yourself. It’s not a skill taught in schools, or in most of our families. But if you can look inside to see how an event or idea changed you, challenged you, helped you grow and learn, or affected your life, then you’re 80% there. Of course, you need to get it on paper in a memorable way. You can bring that poor, bored-to-tears, over-caffeinated admissions officer right into your life and world for 500 words. Help them experience what you’ve experienced, learn what you’ve learned. Maybe read some short stories or articles to get a sense of how this kind of writing is different from academic writing. Find a mentor, editor or teacher who can help guide you through the process of writing something memorable. You have a great essay in you. Everyone does. It may take some time to find it, and it will take more time to write. But when you’re done, it will be something you’ll be proud of and something that can help get you into college.

Geoff Broome
Assistant Director of Admissions Widener University


We remember things in stories. A good story is memorable. Our mind is created to recall things in stories. You want to be memorable to the counselors who read your app. You want to be memorable to the committee.