What makes a great college essay?

Application Process

Our counselors answered:

What makes a great college essay?

Megan Dorsey
SAT Prep & College Advisor College Prep LLC

What makes a great college essay?

A great college essays is uniquely YOU. It is well-written with college bound vocabulary and style, but easy to read and somewhat unassuming. Like great works of fiction, these essays clearly paint a picture in the reader’s mind. The main character (YOU) is developed with depth and detail. Great essays are memorable because they distinctively portray their subjects without relying on clichés or formulaic topics. They convey on paper a sense of who the writer is as a person. After reading a great essay, I feel as if I have just had an enlivening conversation with the person even though it was entirely on paper.

Heather Tomasello
Writing Coach The EssayLady, LLC

What makes a great college essay?

Students ask me this all of the time. The answer? A great college essay is PERSONAL. It doesn’t need to be earth-shattering. We haven’t all pulled babies from burning buildings or sailed around the world in a catamaran. That’s okay. Tell a story from your own life that shows something unique about you. Be honest and even a little vulnerable. The story that your friends perk up to listen to- that’s the stuff that makes for great app essays. More than anything, officers want to get to know you through your essay. There is no room for stuffiness. You will end up sounding like every other applicant.

Randi Heathman
Independent Educational Consultant The Equestrian College Advisor LLC

What makes a great college essay?

Authenticity! Your essay has to be a true revelation of some facet of YOU - whether it's your character, how you will contribute to the college/university community, or what your future goals and aspirations are and how a particular school can help you achieve them. (In rare cases, a truly great essay can accomplish all three!) The main trap that most students fall into is responding to the essay prompt in a way that doesn't make the essay applicable to themselves. (For example, an essay about a student's hero might elicit a response that names his or her grandfather as that hero - and then the essay ends up telling more about Grandpa than about the student him/herself.). I always tell my students that there's no time to be humble or shy in an essay - instead, be more self-centered and make it all about you, just this once!

Judy Oberlander

What makes a great college essay?

A great college essay is one that makes your reader want to get to know you better, to engage in a conversation with you. It is an essay that makes your reader laugh or cry or think. It is an essay that truly engages your reader. The best college essays deal with specific examples from the writer's life. They are not general or abstract, the more details the better. Whether it's describing an invention, an important experience, or a significant influence, the best essays work their way back to the writer and how he/she was impacted/affected as a person by whatever was described before. The best essays are 20% about the "topic" (the "what") and 80% about the writer.

Susan Knoppow

What makes a great college essay?

I will leave this answer to an expert. Johns Hopkins University Associate Director of Admissions Calvin Wise told us he isn’t fazed when he sees impressive grades and test scores on applications for admission. But his adrenaline gets pumping when he reads a great essay. “I never run into a colleague’s office and say ‘look at this 4.0 GPA,’ ” Wise told Wow during a phone interview. ”I will run into an office with a good essay to share; that excites me.We are looking for your story. We want to know what makes you different, unique. We want to know who you are. Academically, we are glad you’ve done well. What did an experience mean to you? How did it shape you?” We asked Wise what makes an application essay stand out for Johns Hopkins admissions committee members. “Essays that really show an applicant’s character and personality stand out the most to me. The goal is to read the application and feel like I know the student without having met them. The essay is the only place a student has an opportunity to talk to a college. Teens look forward and into the future, and they don’t spend much time looking backward. Having that type of reflection means the most to us in the admissions office.”

Zahir Robb
College Counselor The Right Fit College

What makes a great college essay?

Be specific and highlight traits that speak to your talents and interests. Don't be vague and make sure you answer the prompt. Most of all, be yourself. When you try to impress an admissions officer, it can often appear that way and seem inconsistent with who you are. Use this space to show the school something special, be proud of who you are and let it shine through your written response.