College Essay

Tips for College Essay Writers

by | Jun 5, 2022

Attention seniors: are you wondering how to write your college essay personal statement? Even though the task might seem intimidating, the process is not any different than the essays you have written for school: you choose a topic, then you plan, write, revise and edit your draft. 

As you consider a topic, think about what you want an admission office to know about you and what makes you likable. Are you brave? Are you intellectual? Are you creative? Are you kind? This is your opportunity to tell admission officers who you are, what you have learned, what animates your dreams, and who has influenced you. 

Below are some practical tips for moving you through the college essay writing process with relative ease and confidence.

Prewriting: identify your values and choose your topic

Your essay topic should either explore a topic captured briefly on another part of your application or add something completely different to it. 

To brainstorm topics, first check out the Common Application Essay prompts. But don’t get hung up on which prompt you should choose, instead think about which prompt speaks to you. 

Next, we also recommend that you identify your top 10 values here. 

After that, create a blank document and list your core memories or experiences during the past several years. Who was with you? What did you do? How and why have these stories shaped who you are? 

Finally, bring together the worksheet and your values list. Find the connections between your core values and your stories. Those intersections would make a great essay topic.

Drafting: write with abandon

Once you arrive at a topic, make a general plan for what you will write. Think about telling a story and explaining the “lesson” to a close friend. As your story unfolds, draw in your reader with vivid sensory detail: what did you see, smell, touch, taste, and hear? Can you add dialogue to your story? Don’t focus on the mechanics or even the sequence of your paragraphs, just get the words down. 

Revising: wrap your ARMS around the process

Now that you have written your messy rough draft, it’s time to consider the four ARMS of revising: adding, removing, moving, and substituting. 

Adding: do you need to add any words or sentences to your story or lesson to make it more compelling or complete? Remember, you have only 650 words for your essay. It’s good to aim for at least a 600-word final draft. 

Removing: Are there paragraphs, sentences, or words that are slowing down your story or distracting in getting to the heart of your lesson? 

Moving: Are you telling the story in the most compelling way? We encourage our writers to begin their essays with the high moment of the story to get the reader’s attention. 

Substituting: Think about language. Does your draft repeat the same words or ideas too often? Use different words that express the same idea to demonstrate your strong vocabulary. Consult a dictionary for synonyms. 

Finding another set of eyes

After you feel your draft is reasonably complete, ask a thoughtful reader for feedback. Make sure to ask them specific questions you have about your work like: do the order of my paragraphs make sense? Does the essay sound like me? Does my story make me sound appealing to an admission office? 

Moving into the home stretch

Remember to edit and proofread your work carefully. We don’t believe that one typo on your essay will deny you admission, however, it’s important to make sure that your draft is polished so the reader can focus on the content of your essay. 

Let your draft cool for a few days before you upload it. Plan ahead so you don’t rush to complete your essay hours before it is due. Allow yourself a few days after you think your essay is complete before you give it a final read before you submit it. Then congratulate yourself on your hard work! 


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Jane Hirschhorn

Jane Hirschhorn

Jane Hirschhorn, the founder of JBH Tutoring in Newton, Massachusetts, has been offering writing support to students for nearly three decades. She brings expertise, enthusiasm, and a sense of humor to her work with students and their families. Jane has taught and tutored at several Boston-area schools, including two schools serving students with learning challenges. For nine years, Jane was a writing tutor at the Mount Ida College Writing Center, working with Stefanie Jeruss and Jane Kokernak and serving as the Writing Center’s supervisor during her later years there. Jane has also published articles about writing tutoring in professional journals. She holds a Master of Arts in Teaching from Tufts, a Bachelor’s degree in English from Emory, and has taken courses in Special Education from Boston College.

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