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Writing a Successful Application Essay: Dos and Don’ts

An application essay, which is also called a college essay or a personal statement, is a piece of writing that helps college admissions officers learn more about an applicant than just their grades. It gives the applicant a chance to show who they are, what they stand for, and what makes them different from other candidates.


Your chances of getting into the college of your choice can depend on how well you write your application essay. In this guide, we’ll give you tips on how to write a good application essay, talk about common application essay prompts, and tell you how to make your essay stand out.

Tips for Writing a Successful Application Essay

– Start early and give yourself enough time to brainstorm, write, and revise your essay

– Understand the prompt and answer the question directly

– Show, don’t tell by using specific examples and anecdotes to illustrate your points

– Be authentic and honest in your writing

– Proofread and edit your essay multiple times to ensure it is error-free

– Get feedback from others, such as a teacher or counselor, on your essay

Common Application Essay Prompts

The Common Application, used by over 900 colleges and universities, provides five essay prompts for applicants to choose from. These prompts are:

– Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

– The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

– Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

– Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

– Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

How to Stand Out in Your Application Essay

– Tell a unique and memorable story that showcases your personality and values

– Use descriptive language to create a vivid picture in the reader’s mind

– Be confident in your writing and avoid using cliches or generic statements

– Show your passion and enthusiasm for your interests and hobbies

– Connect your experiences and accomplishments to your future goals and aspirations

– Be creative and take risks in your writing, while still staying within the guidelines of the prompt

It can be hard to write a good application essay, but if you follow these tips and rules, you can make an essay that shows off your best qualities and makes you stand out from other applicants. Don’t forget to start writing early, understand the prompt, be yourself, and take risks. With these tools, you can write an essay that stands out, makes an impact, and helps you reach your college and career goals in the end.

Dos and Don’ts of Writing a Successful Application Essay

Writing a successful application essay requires careful consideration and attention to detail. Here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind as you craft your essay:

Dos:

– Do give yourself enough time to brainstorm, write, and revise your essay.

– Do read and understand the prompt before you start writing.

– Do showcase your personality, values, and unique experiences.

– Do use specific examples and anecdotes to illustrate your points.

– Do be authentic and honest in your writing.

– Do proofread and edit your essay multiple times to ensure it is error-free.

– Do get feedback from others, such as a teacher or counselor, on your essay.

Don’ts:

– Don’t try to impress the reader with big words or overly complicated sentences.

– Don’t write what you think the admissions officer wants to hear. Be true to yourself.

– Don’t use cliches or generic statements.

– Don’t include irrelevant information or go off-topic.

– Don’t rely too heavily on spell-check or grammar-check. These tools are not foolproof.

– Don’t wait until the last minute to start writing.

Examples of Successful Application Essays:

– One student wrote about their experience growing up in a multicultural household and how it shaped their worldview and values.

– Another student wrote about their passion for environmental advocacy and how they started a community garden in their neighborhood.

– A third student wrote about their struggle with a learning disability and how they overcame it to become a successful student and advocate for disability rights.

– All of these essays were successful because they were unique, authentic, and showcased the student’s personality and values.

Understanding Common Application Essay Prompts

The Common Application essay prompts are used by over 900 colleges and universities to help students showcase their personality, values, and unique experiences. Here is an overview of the five prompts:

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

How to choose the best prompt for your essay:

When choosing which prompt to answer, consider your personal experiences and what you want to convey to the admissions officer. Ask yourself: What story do I want to tell? What values or qualities do I want to showcase? Which prompt best allows me to do so?

Tips for answering the prompts effectively:

– Read and understand the prompt before you start writing.

– Be specific and use examples to illustrate your points.

– Show, don’t tell. Use descriptive language to create a vivid picture in the reader’s mind.

– Be authentic and honest in your writing.

– Connect your experiences and accomplishments to your future goals and aspirations.

– Be creative and take risks in your writing, while still staying within the guidelines of the prompt.

– Proofread and edit your essay multiple times to ensure it is error-free.

– Get feedback from others, such as a teacher or counselor, on your essay.

By following these tips and choosing the best prompt for your essay, you can effectively showcase your personality, values, and unique experiences to the admissions officer and increase your chances of getting accepted into your dream college.

How to Stand Out in Your Application Essay

With so many students applying to college each year, it’s important to make your application essay stand out from the competition. Here are some tips for making your essay memorable and impactful:

1. Tell a unique and memorable story that showcases your personality and values. Avoid writing a generic essay that could be written by anyone.

2. Use descriptive language to create a vivid picture in the reader’s mind. This will help your essay to be more engaging and memorable.

3. Be confident in your writing and avoid using cliches or generic statements. Use your own voice and style to make your essay stand out.

4. Show your passion and enthusiasm for your interests and hobbies. This will help the admissions officer get to know you as a person, beyond your academic record.

5. Connect your experiences and accomplishments to your future goals and aspirations. This will show the admissions officer that you are focused and driven.

Examples of successful strategies for standing out:

1. One student wrote about their experience growing up in a circus family and how it influenced their love of performance and dedication to hard work.

2. Another student wrote about their experience volunteering at a homeless shelter and how it taught them the importance of empathy and compassion.

3. A third student wrote about their experience overcoming a language barrier and how it taught them the value of perseverance and determination.

All of these essays stood out because they were unique, authentic, and showcased the student’s personality and values.

Importance of being authentic in your essay:

In your essay, it’s important to be real and honest. Don’t try to write what you think the person in charge of admissions wants to hear. Instead, write about your real life and what you believe in. Most of the time, admissions officers can tell when an essay isn’t real, which can hurt your chances of getting in. Being honest about who you are and what you’ve been through will make your essay stand out and help the admissions officer learn more about you as a person.

What to Include in Your Application Essay

When it comes to writing your application essay, it’s important to choose the right topic and include essential elements that showcase your strengths and achievements. Here are some tips for what to include in your application essay:

1. Choose the right topic: Choose a topic that allows you to showcase your personality, values, and unique experiences. Consider what story you want to tell and what you want to convey to the admissions officer.

2. Essential elements to include: Your essay should have a clear structure and include the following elements:

– Introduction: Start with a hook that grabs the reader’s attention and introduces the topic of your essay.

– Body: Use specific examples and anecdotes to illustrate your points. Show, don’t tell, and use descriptive language to create a vivid picture in the reader’s mind.

– Conclusion: End with a strong conclusion that ties everything together and leaves a lasting impression on the reader.

3. Showcase your strengths and achievements: Your essay should highlight your accomplishments and strengths. Use examples that demonstrate your abilities and showcase your unique qualities.

4. Be authentic and honest: It’s important to be honest about who you are and what you’ve been through. Don’t try to write what you think the person in charge of admissions wants to hear. Instead, write about things that are important to you and things you are really interested in.
Overall, your application essay should be well-written, interesting, and show off your strengths and accomplishments. By using these tips and including important details, you can write an essay that makes you stand out from the crowd and helps you get into the college of your dreams.

How Long Should Your Application Essay Be?

One common question that students have when writing their application essay is how long it should be. Here is an overview of the typical word or character count for application essays and some tips for staying within the limit:

1. Word or character count: Most colleges and universities have specific guidelines for the length of the application essay. The Common Application essay, for example, has a word limit of 650 words, while the Coalition Application essay has a character limit of 4,000 characters.

2. Tips for staying within the limit: Here are some tips for staying within the word or character limit:

Plan your essay carefully: Before you start writing, make an outline of the key points you want to cover in your essay. This will help you stay focused and avoid going off-topic.

– Edit ruthlessly: Once you’ve written your essay, go back and edit it carefully. Look for ways to cut unnecessary words or phrases and tighten up your sentences.

– Use active voice: Using active voice can help you be more concise and clear in your writing.

– Get feedback: Ask a teacher or counselor to review your essay and give you feedback on how to make it more concise and effective.

3. Importance of being concise and clear: No matter how many words or characters your essay has, it should be short and easy to understand. Admissions officers have to read a lot of essays, so one that is clear and to the point can stand out. Focus on the main points you want to make and back them up with specific examples and stories.


Overall, it’s important to stick to the rules about the number of words or characters and to be clear and concise in your writing. You can make a good application essay that shows off your personality, values, and unique experiences by planning carefully, editing harshly, and using active voice.

College Application Essay Topics

Choosing the right topic for your college application essay can be a daunting task. Here are some examples of popular college application essay topics and tips for choosing the best topic for your essay:

1. Personal growth: Write about a challenge or experience that helped you grow as a person.

2. Community service: Write about a community service project that you were involved in and how it impacted you.

3. Identity: Write about your identity and how it shapes your worldview.

4. Lessons learned: Write about a time when you learned a valuable lesson and how it has impacted you.

5. Unique experiences: Write about a unique experience or interest that sets you apart from other applicants.

When choosing a topic, consider what story you want to tell and what you want to convey to the admissions officer. It’s important to choose a topic that allows you to showcase your personality, values, and unique experiences.

Additionally, it’s important to make your essay relevant to the college or university you are applying to. Research the college’s mission statement and values, and consider how your experiences and goals align with those of the college.

Graduate School Application Essay

Writing a successful graduate school application essay requires a different approach than writing a college application essay. Here are some specific tips for writing a successful graduate school application essay:

1. Showcase your academic and professional experience: Graduate schools want to see that you have the necessary academic and professional experience to succeed in their program. Highlight your relevant coursework, research experience, and professional experience in your essay.

2. Show your motivation: Graduate schools want to see that you are motivated and passionate about your field of study. Explain why you are interested in the program and how it fits into your career goals.

3. Research the program: Research the graduate program and its faculty to show that you have a strong understanding of the program and how you fit into it. This can also help you tailor your essay to the specific program.

4. Use specific examples: Use specific examples and anecdotes to illustrate your points and show your experience and qualifications.

Examples of successful graduate school application essays:

– One student wrote about their experience working in a research lab and how it influenced their decision to pursue a PhD in chemistry.

– Another student wrote about their experience as a teacher and how it motivated them to pursue a master’s degree in education.

– A third student wrote about their experience volunteering in a healthcare setting and how it inspired them to pursue a master’s degree in nursing.

All of these essays were successful because they showcased the student’s academic and professional experience, motivation, and specific examples of their qualifications.

Medical School Application Essay

Writing a successful medical school application essay requires a unique approach. Here are some specific tips for writing a successful medical school application essay:

1. Showcase your passion for medicine and healthcare: Medical schools want to see that you have a genuine passion for medicine and healthcare. Use specific examples and anecdotes to show your passion and how it has influenced your decision to pursue a career in medicine.

2. Highlight your experience: Medical schools want to see that you have relevant experience in healthcare. Highlight your clinical experience, research experience, and volunteer work in your essay.

3. Show your motivation: Medical schools want to see that you are motivated and committed to pursuing a career in medicine. Explain why you are passionate about medicine and how you will use your education to make a difference in healthcare.

4. Be concise and clear: Medical school application essays typically have a word or character limit. Focus on the key points you want to convey and use clear and concise language to make your essay effective.

Examples of successful medical school application essays:

– One student wrote about their experience volunteering in a free clinic and how it motivated them to pursue a career in medicine to help underserved communities.

– Another student wrote about their experience conducting research on a rare disease and how it inspired them to pursue a career in academic medicine to find a cure.

– A third student wrote about their experience as a patient and how it motivated them to pursue a career in medicine to improve patient care and advocacy.

All of these essays were successful because they showcased the student’s passion for medicine and healthcare, relevant experience, motivation, and specific examples of their qualifications.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is an application essay?

An application essay is a written statement that is part of the college or graduate school application process. It provides the admissions officers with an opportunity to get to know the applicant beyond their academic record and test scores.

2. What should I include in my application essay?

Your application essay should showcase your personality, values, and unique experiences. It should highlight your accomplishments and strengths, and use specific examples and anecdotes to illustrate your points. It should also be well-written, clear, and concise.

3. How long should an application essay be?

The length of an application essay varies depending on the college or graduate school and the specific guidelines provided. For example, the Common Application essay has a word limit of 650 words, while the Coalition Application essay has a character limit of 4,000 characters. It’s important to follow the guidelines provided and be concise and clear in your writing.

Conclusion

In this guide, we talked about the most important parts of a good application essay. We talked about things like how to understand the prompts, pick the right topic, and show off your strengths and accomplishments. We also talked about specific ways to write good essays for college, graduate school, and medical school applications.


To sum up, it’s important to choose a topic for your application essay that lets you show off your personality, values, and unique experiences. Use specific examples and stories to back up your points, and make sure your writing is clear and to the point. It’s also important to make sure your essay is relevant to the college or university you’re applying to and to get feedback and edits from other people.

Final tips for writing a successful application essay:

– Be authentic and honest in your writing

– Connect your experiences and accomplishments to your future goals and aspirations

– Use descriptive language to create a vivid picture in the reader’s mind

– Tailor your essay to the specific college or graduate program

– Edit and revise your essay multiple times to ensure it is error-free and effective

Remember, your application essay is an opportunity to showcase your unique qualities and experiences to the admissions officers. By following these tips and seeking feedback and revision, you can create a compelling and effective essay that helps you stand out from the competition and get accepted into your dream college or graduate program.

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