The college essay is your opportunity to speak directly to the college admissions committee about your life, your goals, passions, values, strengths, talents, and sometimes, about the obstacles you have faced. It is here that the admissions committee evaluates the effectiveness of your writing and gains insight into the real person behind the data. Regardless of the specific questions, all college application essay questions want you to reveal who you are and what makes you unique.
Above all, the essay should be well-written and carefully edited, and must be kept within the prescribed length. Consider your audience. Admissions officers read thousands of applications a year and desire to read something concise, lively, and graceful that tells them about you as a person. You should write about a topic that is important to you. The presentation of yourself through the essay is a critical component in shaping an admission officer’s impression of you as a candidate.
Be true to yourself. Don’t think too much about what it is you believe admission officers want to hear. Focus on what you want to convey and how to say it and allow your voice to come through. Where applicants commonly falter is approaching this as an academic exercise. The college application essay is often the first time that you are asked to think about your own life experiences and write an essay for total purposes of acceptance.
Here a few general observations and suggestions about composing your essay:
- Begin early! Summer of your senior year is the appropriate time to begin thinking about your essay. You should start developing a personal statement and trying out topic ideas. Exact essay topics can be downloaded when the latest college applications come out mid- summer, but the questions often remain the same for several years (see essay topics below). NOTE: The University of Florida Coalition Application essay prompts are available. The Common Application prompts remain the same as last year (links to both below).
- Unless the college specifically asks for it, avoid the general autobiographical essay. Most application essay topics are fairly broad and open-ended, but if the question is quite specific, be sure you answer it.
- Think of the essay as an opportunity to add a new dimension to your folder. Avoid repeating facts, accomplishments or activities that have been mentioned previously in your application, unless they have a particular bearing on the development of your character or your world perspective.
- You may be able to adapt an essay you've written for another application, or you may have to write an altogether new one. But be very careful to address the question. It’s important to make sure the essays you write suit your application and the college for which you are writing. Colleges are very sensitive to this.
- Try to avoid much-used topics (unless they are addressed in a unique way). Some examples include: Outward Bound type experiences, trips that awakened you to difference and inequality, how sports builds character, etc. On the other hand, don't go overboard in your attempts to be original, memorable, or profound.
- Avoid using the essay to apologize for some perceived inadequacy on your part. However, if there have been unusual circumstances in your life, the essay might be a good chance to explain them without making excuses.
- Avoid attempts at humor that are obscure or not funny, or experimental or stream-of-consciousness writing that may be confusing to the reader.
- Avoid anything that may appear too offbeat, cute, or elitist.
- Get feedback on your finished product, a lot. Have a teachers, parents, friends, or neighbors read and critique your essay for its form and content. Does your essay effectively communicate your character and personality? Is the voice natural and unaffected? Listen to their advice, but make the decisions that are right for you.
- Your Personal Statement/Essay should sound like it was written by you and only you.
- Spellcheck is not always your friend. It will not pick up homonyms (there/they’re/their), nor will it save you from accidentally sending your Vanderbilt essay to Emory.
- Avail yourself of essay-writing workshops and opportunities.
Many colleges require supplemental essays in addition to the Common Application personal statement. The supplemental college essay(s) typically ask questions related to your interest in their institution. While it may be tempting for applicants to dash off a generic and vague piece that can be used at multiple schools, do NOT make this mistake. Most college applicants fail to put adequate time into a supplemental college essay(s).
In order to gain access or see the writing supplement on the Common Application (if required) you must first complete all the college specific questions in your CommonApp. Some writing supplements differ depending on the major/program you select on the school's specific page.
Essay Tips and FAQs
Essay Prompts 2022-23
Below are the Common Application essay prompts for 2022-23. College-specific essay topics (supplements) can be found on the respective college university websites.