Ask a Nerd!

Question: How should I start my college essays? What should I write about?

Brief: The first thing to find out is if the colleges you are applying to use the Common Application (ask your Irvine college admissions consultant). If they do, you will choose from a few different topics. If the colleges you are applying to are not on the Common Application, then make your essay as personal to you as possible.



Many colleges and universities use the Common Application, which means that you will have a few essay topics to choose from. It also means that you will be able to write about one essay topics for several applications.

Topics may include prompts about your identity, a failure you have had, or a coming-of-age situation (a situation where you learned something about yourself). Colleges that do not use the Common App will either have their own, specific, question or ask for a personal statement about yourself (READ: “Ask a Nerd! “Just started college and I’m overwhelmed, what do I do?“).



Regardless of the topics or prompt given, there are a few things that every college entrance essay should include:

1. It should be honest and genuine

Admissions departments have experienced people working for them who are able to easily tell which essays are honest and genuine and which ones are not. Honesty seems to be the number one most important thing to make a college essay successful.

2. Your essay should be personal

The admissions department wants to know about you. They don’t want to know about your classmates or friends. They want to know what makes you who you are as a person. Your entrance essay should be unique to whatever makes you who you are.

3. It should be well written

Although this seems like it should be obvious, many students don’t worry too much about it. You should have flow, transitions, appropriate organizational structure, proper grammar and sentence structure, no spelling mistakes, proper subject-verb agreement and parallelism.

4. Your essay should be written by you

It is absolutely okay to get some help from a college prep specialist or an editor (our Orange County college consultants have a 97% success rate). In fact, almost everybody does these days. However, the content should come only from you. Your experiences are unique to you and the essay should showcase your heart and mind but no one else’s.

Now that you know about the top four things to include in your essay, the next big issue is how to get started. Many students try to make each paragraph perfect before moving on to the next one. This can create a lot of frustration and is more time consuming than helpful. Other students can get a first rough draft down on paper but can’t see to move forward from there. I highly recommend that you write first and edit later. Write about yourself or the prompt given to you. Just write something. Don’t concentrate of all of those little typos or errors that you make along the way (READ: “5 Tips for Your College Entrance Essay“).

Once you have a really, really good first rough draft, go through and work on basic editing for content. Answer these questions: Does the essay make sense? Can a person who has never met me understand what I am discussing? Is the essay well written yet easy to read? Did I explain the situation or experience in an appropriate way?

If you answered ‘yes’ to all of these questions, then it is time to start editing. Most students write up to half a dozen drafts before arriving at their final, polished version so plan to spend a couple of months during the school year working on them.

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