How to Nail Your College Admissions Essay
« Back | 10.05.2017 - Jill Rogier
The blinking cursor stares at you, as if tempting you to make the first move. College admissions deadlines are inching toward you, and all that’s left to do is write the often-dreaded college essay. Worry not, clever applicant, the admissions essay doesn’t have to trigger clammy hands and cold sweats. This misunderstood piece of the college application puzzle—and one that carries significant weight for admissions committees—is actually the best opportunity you have for expressing who you are beyond letter grades, test scores, and extracurriculars.
This is your opportunity to shine in only a way you can.
ASU Prep Digital compiled the best advice from college admissions experts across the web to equip you with the tools, tips and tricks for writing an authentic and admissions-worthy college essay.
Stay true to your voice.
Time and again, college admissions experts drive this point home: above all else, your essay must be authentic. Scrap the idea of being who you think admissions directors want you to be. The only person they want you to be is you.
Be honest in your response to the essay prompt. Don’t butter up your feelings, but rather lay them bare. This takes a certain vulnerability, but that momentary discomfort of wearing your heart on your sleeve pays off in strides. Honesty, transparency, and authenticity are always more compelling than their opposites.
Use online essay prompts, like those provided by The Common Application, to get your gears turning while building your writer’s muscle.
Believe in your essay topic.
Nothing is more evident than a writer bored by their own words. By all expert accounts, your college essay should answer the question, “What do I believe in?” And since that can be an intimidatingly broad question, start small. Lead yourself to the answer during a dedicated brainstorming session. Set aside an hour of time with no digital or #IRL distractions in sight, then ask yourself questions like the following:
- What keeps me up at night?
- About which topics could I teach a class?
- What’s the first thing I want to do each day when I get home from school?
The point of this exercise is to come up with a list of the things that you believe in, love and enjoy. With this list in hand, you’re inevitably closer to finding an essay topic that’s worth writing about.
Don’t be afraid of conflict.
On the flip side of finding your passions, many college admissions counselors advise students to write about tense situations. Allow for conflict or inner turmoil to turn up the tension and enthrall your reader. According to the New York Times, “you want to express more nuanced thinking and explore your own clashing emotions.” This may seem uncomfortable at first. After all, many high-school essays ask students to summarize existing information or support one side of conflicting viewpoints. But that’s precisely what you don’t want to do in your college essay; rather, it should give college admissions personnel a scope into who you are.
Try to push yourself out of your comfort zone by thinking about your recent missteps. Elaborating on why you consider something a failure, what you learned from it, and how it helped shape you into who you are today tells a strong story about you, your character, and your resilience.
Read this New York Times article for valuable tips on writing your college essay, including a list of “10 Things to Avoid.”
Find what makes you fascinating.
“There’s something fascinating in everyone’s life,” says George Anders in his Forbes article. Students often think only a difficult upbringing or serious setback can make for an interesting person. Not so. Each of us has something unique to offer, whether it be an odd obsession with Pez dispensers, a passion for birdwatching, or another hobby that makes our hearts flutter.
Here’s an interesting way to find a fascinating story hiding in plain sight: Start by writing about how others may perceive you. Try asking people in your life to describe you or what comes to mind when they think of you. Start developing those themes in an essay, fine-tuning them steadily throughout the next few drafts. You will likely be surprised at the story that results.
According to the IvyWise College Admissions Blog, schools often include unconventional secondary prompts or short answer questions to draw out an applicant’s individuality. Try answering some of the quirky prompts IvyWise rounded up to spur your imagination and get yourself thinking outside the box. Some of our favorite prompts include:
- “You have a popular podcast. What’s the title? What’s the topic?” This prompt gets you thinking about your passions and the things you believe in. After all, you’d only want to spend time podcasting about something you love, right?
- “What do you hope will change about the place where you live?” This prompt helps familiarize admissions committees with how you perceive the world around you, which values you hold true, and what you look for in a community.
ASU welcomes applications from students with diverse academic backgrounds and interests. A freshman is defined as a student who has graduated from a regionally accredited high school and has completed fewer than 12 transferable college credits post-high school. Freshman applicants who possess a high school diploma and meet the following requirements will be admitted to ASU.
- English - 4 years (composition/literature based)
- Math - 4 years (algebra I, geometry, algebra II and one course requiring algebra II as a prerequisite)
- Laboratory Science - 3 years total (1 year each from any of the following areas are accepted: biology, chemistry, earth science, integrated sciences and physics)
- Social Science - 2 years (including 1 year American history)
- Second Language - 2 years (same language)
- Fine Arts or Career and Technical Education - 1 year
- Top 25% in high school graduating class
- 3.00 GPA in competency courses (4.00 = "A")
- ACT 22 (24 nonresidents)*
- SAT: 1120 (1180 nonresidents)**
* ASU does not require the writing portion of these tests
** Requirement for SATs taken prior to May 2016 is 1010 (1110 non-residents).
Applicants must successfully complete the ASU competency requirement. Admission may be granted with one deficiency in no more than two competency areas. Deficiencies cannot be in both math and laboratory science. Students must earn a minimum 2.00 in any subject area. Most competencies may also be met by test scores or college courses. See Detailed Competency Requirements for more information.
ASU admission decisions begin the first week of Sept. 1. If you do not meet initial eligibility, you may be placed into individual review and experience a longer wait time for an admission decision.
Self-Reported Admission Application To expedite admission decisions, ASU accepts self-reported high school grades on the undergraduate admission application. Submission of an ACT or SAT score is highly recommended for merit-based scholarship consideration.
Higher Requirements for Some ASU Schools and Colleges Some schools and colleges have higher requirements for admission to their majors. To learn more about admission requirements, find the major of your interest at Degree Search. You should select a second major on your application if your first choice has higher admission requirements.
Individual Review All students who don't meet the above standards will be evaluated through a process called Individual Review. Through this process Admission Services will review all available information about a student's application, carefully considering all aspects of a student's academic background and accomplishments. Submission of an ACT or SAT test score is highly recommended. In some cases, additional information might be requested.
Home School Applicants ASU welcomes home school students and recognizes the unique academic experiences they contribute to our rich community of scholars. Please read additional admission information specifically for home school students.
General Educational Development Students may also meet admission requirements by submitting an official GED score of 500 or above for tests taken before January 2014 or a GED score of 170 or above for tests taken after January 2014.