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6 Qualities of a Successful College Essay

University student holding pen writing on paper answer sheet

Sitting down to write a college application essay can be daunting for many students, no matter how prepared and well qualified they may be. Why is your college essay so important to being accepted into a top college or university? The reason is that it provides the selection committee an opportunity to learn about you as a unique individual who can contribute something special to the next freshmen class.

These college essay tips will help you understand what colleges look for in essays and how to communicate those qualities in your planning, writing, and proofreading phases. With a good understanding of the things to avoid in college essays, you can create impressive and compelling responses that answer the questions most important to college admissions.

Brainstorming Beforehand

Female high school student studying

Prepare yourself to write your college essays by starting with thoughtful consideration and brainstorming. College admissions essays may be different from your high school writing assignments, because the purpose behind these formal essays is to talk about yourself and your life experience. You might consider attending a college essay workshop to get started.

The most successful college essays share these features:

1.   Well Prepared and Insightful

You will need to start at least several weeks before applications are due, although a month or more is even better. Put together some college essay brainstorming questions if you don’t have the final submission questions yet. As you think about the essay topics, take time to relax, go for a walk, talk to family and friends.

Ask yourself these kinds of questions:

  • What have been your most meaningful life experiences so far?
  • What activities and causes are you passionate about?
  • Which classes, teachers, and mentors have taught you the most?
  • What have you found difficult and learned to overcome?
  • What are your personal strengths and how will they contribute to your college or university?

2.   Express Your Unique Experience

This might be the first time you are asked to write about yourself in a professional setting, and the focus should be squarely on who you are and what you bring to your community. Don’t spend time imagining what the readers will want or expect to hear and then writing a bland recitation of your accomplishments.

Let go of self-editing at this phase and start here:

  • Decide what emotions and personal insights you want to convey about yourself.
  • Include stories and examples which are entertaining, engaging, and express resilience.
  • Read some successful examples of Ivy League level essays and take inspiration on style and tone.
  • Draft your own experiences and keep a running list of essay ideas that are uniquely your own.

Drafting Creative College Essays

What makes an essay interesting to a college application board? Fine-tuning your ideas into a creative essay that paints a picture of you as a person and inspires the reader to want to know more. Essay writing tips for high school students encourage us to focus on stories that give a true taste of your personality, determination, and ability to overcome obstacles.

3.   Discuss Unusual Life Challenges

What qualities do colleges look for in new students? Examples of personal and intellectual development which will bring unique perspectives and diversity of culture to their institution. Include an essay about the life challenges you have faced and how these experiences have led you to develop into a stronger, more confident individual. Your message here is not to instill pity or even compassion, but rather to share how challenging experiences have shaped you as a person and leave your reader inspired.

4.   Share Your Passion for Life Experiences

One of the best writing tips for students is to talk about what excites and motivates you personally. Use your essays to highlight one of the things you are passionate about, and how you turned a passion project into a positive outcome for yourself and your community.

You might write about:

  • Competitive sports or performance art experiences that have shaped your educational and personal growth.
  • Traveling, living, or working in other countries or with other cultures and how these experiences have broadened your perspective.
  • Intellectual experiences with coursework or projects that you were passionate about and that inspired you to pursue higher education in these areas.
  • Other stories of personal strength and accomplishments and how you will share these skills with others through your college acceptance.

Fine-Tuning and Finalizing Your College Essay

Good writing becomes great composition when you fine-tune and revise your first drafts into a clear, concise, and compelling essay. What do colleges want to see in an essay? A well-written and interesting account that is personal and genuine. As you finalize your submission, keep these aspects in mind:

5.   Written with Journalistic Impact

Jump right in with an opening line that captures the reader’s attention. Start at an exciting point in the story rather than building up with a long introduction. Your essay should tell the reader something they did not learn elsewhere in your application. Be bold in describing your own experiences and bring the reader to your conclusion, which should focus on why these experiences make you an excellent candidate for admission.

  • Rather than a broad description of your qualifications, focus on a single personal story told in detail.
  • Avoid using vague words like maybe, sort of, I think, very, or possibly.
  • Steer clear of describing controversial or dangerous activities, anything illegal, or stories without a clear conclusion.
  • Read your essay aloud and make sure you are comfortable with the language you are using and the message it conveys.

6.   Meet All Application Requirements

Before you submit your college essay, take some final steps to ensure that everything is correct and in line with professional standards and application requirements. To put the finishing touches on a great submission, you should:

  • Make sure your word count is correct. If the instructions ask for a specific number of words, try to finish at that mark or close to it. If no number of words is given, aim for about 600 words. Essays that are too short or too long may be rejected based on not following the instructions.
  • Proofread, spell check, grammar check, and ask a teacher, mentor, or family member familiar with college coursework to read over your essay and provide feedback.
  • Expect to revise and edit your essay several times before you are ready to submit your college application.

Customized College Prep and Summer Workshops

Lydian academy summer workshop

At Lydian Academy, we help young people prepare for college with one-on-one classrooms and an individualized educational plan for middle and high school students. You can sign up for a Summer College Essay and Application workshop with us to get individualized help with this important step to college acceptance.

We also offer Early College High School (ECHS) programs where high school students can enroll in college-level courses as an alternative to high school AP classes. This early college experience can smooth the transition and prepare young adults for the expectations of higher educational environments. Earning credit for these UC-transferable courses even helps with college tuition costs.

If you are looking for innovative learning experiences and a focus on each individual student’s success, Lydian Academy has the solutions that can fully prepare high school students for the challenges of college while encouraging their individual strengths and passions to fully ignite their love of learning. Contact us for more information or to schedule a virtual open house today.

We offer a unique year-round one-on-one learning experience, personalized to you and your schedule.

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