5 Insider College Essay Hacks to Stand Out From the Crowd

When it comes to writing a winning college essay, many students wonder why it’s important and how it can help them. You may have stellar SAT scores or honor level courses on your transcript, but without great college essays, your application will not make a great impact on the admission officials of your dream college. 

A persuasive and compelling college essay will make you stand out from other applicants. Through this article, we will give you 5 hacks that can make a significant difference to your college essays.

In a nutshell, your college essay demonstrates something unique about you that you cannot reveal with your grades or test scores – that is your personality.


Challenges of Writing a College Essay


When it comes to writing college essays, students face a myriad of challenges.

According to college essay papers, the first challenge of writing a college essay is procrastination. Many students put off their essay writing until they are left with no time which could add more pressure and make them get things wrong. There is also the challenge of explaining yourself in just 500 words. How is it even possible given the information running down in your mind?

Students also focus on pleasing the committee to the extent of failing to demonstrate their real experiences.

As a rule, keep your college essay length close to the maximum limit possible. Usually, college essays fall within 500 and 600 words long. Does this sound good?

Let’s get rolling.

Follow these five tips to write a winning college application essay.


5 Hacks for Writing a Winning College Essay


1. Plan Your Writing In Advance

Part of the reason why many students fail to write outstanding college application essays is that they put off things until the last minute. If you fall for this trap, you’re going to rush the writing process and the quality of your essay will suffer. When the time to write your college essay comes, remember that you need enough to plan, write, proofread and edit, then polish your essay before submitting it. As a rule, you need to plan your writing project to give yourself enough time for the entire project. 

You also need to know your audience. It’s only when you understand who they are and what they are looking for that when you can know how to tailor your application essay appropriately.

So before you start writing your essay, find out what they are looking for in a potential candidate; and how you can demonstrate yourself as the deserving student.  Avoid over exceeding their expectations though. Focus on demonstrating your strengths and how you can convince them you’re the right candidate.


2. Understand the College Essay Prompt 

This sounds like a no-brainer but many students have had their essays marked ineffective for not addressing the prompt as required. 

Not understanding the essay prompt could give the admission committee a reason not to accept your essay no matter how outstanding it is.

So, read over the essay prompt several times and be clear about what you’re required to do. Some institutions will require candidates to choose from several prompts. Understanding the essay prompt clearly enables you to let the admission committee know more about yourself while complying with the writing standards required.

Being clear on the prompt also enables you to stay on track. Here is some common application essay prompts examples.

Example 1: The lessons we obtain from difficulties we experience can be fundamental to future career success.  Describe a time when you encountered a challenge, difficulty, failure, or setback. How did it affect you and what lessons did you learn from the experience.

Example 2: Think about a time when you challenge an idea. What prompted you to challenge it? Recount the outcome.

Example 3: Describe a problem you’ve solved or you’d like to solve. Explain its importance to you, and what steps you took or you’d take to identify a solution.


3. Choose An Interesting Topic

Sometimes you’ll have some freedom to choose a topic for your college essay by yourself. In that case, choose a topic that interests you.

Remember that the freedom to choose a topic for your essay can make things difficult for you. You might be tempted to choose a topic only to find that you cannot get enough information about it on the internet. Ensure you choose a subject you can confidently research and write without scratching your head too much. The idea is to let the admission committee know your personality as a candidate.


4. Create an Outline

To have an interesting writing process, you need to create an outline that shows all of the key points you’re going to talk about in your essay without going over or below the word limit. Write down all the main ideas either in bullet points or a list so you can be guided accordingly.

Basic outline of college essay

Creating an outline of your essay will help you stay organized and ensure that you don’t wander during the writing process.


5. Start Strong 

You’re now into the actual process of writing your college essay. Remember that the admission committee will be reviewing dozens of application essays so your first impression matters.

As a rule, you need to capture the reviewers’ attention immediately they place their eyes on your essay. That’s why you’re required to craft a compelling introduction. The first sentence of your essay can make the reviewers develop a desire to continue reading or stop and toss your essay into the dustbin.

To make your essay stand out, you need to know how to open strong. Hook the readers and drag them by their collars. Make your opening sentence as interesting and intriguing as possible, and then introduce your topic at the end of the first paragraph. Use the tips below to write an eye-catching introduction for your essay.

Write it in your own words

Often, it’s advised to start with a quote, a startling stat, or a question. When it comes to writing a college essay, you need to write the introduction in your own words. Remember that the introduction should tell the reviewer about you or your ideas.

Avoid overused phrases

As stated earlier, your essay needs to reveal your unique qualities. Repeating phrases that have been used for a long time shows that you cannot come up with your own ideas.


Additional tips on how to nail a college essay


Be Proud, But Don’t Brag

When it comes to making yourself stand out from the competition, it’s easy to fall for the temptation to brag about yourself. The goal of the essay is to demonstrate why you deserve the opportunity anyway. But hold your horses.

You don’t want to overdo it- but you shouldn’t shy away from bragging a little bit while showing the committee you’re human. Don’t be afraid to mention instances when you failed. After all, failing is normal but what you do after failing is what differentiates you from the other failures.


Show Emotions 

When writing your admission essay, you want to make sure the reader can connect with you. You want the reader to see you as a person, not a faceless writer.

Showing emotions can help you achieve that. To show emotions, don’t be afraid to demonstrate your vulnerabilities- after all, everyone is vulnerable. Showing times when you felt nervous, afraid, or defeated demonstrates self-awareness.


Show, Don’t Tell

Someone reading your essay wants to know your experiences. Use real-life examples. Ideally, you want to show the reader how you’ve been able to achieve your career success so far but not just telling them.

If you’ve achieved something worth mentioning in your application, show how you did it.


Proofread and Edit

Perhaps this is not the first, second, or third time you’re reading about it but you’ll be shocked by the number of times admission officers have encountered application essays with a ton of grammatical errors, punctuation mistakes, sentence structure problems, and many other errors. Sometimes this happens when students rush their essay writing process up- partly due to procrastination or other reasons. As a rule, you should give your essay writing process ample time so that after writing, you’re left with more time to proofread it thoroughly.

You can use a spell checker tool or ask a friend to read over your essay for you.


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Author Bio:  Prathamesh Sardesai is part of the content team at AP Guru. He has more than 10 years of experience as a content writer, specializing in writing about topics related to education and environmental issues like climate change and sustainability.


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