5 Best Tips for Writing College Essays

By Brad Murrow , last updated December 22, 2011

If you’re writing an essay for a college admission application or scholarship, take these simple tips into account to make your essay stand out. You may be limited to a certain word count, so you’ll need to get your point across quickly. No matter what type of college essay you’re writing, organizing it first will help you create a stronger submission.

Read the Question

Many students wander from the main topic or even miss it by quickly scanning the directions or question, focusing on a key word and beginning to write. Take your time and study the question to make sure you know exactly what the professor or admissions committee wants.

Organize Your Paper

Before you begin writing, create an outline. Use major headings, then a few sub-headings under each to add finer points. Starting with an outline makes it easier to begin writing and helps create an organized paper that’s easier to understand.

If you are writing a shorter essay for an application, write down the main points you want to cover, then put them in order of importance. This will ensure you cover the most important information.


For longer essays, start with an introduction that tells the reader what the paper is about. Provide the information, then summarize it at the end. This is often referred to as, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them.” This lets your professor know you have thought about what you wrote, rather than just rambling to fill pages. If you are writing an essay as part of an exam or for an admission, start with a summary paragraph that lists the main concepts you will be discussing, then write a paragraph on each subject.

Use the Active Voice

Writing in the active voice creates stronger sentences and makes it easier for the reader to follow. With the active voice, the subject performs the action, instead of vice versa. For example, don’t write, “Funding is being sought by the student association.” Write, “The student association is seeking funding.”

Proofread your Essay

Use the grammar and spell checking function of your word processing program before you submit your paper. Run it through an online plagiarism checkers to make sure you have not accidentally worded your work to closely to any of your sources. Read the paper out loud to catch any problems a reader will encounter. Have a friend read your paper for feedback.

Admissions Applications and Scholarship Tips

When you write an essay for a college application, don’t just talk about yourself. The admissions board wants to know what you will bring to the school. Yes, colleges and universities want to help educate young people, but they may have only so many slots available. If this is the case, they will want to admit students who bring a unique perspective to classrooms, an interest in participating in extra curricular activities, a track record of community service and other qualities that will improve the student body.

If you are applying for a scholarship or admission, talk about what you will do with your education after you graduate. Part of a college’s role is to prepare future leaders. Tell them why you want to pursue a particular major and what you may do with your life after college.

Be Positive

Avoid discussing failures if it leads to making excuses. Relate problems you’ve had if you’ve overcome them and can show how they have made you stronger. Don’t plead or beg; make the admissions or scholarship committee feel they are lucky to have a shot at you. Don’t brag. There’s a fine line between being acting confident and looking cocky. Have someone else read your paper to check the tone.

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