The art of writing college admissions essays

Post By: COYD Staff

Earlier this month, I read a great article written by Jay Matthews of the Washington Post which described how writing a college application is like writing a newspaper column. He states that college essays are essentially columns, little bits of persuasive prose designed to be both personal and instructive, without too much wear-and-tear on the reader.” I thought this was a brilliant way to describe how a student should write their college admissions essay.

Below are a few characteristics of a newspaper column that we have highlighted that will help you with the style and tone of your admissions essay:

1. It’s personal, not factual.

The differences between a news story and a news column are the different questions each answers. A news story answers the When? What? Where? questions. A column answers the How? Why? questions. In an admissions essay, there is no need to state any factual information like your GPA, your SAT scores, your awards, or your classes. That is already covered in your resume and application.

2. First impressions are everything.

Your introduction is key. You should spend the most time writing your introduction. This is where your personality should pop. The introduction is the hook. Reading the introduction should make them wanting more.

3. Use humor only if you are truly funny.

Have you ever read jokes in a newspaper column that made you cringe? Well, that is not something you want to do in your admissions essay. If you are a natural comedian, use humor with caution but if you know you are not funny, don’t try it in your essay. Bad humor can distract the reader and do a disservice to your essay.

4. Use simple language.

The application essay is not an opportunity for you to utilize all the SAT words you learned this past year. Rule of thumb: if you haven’t used the word 1-2 times in the last 6 months, you probably don’t really know the word.

5. No grammatical mistakes and follow the guidelines.

Make sure to proofread your essay several times and have a friend proofread it as well. Also, if the essay asks for 500 words or less, don’t write 501 words. These small things might not set you apart from the crowd, but it will set you apart from the crowd negatively if you don’t pay attention to them.

6. Write in the first person.


Mastering the style is only half the battle. The content, the story is the other half.

You’ve probably heard many times that your essay should reflect something special, unique about you or your life. But how do you do that? Below are a few tips on how you can start finding your unique voice and your unique story:

1. Look for things/events in life that have caused extreme emotional reactions.

What makes you LOL (Laugh out Loud)?
What makes you cry like a baby?
Who/What has ever broken your heart? A cause, a relationship, an injustice.
What are you overly obsessed about? (Track your Google searches)

2. Have you ever been called weird? If so, when? What were you doing when someone called you weird?

3. Has there been an experience in your life that has deeply changed you, your opinion, or your perspective?

4. Don’t be something you’re not and be proud of who you are.


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3 Responses to “The art of writing college admissions essays”

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