College Application Essay Guide

How to write the perfect essay for your college application (UK/US)

Top-scoring students with well-rounded extracurriculars are a dime a dozen, but the essays are where you have a chance to stand out.

Essays are a crucial component of your application and can often be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful applicant. If you are a “borderline” candidate with good but less-competitive grades and test scores, then a strong essay could push you into the admitted pool.

Essay requirements vary dramatically between the US and the UK.

In the UK, the essay, also known as the personal statement, is your only opportunity to condense all the experiences that have motivated you to pursue your chosen course. It can be challenging to articulate the various skills that you have gained and display your passion for your chosen field in just 4000 characters (~750 words). Hence, you are required to be highly structured and concise when describing your experiences.

College essays for undergraduate admissions to the US are NOT personal statements. You will need to bring out your creative side and think outside the box to tell a compelling story. Your essays are your opportunity to share your voice, your unique experiences, and your perspective on life. To truly assess an applicant’s fit with the school, admissions officers use the essays to evaluate a student’s personality, writing skills, and aspirations. While the importance of essays varies between colleges, highly selective and top ranked colleges place more emphasis on essays. Applicants to these schools usually meet admissions requirements in terms of grades and SAT scores – which make the essays a distinguishing factor.

You will need to set aside a significant chunk of time for US essays. The main essay, the Common Application Essay, involves choosing one of seven prompts with a limit of 650 words. However, you may have to write anywhere from 15 to 30 essays in total as there are school-specific supplements – ranging from “Why X College?” to “A letter to your future Stanford Roommate” to “You are teaching a Yale course. What is it called?”

College Essay Writing Guide

How to write a good application essay in 5 steps

1. Choose The Right Stories

For the Common App, it’s important to brainstorm broadly as the most interesting stories may not be the most recent ones, nor would they be the ones that you’re constantly thinking about at the time.

To guide the brainstorming process, try to think about yourself from an outsider’s perspective. Ask questions such as:

  1. What kind of person are you?
  2. What are the key milestones in your life?
  3. What interests and skills make you unique?

These questions will help you discover yourself and find the important things that drive you in life. Try to avoid the pitfall of simply summarizing your experiences and achievements.

2. Choose The Right Topics

Once you have completed the brainstorming process, you will eventually be faced with the dilemma of deciding which essay questions and topics to write about.

Ultimately, it’s important to strike a balance between what you feel the most strongly about and what traits and experiences will be most appreciated by the admissions committee. Oftentimes, students write about topics that are very broad and encompass various elements of their personality. Try narrowing in on specific stories that illustrate a larger personality trait or interest and help you avoid overused topics.

3. Create A Clear Essay Outline With Clear Narrative

Once you have shortlisted the ideas, start fleshing them out into full-blown narratives. Do not rush into starting the essay itself.

4. Choose The Right Language And Tone

Stylistically speaking, the personal statement and Common App essays are very different.

The tone in a personal statement needs to be confident and enthusiastic – yet formal. When describing achievements, it is important to avoid coming across as insincere or boastful.

On the other hand, the Common App gives you more room to be creative, witty, and introspective. Most students face difficulty in writing such an open-ended ‘personal reflection’ style essay.

5. Revision, Revision, Revision

When writing college essays, you need to be prepared for a long cycle of writing, editing, and rewriting.

Every time you are done with a draft, review it to ensure the structure and content are sound. Proofread your essays to multiple times to catch grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, typos, and awkward phrasing.

Need help with your essay?

Writing personal essays to impress colleges can be a daunting task, and we are here to make the process easier.

Prep Zone Academy offers comprehensive college application consulting services, and college application essay help is one of our fields of expertise. Beyond proof-reading, our consultants take the time to get to know you and help with crafting an essay that highlights your authentic voice.

If you’d like to engage our services, fill in the following form or call us at +65 6812 9999. Our hotline is always active.


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