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The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing a Great College Essay

What’s more fun than writing essays for school? Obviously, writing extra essays outside of school that are incredibly important for your college admissions!

Lots of high school students are intimidated by the process of writing essays, and that’s pretty fair. It’s hard to tell what’s going to set your own essay apart from the thousands (yes, literally thousands) of others.

No matter how good or bad your SAT scores are, or how strong your GPA is, you know your college essays still matter a lot. These are basically you’re only opportunity to show an admissions office who you are and what makes you unique.

Fortunately, you can follow a few simple guidelines for writing an essay that’s both true to yourself and stands out from the pack.

Do: Write About What Genuinely Excites You

Colleges want to know why you’ll be a valuable member of their communities. They want, first and foremost, passionate people who are going to make the most of the college experience. It doesn’t matter if your interests are academic in nature — like you lovebiology — or related to extracurriculars. What colleges want to know is that you have things you love enough to really apply yourself to.

For example, if you have terrible grades in math class, then it might just be crucial that you’re a prolific poet.

And remember, you don’t have to know your major or your career right now. You just have to be interested in things.

Don’t: Follow the Prompt Like a Formula

Sometimes college essays ask cheesy questions like “If you have to perform a song for a talent show in front of your whole school, what would you choose any why?” The college isn’t really interested in what song and why, so don’t just write some perfunctory answer to this. What the college wants to know is how you respond to those types of questions generally.

The golden rule of college essays is make it memorable.Take some risks and use these weird prompts as an opportunity to tell your own story, to demonstrate your unique personality.

Do: Explain Why That School Is Good for You

Admission departments want to accept people who are going to be a good fit. This doesn’t just mean that you’re a good fit for the school, but that the school is a good fit for you. You want to make it clear what is exciting about that school you’re applying to and what you plan on getting involved with there.

Show the people reading your essays that you have an idea of how you’d fit into the community there. Hopefully you have a great reason for applying to every school you’re applying to, including your safety schools. If you don’t, maybe it’s time to reconsider who you’re sending applications to.

Don’t: Pander

With all that said, don’t try to guess what an admissions officer wants to hear from you. Just be honest about yourself! There’s no way to guess the type of person that an admissions office is looking for, so your best option is to represent yourself in the best, most honest way possible and hope that a school is keen on you.

Worse comes to worst, you just weren’t a right fit for a school. If your essay represented you well and you did not get in, take that as an indication that the admissions people who read your applications just didn’t think that that specific college would be a place where you would thrive.

Do: Get Feedback from Someone Who Knows You Well

Since the whole point of college essays is to put your best foot forward, you want to make sure you’re doing a good job representing yourself. The only problem is that we aren’t always good at writing about ourselves!

The best solution to that little problem is to get some friends and family to read your essays. Your best friend will probably be able to point out if there’s some important personal detail missing from your essays, while your parents might be able to tell you which of your achievements you should brag about a little more.

And, of course, you need a proofreader to make sure you’re not submitting anything with errors in it.


When writing a college essay, don’t get caught up in speculating about what you think admissions officers want you to write about. Show your personality and interests, as well as genuine reasons for wanting to go to that particular institution. If you do this, continue to seek out honest feedback from people who know you well and are well versed in grammar and writing, and leave time for editing and revisions, you’re that much closer to being accepted to your dream school!

About the Author

Mike S. is a top test prep (SAT, ACT, GRE, GMAT) tutor for MyGuru, a boutique tutoring company. We are a provider of 1-1 tutoring and test prep with a core concept-led approach, meaning our objective is to help our students understand the fundamental concepts, not tips and tricks. All of our independently contracted tutors have many years of tutoring experience and impressive academic backgrounds. We require a minimum of three years of tutoring and/or teaching experience. We strive to have a small but highly qualified team that delivers customized and quality tutors in most subjects, in-person and online. Please don’t hesitate to reach outfor more information!


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