College Planning Guide

How to write a compelling personal essay, part two

Now that you’ve got your outline all set up, it’s time to begin writing.

Just do it. There’s no formula for finding just the right words to begin with, so just start pumping it out. Chances are you'll hate everything you write, but never mind. You're just warming up. Buried in all your scribbling—maybe three or four sentences in—will be your prize: the perfect, attention-getting, honest, and intriguing opening sentence. Go from there to build

  • Your introduction. It’s the most important part of your essay, as it’s the first thing the administrators will read, so give it the most attention. Grab our staff's attention and don't let go. Raise questions. Create mystery. To make sure your essay is rich with your own personal voice, consider telling your story as if you are talking to your best friend.
  • Your supporting paragraphs. Details, details, details. Make our admissions staff do more than read your essay. Make them see it. Make sure they know exactly who you are.
  • Your conclusion. It doesn't have to earth-shattering. It doesn't even have to be profound. But it does have to be strong, confident, and, above all, a genuine reflection of how your essay represents you.

Take a break. Stuff your essay in a folder, and get away from it for a day or two. You'll come back to it with fresh eyes and perspective.

Read it out loud. Be sure your essay sounds like you. Remember, our admissions staff will look to your essay as a way to get to know the real you.

Proofread, rewrite, and proofread again. Fix grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and typos. Rework awkward transitions. Delete anything that doesn't ring true or carry weight. And don't forget to do a word count and keep your essay between 250-650 words to stay within Common Application guidelines.

Have someone else read it. Two heads are always better than one. Ask someone who knows you well—a favorite teacher or family member—to read and critique your essay. If your topic allows for it, ask them if you’ve portrayed yourself accurately and if you’re missing any important details. If he or she says your essay is silly, confusing, or just plain boring, don't argue. Rewrite it.

Type up a final draft and submit it. Then you never have to worry about it again.