7 Tips to Help Your College Essay Stand Out

Posted by Neal Schwartz on July 22, 2020


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College application kickoff Aug 1st


The college essay is the pinnacle of your high school career. But being able to sum yourself up in 650 words is not an easy task. What’s the best topic to write about? What if I don’t have any ideas? This essay can at first seem overwhelming, but it’s helpful to zoom out and take it step by step. With some schools going test-optional, the college essay is an even more important determining admissions factor. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of tips for students looking to give their essays a competitive advantage for this very particular application season. The Common App kickoff date is set for August 1st, which is the official start of the college application season. That’s why it’s wise to get the essay started over the summer when there are no distractions from school.  

  1. Break away from formulas and general statements

The 5-paragraph essay has its place, but no one said that the college essay has to follow this structure. It can help at first to organize your thoughts, but it will not always be adaptable to every topic. Like with any other essay, start by brainstorming and then finding a structure that seems natural. Also, focus on word choice and making language as specific as possible. Don’t fill up space with general statements just to get to your word count, but find opportunities to add humor, examples, or more details.

  1. Pick two top ideas to start writing out

Your topic might not come to you right away. But don’t dismiss any good idea until you try writing out the first paragraph and seeing if it feels right. We suggest coming up with two ideas to start writing out that could potentially turn into your final topic. 

  1. Find a topic you actually care about (not one that your parents choose for you)

Your topic doesn’t have to be groundbreaking, just honest. We love our parents, but having them get too involved can sometimes take away the authenticity of a topic. Choose something that gives you passion, because if you’re bored by your topic, the person reading your essay will be able to tell. 

  1. Find your voice 

It is important for the tone of your essay to be consistent, and consistently “you.” Don’t worry so much about being overly formal and academic; the college admissions team wants to see your personality and your very unique way of expressing yourself. 

  1. Don’t try to impress; simple is better

The college essay is not your opportunity to brag about yourself and repeat what you’ve already indicated in your application. Tell a story and tell it simply, humbly and honestly. Less is always more. 

  1. Write and rewrite; read and reread

When you think you’re done, you’ll probably need to write at least a couple more drafts. The college essay is an important essay that needs to be given the proper time and investment. This is not something that should be done at the last minute. And be patient. Each draft will get better and better. 

  1. When in doubt, seek an expert opinion

With many years of college essay experience, we at College Planning of Westchester have a tried-and-tested method for bringing out students’ most original ideas and helping with the essay process from start to finish. Many students have a difficult time writing, and that’s why we’re here to help. 

For more selective colleges, supplemental essays also become available around August 1st, a date of critical importance, especially if you’re going to apply to a test-optional school. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on the college supplements! 

In these trying times, having an extra hand on the college essay could help put students in the best position for admission at their top schools. Give us a call to schedule a free consultation today!


Best Regards, 

Neal Schwartz, Owner

College Planning of Westchester



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Topics: College Essays, College Applications, college admissions, supplemental essays, college counseling, commonapp, high school senior, college freshman year


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