How to write an application essay: a comprehensive guide

How to write an application essay: the best strategies for students

Knowing how to start an application essay and make it perfect for the student committee is half of your success during the application process. We all know that the student committee members have to sift through hundreds, if not thousands, of papers daily. If you have the power to make them transfer your essay to the “Accepted” pile, you have mastered the art of an attention-grabbing college essay. If you are wondering how to make your application essay stand out, follow this application essay guide for more prompts.

Application essay: purpose and definition 

An application essay is a key part of the admission process. It is a formal essay that highlights the student’s career goals. A potential student needs to convey a sense of character and show off their writing skills to the application committee, as well as express their thoughts coherently and convince the committee they are a great fit for a program. Application essays usually contain an autobiographical element and have to feature your life experience and an emotional arc to make the committee members more predisposed toward your personal journey.

If you are one of the first-year applicants wondering how to write a college application essay, you may start asking yourself: why is my application essay important? Admissions committees have to comb through a mind-blowing number of college essays on a daily basis. They have to make difficult decisions and assess the student’s GPAs and the number of extracurricular activities that they have attended. If an admission essay is well-rounded, carefully constructed, and appealing to the committee’s emotional side, it will increase your chances of getting accepted.

This guide was created to enumerate all the application essay mistakes to avoid when writing a college essay. Your admissions essay is your signature card when applying to college, and it should be written in accordance with the university’s academic standards. Our guide will provide you with the necessary insights and strategies to make your admission essay truly outstanding. 

College essay prompts: understanding the task

How to write an application essay if you don’t know where to start? Before you get down to writing, we recommend studying the prompt to know what the college wants from you. For example, a Common Application app for US applicants has introduced seven application prompts that you can address this year, including the description of your biggest talent or skill and reflecting on your biggest life-changing experience. Here is what you need to do to understand the task:

  • Take your time to analyze the prompts and what you can gather from the subjects listed as appropriate for your application essays. You should also determine the main requirements for your academic essay content: the appropriate length of the text. The tone of voice required to write an essay, the subject of the paper, and the style recommended by the admissions committee. 
  • Once you have identified the college demands using our application essay tips, you can start thinking about the audience you are writing for. What is a college application essay, and what type of readers is it aimed at? It is easy to think that a college essay is something written for a bureaucratic audience, but that is not entirely true.
  • Whenever you sit down to write an application essay, you should remember that you are writing for a real person who is a member of the admissions committee. When trying to understand your reading audience, you should find a balance between extraordinary elements and being shocking for the sake of impressing the audience.

College essay outline: researching the topic 

Writing a college application essay can be a challenge. You are constantly bombarded by information that starts with “how to write a personal statement,” but when it comes to beginning an actual essay, you are suddenly out of ideas. We suggest an approach known as brainstorming. Here, you need to stick to the following steps:

  • Don’t think of your topic in terms of importance and unimportance. How to start a college admissions essay properly? Remember: no subject is too large when you are considering common application essay prompts. You might believe that discussing major topics such as gender identity, women’s issues, national history, or religious convictions will impress college counselors by showing your seriousness and dedication. However, the opposite can also be true. By expanding on a seemingly minor topic that genuinely excites you, you can demonstrate your unique perspective and passion, convincing counselors that you are a valuable addition to university life.
  • Write down every detail and idea you can think of. How to write an application essay that makes other people stop and think about their future? Include every little detail that shaped who you are today. Sometimes, the details that you can brainstorm turn into fully developed ideas that you can use as a foundation for your essay.
  • Separate the subjects by category for an easy approach. If you have trouble organizing your ideas for an application essay, you can try categorizing the topics into separate clusters. These can be culture and cultural impact, your main interests and hobbies, challenges in life (preferably not related to academia for a more emotional experience), personal stories, family life, travel experiences, and stories of self-empowerment.
  • Consider the main ideas for each topic. Each of your brainstorming ideas should have a separate takeaway. Think in terms of authenticity and what the subject can say about you, your values, principles, and beliefs. When you’ve written each idea separately, start asking yourself why writing a college application essay on this particular subject should interest the admission committee and what it says about you.

A basic application essay outline includes a proper introduction, a body of ideas, and a conclusion. Your task is to control the chaos of the ideas that you produced during the brainstorming phase and arrange them in neat succession. This will help you think logically and get rid of thoughts that don’t serve your essay. This is what your application essay outline should look like in a nutshell:


  • Hook: The main concept that will define your essay and establish the theme;
  • Thesis statement: A sentence that provides the reason why you should be admitted.

Body of supporting ideas 

  • Supporting sentence 1;
  • Supporting sentence 2;
  • Supporting sentence 3.


  • Reflection on the main ideas of the essay;
  • Connecting your ideas together;
  • Concluding the essay with the defining thought. 

You need to analyze the subject of your essay and decide whether you will use personal experience or an already existing prompt to create a thesis statement. If an application essay format and following the structure seems challenging, you can always buy a research paper online and forget about sleepless nights brainstorming ideas for your future admissions essay.

Writing the essay: breaking down the essentials 

How to write an application essay according to academic standards? We would like you to take a look at the steps that make the process of creating a compelling text for your application easy:


How to start a college admissions essay? A great introduction will set the stage for what is coming next in your essay and guide the readers through your text. We recommend openers that focus on a personal story, preferably a positive one, to make sure your essay stands out from other candidates and their attempts to entice the committee with generic statements.

Revising and editing 

Revise and edit your admissions essay as many times as needed to ensure the admission committee does not have to sift through grammatical and punctuation errors along the way. One of the best methods to start your revision is to print your essay on paper and edit it with a pen in hand, the old-fashioned style. You will see a difference between analyzing your text on the computer screen and having a copy in hand that you can skim through. 


Before you submit your admissions essay to the college committee, you should go through the process of self-editing. Self-editing will help you to improve and refine your text after you take some time away from the computer to gain a clear perspective. Experts recommend examining the text from the viewpoint of an admissions officer. Open your essay and scan your text as if you are a member of the college committee. Does your essay tell the audience about who you are? If you notice there is nothing that sets you apart from other candidates, it is time to reevaluate your thesis statement and start from scratch.

Peer editing 

You can ask your friends to read your admissions paper and evaluate it in the process. Your fellow students may not have the formal experience, but they can easily point out bigger issues like unclear themes, incorrect thesis statements, or a general lack of a hook that can grab a reader and make them invested in your story. Peer editing is a popular practice that helps students switch application essays and look over each other’s writing.

Professional Editing 

How to start an admissions essay editing process if you have no experience with revisions? If you are not sure about the types of essays demanded by the admissions committee and need a professional to edit your work, it would be advisable to seek assistance from an expert writing service. They hire native speakers who know everything about the editing business, so they will never let you down in terms of a top-tier application essay and the editing process.

Types of mistakes you need to avoid

There are some of the common mistakes that you need to avoid when writing an application essay for college:


What is a college application essay, and why does plagiarism ruin your chances of being admitted? You are aware of the fact that the admission team pays close attention to the sources the applicants use while writing an essay. In addition, they may use tools like Turnitin and Grammarly Plagiarism Checker to determine whether your essay has a high percentage that matches the student content written previously.

If the committee members find out that you have copied at least half of your content from other people seeking entry into college, you will be disqualified from the student body with no chance of acceptance. You should be careful when using other people’s words to illustrate the point. If a remark or a statement belongs to someone else, use the rules of consistent citation to notify the committee and avoid being accused of plagiarism.

Lack of focus

What should a college application essay look like? You want to stay laser-focused on your main subject, whether it is introspection about the life lessons you’ve been taught or a personal experience that shaped you into the person that you are today.  If your counselors have already looked through the documentation attached to your admission paper, they know what your scores are, so your academic achievements are important but will only add unnecessary clunkiness to the paper. 

We know that students applying for six colleges at once can find it hard to maintain focus on one subject. However, you should try to customize every essay to meet the demands of a particular university. Otherwise, your text will be full of trite expressions and cliches that must be avoided at all costs.

Poor grammar and punctuation

When writing a college application essay, avoid grammar and spelling mistakes to ensure that your essay stays clear and consistent. Your admission counselor will welcome an error-free paper that does not have any punctuation blunders or discrepancies in style and tone. You might be tempted to use slang to show your affiliation with the student community. Still, you should also remember that your target audience is older and will have a hard time understanding “trendy” words you decide to throw in for the sake of being verbose. The same goes for slang and words that can only be understood by the members of a specific community or culture.

Tips for success

How to write a compelling application essay if you are just getting started? You can achieve success in your application essay by following these success tips:

  • Show instead of narrating the details of your adventure. Instead of trying to cram all of your life experiences into an essay that does not exceed 650 words, opt for an alternative approach of showing the admission team what valuable life lessons you’ve learned after you have overcome a challenge or an obstacle. 
  • Be true to your voice and style. How to write an admission essay in style? Writing an admission essay is not the time to use complicated, fancy language or words that sound too formal to belong to a student. Imagine that you are in a room full of people who have no idea who you are. If they don’t understand what you are trying to say, paraphrase the sentences to make them sound more natural. 
  • Follow the instructions provided by the university. You should follow the instructions provided by your college to make sure your essay does not get thrown out immediately. For example, if the instructions specify the word count you must adhere to, don’t make your essay too long. Every admission team uses software that automatically sorts the essays by their adherence to length, style, plagiarism, and word count.


How long should an application essay be?

Typically, an institution will provide you with an appropriate word count for your admission essay. You also have to read the assignment promptly to learn the requirements for your college essay. If the word count is not specified, it is best to keep your essay between 250 and 650 words.

How do I start my application essay?

How to write an effective application essay without effort? You should start your application essay with a strong opener. It can be a personal opinion, an anecdote, or a statement that will draw the attention of the readers from the first words. You should not use excessively formal language or try to impress the college committee with your grades. 

How do I end my application essay?

You need to finish your application essay with a wrap-up of your thoughts. It can either be a moment of action where you describe your future goals or try a different tactic and emphasize the facts that you’ve learned during your life experience.


What should a college application essay look like? A person will be reading your admission essay, so you should always write an application with the target audience in mind. Although there is no magical formula or recipe to make your application essay stand out, you can always stick to the tried and tested methods: find an authentic voice, follow your intuition, avoid flaunting your life of privilege, and use an essay structure (introduction, supporting ideas, and conclusion). 

You will soon realize that the process of brainstorming ideas is not that complicated, so we recommend starting to write your essay today. Once you have a solid research paper outline at your fingertips, you can showcase your brilliance and demonstrate that your university acceptance is another chance to prove that including you in the student body was the best decision on behalf of the application committee. Finding additional information on how to start an application essay will help you craft a story that will make you stand out among other students.

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