how to write an essay

College application essays, or personal statements, are the only way for college admissions teams to learn more about the person behind the application. It allows admissions teams to hear from the applicant and gain additional insight into an applicant’s values, motivations, and experiences that are not represented in their academic background. A well-written essay personalizes an application, leaves a positive impression on admissions teams, and influences their decision.

With so much at stake, many applicants feel anxious when writing their personal statements. With the right approach, students can remove the dread from this process and create an engaging essay. Here’s how to write a winning essay.

Start Writing Early

Writing a solid college essay takes multiple revisions. Starting early gives students time to choose the best topic, organize their thoughts, and refine their writing. It also gives students time to experiment with various styles and approaches to ensure they’re authentically representing themselves in the essay.

While students may begin the essay on their own, they can reach out to a writing tutor with college essay experience at any stage of their writing process. Working with a tutor can provide extra guidance and personalized feedback to help them produce their best work. It can also help hold them accountable by giving them a set time to work on their essay.

Students should plan to dedicate around 20 hours to their college essays. Keep in mind, this number can vary based on factors including but not limited to:

  • The number of schools on a student’s list
  • Supplemental essay requirements
  • Whether a student has outside help
  • A student’s writing ability

Write Authentically

Most students are tempted to use language they normally don’t use in their essay to impress the admissions team. Rather than writing in a way they believe the admissions team wants to read, we encourage students to write naturally. This allows them to accurately convey their personality, showcase their writing skills, and create a unique reading experience for the admissions team.

Students should be mindful of the tone they use throughout the essay to ensure it’s appropriate for their topic. We recommend choosing a topic that reflects their experiences and motivates them. They should share a memory, story, or experience that has shaped them into the person they are today.

Taking this approach provides a personal touch no other applicant can replicate.

Start with a Strong Hook

Many students wonder how to start an essay. The best way to start is to understand what makes an introduction work. A solid introduction does three things: captures attention, provides relevant context, and sets the tone and reader’s expectations for the rest of the essay.

The first sentence in the introduction paragraph should act as a hook. A strong hook captures a reader’s attention, piques their curiosity, and entices them to keep reading. They can take many forms including:

  • Rhetorical questions
  • Surprising facts or statistics
  • Relevant quotes
  • Interesting anecdotes
  • Evocative imagery or descriptions
  • Common misconceptions

A strong introductory paragraph could look something like this:

“1…2…3…4 pirouettes! New record!” My friends cheered as I landed my turns. Pleased with my progress, I gazed down at my worn-out pointe shoes. The sweltering blisters, numbing ice-baths, and draining late-night practices did not seem so bad after all. Next goal: five turns.

-21 Stellar Common App Essay Examples To Inspire Your College Essay

In this example, the hook takes the form of dialogue. Starting an essay this way sparks the reader’s curiosity because it drops the reader in the middle of a story. This causes them to crave context and look to the following sentences for more information.

A strong hook gets readers invested while the sentences that follow submerge them deeper into the essay. The rest of the introduction paragraph should provide relevant background information to draw a connection between the hook and the essay’s main idea.

The main idea should be clearly implied to the reader in the first paragraph. It should set the reader’s expectations and establish the writer’s perspective on the prompt provided without explicitly stating it.

Make Sure the Essay Stays on Topic

The introduction paragraph makes the reader a promise that is kept throughout the body paragraphs. Each paragraph that follows should provide additional context and illustrate the writer’s perspective in a concise narrative. Students should keep their main idea in mind as they write to ensure the information they add enriches their essay.

Rather than trying to condense their entire lives into a short writing assignment, students should focus on a singular narrative to ensure they address only the most relevant points.

End as Strongly as You Began

Knowing how to write a conclusion for an essay is equally as important as knowing how to write an introduction paragraph. Effective conclusions summarize the essay’s main points and provide a satisfying ending for readers. Once they finish the conclusion, readers shouldn’t feel as though vital information is missing.

In the conclusion, students should address how the events covered in the essay shaped their current perspective. Ending the essay on an insightful note, or kicker, gives the reader something to consider long after they have finished reading.

Learn to Write a Strong College Essay with C2

Having a memorable college essay is a great way for applicants to stand out from the competition during the admissions process. It provides an alternative perspective that may not be reflected in their transcripts or extracurricular activities. With ample time and personalized guidance, any student can write a standout college essay.

C2 Education’s College Essay Program provides structured sessions to help guide your student as they develop their submissions. From brainstorming to perfecting the final draft, our expert tutors provide students with the support they need to thrive. We help students develop powerful essays that authentically represent their experiences and insights.

We provide personalized support for students throughout the essay-writing process. In the end, they’ll have up to four completed essays and a plan for the future.

Want to learn more about our College Essay Program? Submit this form to get started or visit a C2 near you.