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College essays allow applicants to add a personal touch to their application. It’s a chance to share personal experiences that have molded them into the person they are today. These essays offer the admissions team a chance to hear directly from an applicant and learn why they’re drawn to a particular school. A strong application coupled with a well-written essay can tip the scales in an applicant’s favor of being accepted.

With so much riding on these essays, many may wonder how to begin tackling such an important part of their application. Starting these essays begins with understanding the different types an applicant may be asked to write.

Exploring Different Types of College Essays

College essays can be broadly categorized as personal statements, sometimes called primary essays, and supplemental essays.

A primary essay is the main essay required for most college applications. It’s most often written to address one of the seven prompts announced by the Common App. While these prompts may vary by year, it was recently announced the 2024-2025 prompts will remain the same as the 2023-2024 prompts.

Once applicants finalize their personal statements, they can upload them to the Common App to submit alongside the rest of their application to the colleges of their choosing.

Supplemental essays are secondary essays schools may request to learn more about an applicant. Prompts for these essays are typically provided by the school. Supplemental prompts can serve many different purposes. Many schools include supplements that ask applicants to explain why they want to attend that college. These prompts help colleges identify students who have a sincere interest in attending and who are likely to be a good fit for the school’s academic and social communities. Some schools feature more creative prompts. The University of Chicago, for example, is known for its unusual essay prompts, which force applicants to apply creative thinking in crafting their responses.

To ensure applicants are giving themselves the best chance of being accepted, we’ve compiled a few tips to help college applicants get started.

Tip 1: Start Writing Early

Generally, we recommend applicants spend around 20 to 30 hours working on their college essays. This gives applicants ample time to brainstorm, draft, and revise essays to ensure they’re submitting their best work to admissions teams.

Spring of Junior Year

Brainstorming essay topics in the spring of junior year gives an applicant time to explore each prompt and choose the one that stands out to them the most. During the brainstorming phase, applicants can jot down past experiences, consider the impact these moments had on their lives, dig deeper into their interests, and more. At this stage, there’s no pressure to understand how the pieces fit together or even finalize a topic.

An applicant’s focus during this time should be self-reflection and topic exploration.

Summer Between Junior and Senior Year

Applicants should finalize their topic and start writing their primary essay in the summer between their junior and senior year. This allows students to work on and refine their essay without the pressures of juggling school work and extracurriculars. Working with a tutor during the drafting phase allows applicants to receive expert feedback.

As applicants workshop their essays with tutors, they can learn new writing skills and improve their overall process.

Tip 2: Tell a Compelling Story

A great personal statement should take the form of a personal narrative: a story that not only illustrates some of an applicant’s best traits but also sets them apart from other applicants. This writing task is unlike most writing applicants have done before. Unlike most school assignments, which call for analytical, informative, or persuasive writing styles, personal statements require more creative storytelling techniques. Admissions officers are looking for personal statements that are unique and authentic, highlighting what makes the applicant different from others. Applicants should relate a personal experience using an authentic voice to create a memorable and compelling story that distinguishes them in a competitive field.

Tip 3: Stay Focused

Although it can be tempting for applicants to try to fit as many of their experiences as possible into their college essays, it’s important that these essays have a clear focus. Rather than including many different experiences or accomplishments in a relatively short essay, applicants should focus on a clear narrative and message.

Tip 4: Take Breaks and Receive Outside Feedback

As an applicant spends hours working on their essay, they may become tired and restless. In the hopes of finishing the essay faster, they begin to jot down anything simply to meet the word count. This can be beneficial during the brainstorming and drafting phases, but this shouldn’t be the final essay.

Starting a personal statement early gives applicants more time to review and edit their work with fresh eyes. This new perspective could identify errors an applicant may have previously missed if they edited their essay while fatigued. Having an outside party review and provide feedback on a primary is also an excellent way to identify new opportunities and things an applicant may have missed such as:

  • spelling and grammatical errors
  • statements requiring clarification
  • statements that could be simplified and more

Keeping this feedback in mind while revising drafts can help applicants produce an eloquent, concise, and polished essay.

Tip 5: Be Mindful of Deadlines

The quality of a college essay is irrelevant if the admissions team can’t read it. Keeping an eye on upcoming deadlines throughout the essay writing process ensures applicants finalize and submit their essays on time.

Ready to Begin Drafting a Winning Essay?

At first glance, writing a strong college essay can seem daunting. However, with ample time, expert feedback, and consistent effort, applicants can create a compelling and authentic essay. At C2, our expert tutors have extensive experience helping college applicants like you create winning essays that help them get into their dream school.

Our College Essay Program supports applicants throughout the brainstorming, drafting, and revising phases of their college essays. We provide personalized feedback to each student to help students build confidence in their essay writing abilities. By the end of our program, applicants can have up to four completed essays and spare topics they can use for any future essays they may need.
Looking for more writing tips or additional information on college essays? Check out our previous posts:

Ready to begin brainstorming and drafting a winning personal statement? Find a C2 near you or call (888) 475-2524!