Writing a college admission essay is a big first step for students wanting to continue with higher education.  It’s an important step because this essay can open doors that can shape the rest of one’s life.  That’s why the college admission essay is so many things at once:  it is a statement; a personal narrative that gives a face to the application; an indication of purpose. It lets prospective students show their individuality, speak on their learning and life experiences, and indicate what they can bring to the table. The college admission essay is, therefore, the student’s opportunity to speak directly to the admissions committee, and to make a case for why one is a good fit for the school.

What is a College Admission Essay?

A college admission essay is a written statement by a prospective student applying to a college or graduate school. This essay is a routine part of the application process.  It is typically used by admissions officers to learn more about the applicant beyond their grades and extracurricular activities. It is seen as a way for the student to show some personality, describe experiences, discuss values, and explain overall why they are interested in attending the institution.

Types of College Admission Essays

Some common types of college admission essays include the following:

Personal Statement Essay

This is the most common type of admission essay. It is a general essay in which a student tells about himself—a story, some background, unique life experiences, or some challenge the student faced.  It is basically an essay that describes what the person could bring to the college.

Statement of Purpose Essay

This essay is sometimes required for graduate school applications.  It tends to focus on a student’s academic and professional goals. It explains why the student is interested in a particular program, how the student’s previous academic experiences have shaped him, and what the student plans to accomplish.

Activity Essay

In this essay, students usually write about some extracurricular activity or work experience that has been meaningful to them. This type of essay shows what a student’s passions and commitments outside the classroom might be.

Why This College? Essay

This essay is required of students by colleges that want an explanation as to why they are interested in the college in the first place. Students need to be able to do some research on the school and explain why its community, academic programs, and campus culture align with their interests and goals.

Diversity Essay

In this type of essay, students should discuss how their diverse background or experiences will contribute to the diversity of the college community. They can touch on discussions of cultural heritage, ethnicity, religious identity, personal challenges, or unique gender perspectives.

Creative Essay

Some colleges encourage creativity, asking for fictional stories or creative non-fiction that lets the student show off some writing skills and imaginative thinking.

Discipline-Specific Essay

For some specialized programs, college applicants have to write an essay that is specific to the discipline they wish to study—for example, as in response to a prompt related to engineering ethics for an engineering program.

Short Answer Questions

These are not exactly essays, but some colleges include short answer questions that require concise responses to specific questions. They can range from “What’s your favorite book?” to “Describe a moment of failure and what you learned from it.”

Overall, each type of essay serves a different purpose and allows the admissions committee to evaluate various aspects of an applicant’s candidacy. It is important for students to read the essay prompts and tailor responses accordingly.

college admissions

College Admission Essay Format

[Your Name]

[Your Address]

[City, State, Zip]

[Email Address]

[Phone Number]


[Admission Office]

[College Name]

[College Address]

[City, State, Zip]

Dear Admissions Committee,

[Title of Your Essay (if applicable)]


– Hook: Always begin with a compelling opening sentence or anecdote—nothing overly dramatic but intriguing enough to get the reader’s attention.

– Thesis statement: State the main idea or theme of your essay.

– Purpose: Briefly mention why you’re writing this essay (to apply to [College Name]).

[Body Paragraph 1]

– Topic sentence: Introduce the main idea of this paragraph.

– Supporting details: Provide examples or analysis to support your topic sentence.

– Connection: Explain how this relates to your overall application or life story.

[Body Paragraph 2]

– Topic sentence: Introduce another aspect of your thesis.

– Supporting details: Provide more evidence and examples.

– Connection: Tie this paragraph back to your central theme or thesis.

[Body Paragraph 3]

– Topic sentence: Introduce a contrasting or complementary point.

– Supporting details: Offer additional insights and reflections.

– Connection: Show how this contributes to your qualifications or understanding of the college.


– Summarize: Briefly recap the points you’ve made.

– Reflect: Offer a final reflection on what you’ve learned or how you’ve grown.

– Future orientation: Discuss how attending [College Name] will impact your future.


[Your Name]

College Admission Essay Outline

An outline is a plan for your essay that will help you organize your thoughts and structure your writing in a coherent manner.

Here is a standard college admission essay outline example:

I.  Introduction

A. Opening statement—engaging, to the point, and compelling.

B. Thesis Statement: Summarize the focus of your essay in one or two sentences.

C. Purpose of the Essay: Briefly state your motivation for choosing this college and program.

II.  Body Paragraph 1: Personal Background

A. Topic Sentence: Introduce an aspect of your personal background.

B. Personal Story: Share a relevant personal story.

C. Reflection: Explain how this background has shaped you.

III. Body Paragraph 2: Academic Interests

A. Topic Sentence: Discuss your academic interests.

B. Relevant Coursework/Projects: Mention any relevant academic work.

C. Connection to College: Link your interests to something the college offers.

IV.  Body Paragraph 3: Extracurricular Activities

A. Topic Sentence: Describe your involvement outside the classroom.

B. Leadership and Impact:  Tell how you acted as a leader.

C. Skills Gained:  Show what skills you’ve developed that will be useful in college.

V.  Body Paragraph 4: Why This College?

A. Topic Sentence: Tell why you want to attend this particular institution.

B. College-Specific Details: Refer to specific programs or opportunities.

C. Personal Fit: Explain how the college fits with your goals.

VI.  Conclusion

A. Recap: Summarize the main points.

B. Full Circle: Tie back to the thesis for a strong closure.

C. Future Goals: State how the college will help you achieve your long-term goals.

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How to Write a College Admission Essay (in 3 steps)

Here are three essential steps to guide you through writing your essay:

Step 1: Understand the Prompt and Plan Your Essay

Read and Analyze the Prompt

Read and re-read the essay prompt provided by the college. Make sure you understand what the admissions committee is asking for.  Pay special attention to keywords and themes that you need to address.

Brainstorm Ideas

Reflect on some of your experiences, accomplishments, activities, challenges overcome, interests, goals for college and/or your career, principles, values, diversity, etc.  Consider how these or some of them can connect to the prompt.  Think about what makes you unique and how you can stand out from other applicants.

Create an Outline

Organize your thoughts into an outline. Decide what the main message or thesis of your essay will be.  Plan the structure of your essay by determining what each paragraph will cover. Make sure there is a logical flow from the introduction through the body to the conclusion.

Step 2: Write the First Draft

Craft a Strong Introduction

Begin with an interesting idea that will engage the reader. This could be an anecdote, a surprising fact, a thought-provoking question, or a question.  After this, you can introduce the main theme or thesis of your essay and give a roadmap or some idea of where the essay will go.

Develop the Body

Write body paragraphs that support your thesis. Each paragraph should have a main idea that is supported by details or examples.  Show, don’t just tell.  Use specific stories or illustrations if you can and vivid details help to make the best points.  Explain what you learned from them and how they have shaped you.

Conclude Effectively

Summarize the key points.  Refer to your thesis and give a final closing thought to leave the reader with a strong impression.

Step 3: Revise and Edit

Take a Break

Now that you have finished your first draft, take a break. This will help you return to it with fresh eyes for the editing process.

Revise for Content and Structure

Re-read your essay to make sure it addresses the prompt and follows a logical structure.  Make sure each paragraph has a clear purpose and contributes to the overall argument or story.  Look for any sections that might need further development or that should be eliminated.  Make sure you are within the word count.

Edit for Clarity, Style, Grammar and Spelling

Check for sentence variety and readability. Eliminate clichés and overused phrases. Use your own voice and be authentic.  Look for any grammatical errors or typos.

Remember, a great college admission essay should be planned out, personal, polished, and purposeful.

college admissions application essay

College Admission Essay Examples

Example #1

This example admissions essay is written in response to a common essay prompt: “Describe a challenge you’ve overcome and what you learned from it.”

Title: Atop the Challenge

I stood at the foot of a mountain, trying to find the peak among the clouds. My heart was beating fast—not just from the altitude, but from the thought of what I was going to do.  This was a literal mountain, but it also symbolized a year of personal struggles. I was going to climb it to prove to myself that I could beat any challenge life threw my way.

The past year had been one of the toughest I had ever faced. My parents’ separation had turned my world upside down. The consistency of my life had been lost to uncertainty as I moved between homes. My academic performance suffered, my nights were restless, my social life faded, and I struggled with my own role in life. I felt adrift, searching for solid ground.

In the middle of all this, I found solace in my school’s climbing club. Every climb taught me something new.  I felt I was reaching something tangible and concrete, something different from the instability elsewhere in my life. Climbing presented me with small victories, and I gradually began to feel like I was not just spinning from one thing to the next.  I was in control.

Now I stood before my final climb.  This was more than I had ever done.  But I knew that if I just conquered this one, there would be no more doubt, no more fear.  I would be at peace.  I took a breath, and began the climb.  All went well, until a storm rolled in.  For a minute I thought about quitting—but no.  Storms come and storm go.  Life is about pushing through.

I went on slowly, carefully.  And before long, I made it to the top.  The peak was unlike anything I had ever experienced.  The view was superb.  I stayed up there a long while, taking it all in.  The peace I achieved was indescribable.

After that climb, I finally felt whole, and no longer like I was at the mercy of the whims of the universe.  I felt like I knew who I was and what I could do.  My grades rebounded, I made new friends, and I just began to appreciate the simple moments.  I think what I learned in that climb was that the life is hard, but the view at the top makes it all worth it.

As I seek to join this college, I expect to bring the grit to face tough challenges. I am excited to tackle new academic peaks. I am prepared for what’s to come.

Example #2

Here’s another example of a college admission essay, responding to a common prompt such as “Describe an event or experience where you learned something that changed your perspective or outlook on life.”

Title: The Power of Listening

For someone who has never been exposed to the raw elements of nature, the act of building a fire is a fundamental skill that connects them to the basic human survival instincts. It’s an activity that has been essential to human life for millennia, providing warmth, light, and a means to cook food.  Here is how learning to build a fire totally changed my perspective.

In the modern world, we are accustomed to convenience and instant solutions. Learning to build a fire from scratch, often with limited resources, teaches self-reliance and resilience. It shows that one can fend for themselves and provides a sense of accomplishment.  The first time I learned to build a fire when camping with friends, I suddenly felt as though I had real mastery of nature and could depend on myself for the first time ever.

So what does it take to build a fire?  Building a fire requires an understanding of the natural environment, including the types of wood that burn well, how to shield a flame from the wind, and how to respect the forest by not causing a wildfire. This knowledge is actually important for developing a deeper respect for nature and its awesome power.

Plus, fire-building is not always easy, especially in the wrong conditions. So doing it can teach patience as you have to carefully nurture the spark and flame, and it can teach you perseverance when the first attempts don’t succeed. These are valuable life skills that can be applied to any challenging situation.  In fact, I thought I knew patience and perseverance before.  I was wrong.  I didn’t really know them until learning to build a fire in a storm.

One other thing worth pointing out is that in a world filled with digital distractions, sitting around a fire can be a really amazing and grounding experience. It can shift one’s outlook towards appreciating simpler pleasures and being more present in the moment.

To succeed in life and in college, the secret, I believe, is to be present.  Live in the moment.  Don’t make excuses.  Don’t check out.  Don’t not show up.  Instead, rise to the challenge.  Embrace adversity.  Lean into it.  Bite down.  Keep going.  What I love about this university is that it embraces all those principles.  It shines out in the culture the college presents.  I want to be part of that culture.

As I apply to this university, I bring with me the same patience and perseverance that I learned building fires, and the same passion to continue my education.  I bring a new outlook on what it means to keep going. I want to be part of a campus where the idea of keeping going is elemental to the overall culture.  Indeed, this college is all about going on and staying true to the path—and that is my goal.

College Admission Essays FAQ

How to start a college admission essay?

To start a college admission essay, you should:

  1. Read the Prompt Carefully: Understand what the essay is asking you to write about.
  2. Brainstorm Ideas: Reflect on your experiences and choose a topic that best responds to the essay prompt and allows you to present your strengths.
  3. Create an Outline: Plan the structure of your essay with an introduction, body, and conclusion.
  4. Craft a Compelling Intro: Begin with a first sentence that grabs the reader’s attention.
  5. Set the Tone: Establish your voice early on. Be honest and authentic.  Be you.
  6. Write a Thesis Statement:  State the main point of your essay in the introduction.

How long should a college admission essay be?

The length of a college admission essay can vary depending on the college’s requirements, so always follow the world count restrictions given you.  But, in general, the Common Application, for example, will likely have a word limit of 600 words or so. Generally, essays are between 500-650 words.  Always adhere to the word limit specified by the college.

What should I write about in my college admission essay?

Write about something you know about—something that is important to you or has had an impact on your life. This could be a personal growth story, a challenge you’ve overcome, something you learned, something you struggled with, an experience that has shaped who you are, and what you want to be and how you achieve it. Choose a topic that allows you to give insight into your personality and motivations.

Can I use humor in my college admission essay?

Yes, you can certainly use humor in your college admission essay, and I advise it!  But do so cautiously. Make sure it is appropriate and doesn’t distract from the main message of your essay. The humor should be natural and not forced.  It should also not be crude.

Should I focus on my achievements in my college admission essay?

Yes, you can focus on your achievements, but your essay should not simply be a list of accomplishments. Instead, focus on one or two achievements and go into the details of those experiences, reflecting on how they have shaped you and why it matters.

How personal should my college admission essay be?

Your essay should be personal enough to give the admissions committee a sense of who you are.  But keep in mind you’re not in a psychiatrist’s office or in a confessional.  Go beyond your grades and test scores, but maintain a level of formality and professionalism. Be open and reflective about your experiences without oversharing inappropriate or overly private information.

Can I reuse my college admission essay for multiple colleges?

Yes, you can reuse the main body of your essay for multiple colleges, but you will want to make adjustments to tailor it to each college’s specific essay prompt or to mention the college by name.

How do I end my college admission essay?

End your essay with a strong conclusion that brings your points together and reinforces your thesis. Give a concluding thought on the broader meaning of your story and convey some excitement for the future.

Do I need a title for my college admission essay?

A title is not required for a college admission essay and many applications may not even have a place to put one. However, if you do include a title, make sure it is thoughtful and relevant to the content of your essay.  It should add to the overall message—otherwise, drop it.

How many drafts of my college admission essay should I write?

here is no set number of drafts you should write. The best approach is to write enough drafts to see that your thoughts are fully developed. This could be anywhere from two to five drafts or more. What matters is that you take the time to revise.  Seek feedback if necessary.  Just make sure your essay is clear, logical, and error-free.  And don’t worry—you don’t have to overthink it.  You’ll know when it’s done.  Just remember:  the college admission essay is a chance to show the admissions committee who you are beyond your grades.


To wrap up, the college admission essay is an important step in the application process.  Why?  It represents the student’s voice and personal background.  It shows you are a real person.  You don’t have to fit any mold.  You just have to be you.  That is what the admissions panel is looking to see.  As the committee reviews your essay, they will look to see if it gives them a lasting impression of a candidate who is eager to learn, grow, and succeed in their college.