The Dos and Don’ts of College Essay Writing

The Dos and Don'ts of College Essay Writing

Writing the college essay is a pivotal moment in the college admissions process. It’s an opportunity for applicants to showcase their personalities, experiences, and aspirations in a way that transcends test scores and transcripts. However, navigating the college essay can be daunting, with applicants often unsure of where to start or how to make their writing stand out. In this article, we’ll explore the dos and don’ts of college essay writing, offering insights and tips for crafting compelling and impactful essays that resonate with admissions officers.

The Dos of College Essay Writing

1. Do Tell Your Unique Story

Every applicant has a unique story to tell—a narrative shaped by their experiences, values, and aspirations. Use your college essay as a platform to share your story authentically, conveying your genuine thoughts, emotions, and insights. Embrace vulnerability, and don’t be afraid to share your truths, fears, failures, and triumphs.

2. Do Start Early and Plan Ahead

Procrastination is the enemy of quality writing. Start the college essay process early, giving yourself ample time to brainstorm ideas, draft multiple versions, and revise thoroughly. Create a timeline or schedule to keep yourself on track, setting deadlines for each stage of the writing process.

3. Do Choose a Compelling Topic

Choose a topic for your college essay that is meaningful, relevant, and personal to you. Consider moments of challenge, growth, or self-discovery that have shaped your identity and perspective. Whether it’s a significant life event, a meaningful relationship, or a moment of epiphany, choose a topic that allows you to delve deep and showcase your authentic self.

4. Do Show, Don’t Tell

Rather than simply telling admissions officers about your experiences or accomplishments, show them through vivid storytelling and descriptive detail. Use sensory imagery, dialogue, and specific examples to bring your narrative to life and engage readers on an emotional level.

5. Do Be Genuine and Authentic

Authenticity is key to making your college essay stand out. Be genuine in your writing, conveying your true thoughts, emotions, and voice. Avoid clichés, platitudes, or attempts to impress admissions officers with overly polished or insincere language.

6. Do Seek Feedback and Revision

Seek feedback from trusted mentors, teachers, or peers throughout the writing process. Be open to constructive criticism and use it to refine and improve your essay. Revise your writing thoroughly, paying attention to clarity, coherence, and impact.

7. Do Proofread Carefully

Proofreading is essential to ensure your essay is free from grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. Take the time to review your writing carefully, checking for mistakes and inconsistencies. Consider reading your essay aloud or asking someone else to review it for you.

The Don’ts of College Essay Writing

1. Don’t Plagiarize or Use Generic Templates

Plagiarism is a serious offense that can have severe consequences for your college application. Avoid copying or plagiarizing content from other sources, including online essay templates or examples. Admissions officers are looking for originality and authenticity in your writing, so make sure your essay reflects your own thoughts and experiences.

2. Don’t Focus Solely on Achievements

While it’s important to highlight your accomplishments and extracurricular activities, don’t make them the sole focus of your essay. Admissions officers are more interested in understanding who you are as a person—your values, passions, and character traits. Use your essay to provide insight into your personality and identity beyond your achievements.

3. Don’t Use Excessive Jargon or Slang

Avoid using excessive academic jargon, technical language, or slang in your college essay. Your goal is to communicate clearly and effectively with admissions officers, so use language that is accessible and easy to understand. Keep your writing concise and to the point, avoiding unnecessary verbosity or complex terminology.

4. Don’t Rely on Overused Topics or Clichés

Admissions officers read thousands of essays each year, so it’s essential to avoid overused topics or clichés that may make your essay blend in with the crowd. Avoid topics such as the “big game” or “mission trip epiphany” unless you can offer a unique and compelling perspective.

5. Don’t Try to Impress with Fancy Vocabulary

Resist the temptation to impress admissions officers with overly complex or esoteric vocabulary. Your essay should reflect your authentic voice and personality, so use language that feels natural and comfortable to you. Focus on clarity and coherence rather than trying to showcase your vocabulary prowess.

6. Don’t Be Negative or Disrespectful

Maintain a positive and respectful tone throughout your essay, avoiding negativity, cynicism, or disrespect. Even if you’re discussing challenges or setbacks, focus on the lessons learned and the growth that resulted from those experiences. Remember, admissions officers are looking for applicants who demonstrate resilience, maturity, and optimism.

7. Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute

Procrastination is a recipe for stress and subpar writing. Don’t wait until the last minute to start your college essay or rush through the writing process. Give yourself plenty of time to brainstorm ideas, draft multiple versions, and revise thoroughly. Starting early will allow you to produce a polished and impactful essay that reflects your best work.


Crafting a compelling college essay requires careful thought, planning, and execution. By following the dos and don’ts outlined in this article, you can create an essay that stands out from the crowd and leaves a lasting impression on admissions officers. Remember to tell your unique story authentically, choose a compelling topic, show rather than tell, seek feedback and revision, proofread carefully, and avoid common pitfalls such as plagiarism, clichés, and negativity. With dedication, creativity, and attention to detail, you can craft a college essay that shines brightly and showcases the essence of who you are as a person and a student.

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