TitleAbout - 0 21853

College Essay Writing 101

Why is it important to write a good essay? What is the role of the essay in the college application process? How will it affect my admission decision? Does anybody really read these things, anyway?

What Your Essay Will Do:

  • Set a tempo for your candidacy
  • Demonstrate your level of readiness for college-level writing
  • Allow the admissions staff to know you beyond objective academic variables and secondhand information
  • Carry particular significance if your grades and scores are less than stellar

Elements of a Good Essay:


  • 1–3 pages


  • Choose a topic with which you are familiar and about which you are passionate.
  • Be creative!
  • Avoid generic sports/music essays and overwhelming sadness.


  • Be specific and descriptive, but do not provide a play-by-play of a great game or a list of all the places you visited.
  • Present your point of view and then back it up with statements demonstrating your ability to reason and communicate effectively.
  • Vary your sentence structure – avoid repetition of compound sentences filled with prepositional phrases. Use simple, short sentences to power important points.
  • Involve yourself in the topic – you should have the starring role in your essay.
  • Do not be afraid to take risks. Show us your weaknesses as well as your strengths; they make you uniquely you.
  • Incorporate humor (with good taste) – make us laugh and your essay will stand out.


  • Begin early to give yourself time to revise.
  • Write, rewrite and refine your essay.
  • Show your drafts to people whose opinions you value, but do NOT have parents or teachers craft your essay.
  • Eliminate spelling errors, but do not rely on spell check – the end result is often an essay with no spelling mistakes, but lots of incorrect words.

Seven Deadly Sins of College Essay Writing — avoid essays that are:

  • Wordy, overblown or flowery
  • Colloquial, folksy or too informal – avoid very, a lot, cool, awesome, nice
  • Trite, using clichés in metaphors and symbolism – as American as apple pie
  • Underdeveloped, containing ideas that are introduced without being fully discussed – essays less than a page, paragraphs less than four sentences
  • Cynical and condescending, containing sweeping generalizations – All Americans are conforming cowards…
  • Redundant, repeating the same words or ideas over and over and over...
  • Grammatically flawed – avoid fragments, run-on sentences and comma splices


  • The essay’s content should go beyond the academic credentials and extracurricular activities documented in other parts of your application.
  • There is no perfect essay. All essays have quirks and nuances which give them character.
  • Remember the cardinal rule of college application essays: your reader should know you better after reading your work.
  • We definitely read each and every essay we receive!

Josh Hanemann '17

Josh Hanemann '17

Josh Hanemann '17

Business Administration, Finance
Bridgewater, N.J.

As an Honors student and football player, Josh Hanemann is learning to be a focused, resilient member of the SU team.

More »
Request Information

Bookmark and Share