The Three Components Every College Admission Essay Should Have


You have probably searched online for tips and tricks on how to write your college essay. Although the internet is saturated with information on this topic, many students still have no idea how to effectively write a college admission essay. Getting an ‘A’ in AP English is of limited help if you do not understand your writing objective. According to Lori Greene, Director of Admission at Loyola University Chicago, “your college essay needs to breathe life into your application.” The purpose of the college admission essay is to give personality to your application, and to help admissions officers connect to you beyond your ability to excel and make a contribution. This post aims to give you helpful steps to accomplish this goal.

The fact of the matter is, calling it a “college essay” is a poor descriptor and somewhat of a misnomer. Although it is expected that you will use proper spelling, correct grammar, supporting evidence and good transitioning sentences, you are not being asked to write the kind of essay that you learned in your English class. A good essay for a college application has three essential components. However, they are not an introduction, a body and a conclusion.

The first essential component of your college essay is effective writing. College admissions officers will assess your writing on a high school level, comparing you most closely to your schoolmates because high school education is not uniform across the country. Suffice it to say, admissions officers are not looking for perfection. In fact, an essay with very advanced writing may actually be interpreted as a red flag that someone else wrote it. Nonetheless, your college essay needs to be original (i.e., do not plagiarize), believable (i.e., do not exaggerate), concise and on topic (i.e., less is more).

Having someone else review your college admission essay will help you confirm its effectiveness. The problem with this is, who do you ask? If you are unsure, ask a few people for their feedback. You need a reviewer or reviewers who not only focus on the technical side of writing, but who understand what college admissions officers are looking for. A perfectly written lukewarm essay is likely to be scored lower than a persuasive one that hits all the marks but has a few minor mistakes.

The second component of your admission essay is the college. Your essay is your chance to convey that your admission will be of mutual benefit. Spend time reviewing a college’s website to ensure your essay reflects what they offer. The more thorough your research is on a college, the more comfortable you will be speaking to your audience. If you have questions that are unanswered by the website, contact the school directly. Avoid guessing or winging it, because you only have one chance this year to get it right.

The third component is the most important aspect of the college admission essay and often adds a layer of difficulty for students. This component is you! Being the subject of your writing may make deciding what to focus on more challenging. There are so many topics to write about and you know them all. Choose an essay prompt that allows you to highlight a compelling aspect of your identity. However, if what you plan to write about is featured somewhere else in your application, you may be squandering a great opportunity. Demonstrate your uniqueness and your potential to achieve your goals without being redundant.

The key to writing a captivating college admission essay is being able to establish a balance between showcasing your writing skills, knowing your audience and representing who you are. Each component must be effectively done, but they are not equally weighted. Greater attention should be placed on your content (i.e., you) than on your audience and your writing abilities (i.e., average for a high schooler is okay, sloppy is not). This may sound counterintuitive but, even for an exceptional student, a lackluster college essay that fails to convey how you would be a benefit to the college could drag down your entire application. If this happens, you run the risk of being passed over.

Nowadays, being an exceptional student is regarded as more commonplace, especially among top colleges. This is a great accomplishment and you should be very proud. Yet, when it comes to the college admission application, an essay that comes to life may give you an extra edge. So, how do you get people to connect to your story while communicating your value without sounding boastful, arrogant or boring? This is where getting outside input may be very beneficial.

Hopefully, you now have a general understanding of the task at hand. Let’s summarize a few key points:

  • be aware that you are not writing a traditional “essay”
  • start early (ideally more than one month before the application deadline)
  • research, write, review and repeat (one draft is never enough)
  • incorporate the three essential components mentioned above
  • focus on your strengths
  • seek reliable outside input without being swayed off-course
  • use the “Additional Information” section of the application to briefly share unusual circumstances or problems that are not pertinent to your essay.

Though there is a lot more that goes into writing an effective college admission essay, these steps should get you started. If you need further assistance, consider our packages. We provide an attentive, strategic approach to the college application process at a reasonable rate.

Helpful Tip: Before starting your college admission essay, create or update your resume. This will help you to remember the activities and volunteer opportunities that you have been involved in as well as awards that you may have received. Many students find this easier to do first. Tackling an easier task may give you added motivation for the rest of the application.