How to Write an Application Essay

Mari Estefani Carvajal

Mari Estefani Carvajal

Content Writer At Gradehacker

What are the steps to writing an application essay?

If you are about to enroll in college and need to write an outstanding application essay, here are the nine steps you need to follow:

Get help writing your application essay

If you are a nursing student, you can submit your request and get free assistance from one of our tutors. Basically, you get a top-quality application paper FOR FREE!

Get help writing your application essay

If you are a nursing student, you can submit your request and get free assistance from one of our tutors. Basically, you get a top-quality application paper FOR FREE!

College application essays are a common requirement for many institutions of higher education.

They work as a personal statement that allows students the opportunity to showcase their academic achievements, strengths, and other personal attributes that can differentiate them from other applicants in the eyes of college admissions officers.

We all know that GPA, SAT, or extracurricular activities are important. However, the essays allow applicants to go deeper into their passions and goals, making them stand out from others.

That’s why, here at Gradehacker, the number one most trusted resource for non-traditional students, we will give you all the steps you need to follow to write a great application essay.

Why Are Application Essays Important?

Many schools prioritize the college application essays during admissions, sometimes even more than grades. On some occasions, they are called supplemental essays.

Universities consider many factors when choosing a student, such as GPA, recommendation letters, high school grades, extracurricular activities, etc, since they have a really strong network. But, as I mentioned before, what can make you stand out are the college essays.

Why? Because it’s an opportunity that institutions give you to show why you want to go to their school, what are your aspirations, goals, and dreams and allow you to go deeper into your personality. And that’s what makes you different from others rather than numbers and qualifications.

So, take it as an opportunity to be yourself and show your ideas, opinions, ethical dilemmas, and arguments. 

According to  recent NACAC data, 19% of selective colleges assign “considerable” importance to essays, 37% consider them of “moderate” importance, and 27% consider them of “limited” importance.

How Long Should an Application Essay be?

The best application essays are usually the ones that are concise and go straight to the point. So don’t focus on writing too many words; ensure the main point is well given and developed.

American colleges are the ones that set how many words you should write, and it can vary depending on the institution. However,  according to Coursera, college essays should be between 250 and 650 words.

You can measure your word count with many programs, but the most popular writing applications are Microsoft Word and Google Docs.

Never go over the maximum word count. If the college doesn’t set a specific limit of words, submit an essay under 650 words, according to the college application platform  Common App.

You can use Common App to practice, see some prompts and examples, and guide yourself through this process.

How Are The College Essay Prompts?

Best Colleges say that prompts consist of open questions designed to guide students’ writing while providing some flexibility. Depending on the university, students may be required to respond to one prompt or will have to choose from several options.

There are two websites that provide examples of application essay prompts that can really help you: the  Common App and  Coalition for College.

The essay questions from both websites are:

Crafting application essay prompts requires careful thought and introspection. 

Consider brainstorming ideas, reflecting on your experiences, and organizing your thoughts before putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. 

Remember, this is your chance to share your story and make a memorable impression.

Steps to Write an Outstanding Application Essay

Writing a standout application essay is crucial in the college admissions process.

We read some of the best application essay tips from  Harvard Best Colleges, and QS Top Universities and gathered some of them to build a great guide for you.

Here are some steps to help you craft an impressive essay that showcases your unique qualities and experiences:

1. Pay attention to the instructions

This sounds like an obvious statement, but the beginning is one of the most important things about the personal essay.

And that has to do with actually reading the instructions carefully and understanding the prompt set by the admissions counselors.

This way, the main focus of your essay will be to answer the prompt. Meet all the requirements and the word limit, and ensure you are concise with your ideas.

After you read all the instructions, you can start taking notes, organize your ideas, and think about what message you want to transmit.

2. Pick an essay topic meaningful for You

The point of the essay is to tell a meaningful story about yourself so that the admissions committees can get to know you better.

So, the next step is to pick a meaningful essay topic so you can write more passionately and deeply while enjoying writing it.

Always focus more on writing about something that you care about rather than something to impress.

3. Start with an engaging introduction

Once you read the instructions carefully and choose a topic, it’s time to start writing.

The best way to start an application essay is to write an engaging introduction to capture the reader’s attention from the beginning.

Admission officers read thousands of essays daily, so a good introduction can make you stand out from the beginning and give a good first impression.

To achieve this, you can start with an anecdote, an interesting story about your personality, a descriptive scene, or a question. Just make it real and personal.

Remember that you are competing with many more applicants, so you must think about something interesting and powerful about yourself to start and catch the admission officer’s attention.

4. Write like yourself

When you are writing your application essay, just be yourself. Don’t try to meet specific parameters or copy other people’s writing styles.

Of course, it has to be formal, but what American colleges are really looking for is to read an authentic and unique essay, not to read the same ideas again and again.

So, the only way to write a great essay is to be yourself and print your personality on it. It’s your opportunity to talk about your beliefs, dreams, ambitions, and how your chosen program can help you achieve those goals.

5. Build a story

The application essay is to tell a story.

You don’t have to discuss your entire life or share anecdotes of elementary school, but good anecdotes can reveal your personality.

You can write about your hobbies, passions, work experiences, and the skills and values that you learned from them and think of a way to give a narrative with organization and coherence.

6. Support your ideas

The other step while writing your essay is not only to share your ideas but also to support them with an explanation of why that’s your point of view.

For example, if you share an idea or ethical dilemma, always make sure to explain why you think that way and give examples of how your point of view can be credible.

Don’t just share facts or data, but ensure that you include details, examples, and justifications to develop your ideas.

7. Tell something that differentiates you

Think about what makes you different from the rest and write about it.

Include in your essay your unique skills, for example, a sports achievement or a crazy story where you helped someone. Think about something that makes you different, and don’t miss the chance to share it.

8. Finish your essay with a punch line

To finish your application essay, close it with a punch line and a section that combines everything.

You can do this by asking yourself which message you want to share with your essay, so with a good ending, you can make the reader reflect, think, and be impressed.

A good way to end an essay is with a quote or a personal reflection.

Be concise, coherent, and genuine, and include vivid details to support your ideas.

9. Have a second opinion

When you finish your application essay, read it many times to ensure you are being concise and coherent and that you are giving the idea you wanted to share.

But also, after you check it many times, it’s good to have a second opinion.

You can ask a friend, a teacher, a parent, a school partner, admissions counselors, or whoever you like so they can read it and notice some mistakes you are not noticing.

This will help you know if the reader gets the point of view and the ideas are well-explained.

After that, you are ready to submit your essay!

Five Things You Should Avoid in Your Application Essay:

There are some things that you should avoid when writing your application essay. We will share five that you most definitely shouldn’t do:

1. Don’t repeat ideas

One thing you should definitely avoid in your application essay is repeating ideas, anecdotes, or stories.

The admission officers are looking for new and unique perspectives, so it’s important not to mention the same idea twice.

Instead, focus on sharing fresh insights, personal experiences, and reflections that are different from each other. This will make your essay more dynamic.

Show your creativity

2. Avoid clichés

When writing your application essay, it’s important to avoid clichés.

Clichés are overused phrases or ideas that have lost their originality and impact due to frequent repetition. Using clichés in your essay can make it seem generic and unoriginal, which is not what you want when trying to stand out among other applicants.

Of course, you can use phrases or famous quotes; make sure you are choosing something unique and not the typical phrase that everyone uses.

3. Don't write about your grades

One common mistake to avoid in your application essay is focusing too much on your grades, academic achievements, and school life. While these are important, the admissions committee already has access to your transcripts and test scores.

Instead, use your essay to showcase other aspects of yourself that cannot be seen in your academic record.

Focus on sharing personal experiences, social scenes, passions, hobbies, skills, and values that make you unique and demonstrate why you would be a valuable addition to their institution. Show them who you are beyond just numbers and achievements.

4. Avoid overloading with information

Another thing to avoid is overloading it with unnecessary information. Remember that the word count for these essays is usually limited, so make sure every word counts.

Focus on quality over quantity by choosing specific examples and anecdotes that highlight your strengths and experiences relevant to the program or institution you are applying to.

Be concise and clear in your writing to keep the reader engaged and interested.

5. Avoid typos, grammar and spelling mistakes

One crucial thing to avoid is grammar and spelling mistakes. These errors can detract from the overall quality of your writing and give the impression that you did not take the time to carefully review and edit your work.

To ensure that your essay is free from these mistakes, be sure to thoroughly proofread it multiple times.

You can also use grammar checker apps like Grammarly or Quilbot.

Save time. Talk directly with us!

Book a free 30-min call and clear out all your questions on how we can make you graduate in half the time!

New call-to-action

Save time and talk directly with us!

Book a free 30-min call and clear out all your questions on how we can make you graduate in half the time!

New call-to-action

Time to Stand Out With Your Essay!

Now that you know the steps and what to avoid when writing your application essay, you know how you can make your essay stand out from the rest.

However, you can always contact a school counselor and admissions staff to guide you. Colleges have a strong network to provide help for applicants.

Take some time to brainstorm and reflect on your unique experiences, perspectives, and values. Consider what differentiates you from other applicants and how you can showcase that in your essay.

And if you need help when writing it, you can always count on Gradehacker, book a meeting with us, and we will provide personalized attention as soon as possible!

Mari Estefani Carvajal

Mari Estefani Carvajal

Mari Estefani Carvajal is a journalist passionate about writing, cinema, podcast, and multimedia production. She is a Content Writer at Gradehacker and helps non-traditional students life’s by creating creative content. You can find her on LinkedIn.