College Application Essays: Top Tips from 2021

I can’t believe 2021 is coming to a close! While this year brought new challenges, I’m grateful I’ve been able to help more students write the next chapter of their life stories as they embark on their college journeys.

As we near the college application deadline (January 1!), I’m sharing my top tips for writing impactful essays to help you cross the finish line.

1. Understand the power of your story

Your story is your opportunity to stand out. No one in the world has the same story as you. College admissions counselors consider all the elements that make you unique, and this extends far beyond academics and extracurriculars. Help them understand who you are, what makes you tick, and—most importantly—why you’re a great fit for their school by crafting a story around the person you know best (hint: that’s you!).

2. Be intentional and thoughtful

Deciding which college to attend, which essays to respond to, and when to apply are important choices that deserve a great deal of thought. Take time to ensure you’re putting forward the best possible picture of yourself and answering the questions that make you memorable to those super-busy admissions officers.

3. Consider themes, find patterns and develop your key messages

So, how do you start telling your story? You can start by taking note of everything you’ve done (you can use this worksheet) across school, family, community, and more. Once you put it down on paper, you can uncover patterns and identify themes that you can develop into the key messages that serve as the backbone of your story.

4. Identify (and fill) gaps

As you assess your themes and look holistically at your experience, you may see gaps you need to fill to show up as your best self. Maybe you don't have much to share for extracurriculars or community service, or your academics weren’t stellar when you started high school. Sometimes these perceived gaps aren’t actually gaps at all; you may just not be giving yourself enough credit. For instance, you may not have done any formal volunteerism, but you shovel or rake for your elderly neighbor or help watch kids at your church. Those absolutely count! If you discover gaps, consider if there are ways to highlight smaller contributions or achievements.

5. Get outside-in advice

It can be hard to spot all the ways in which you’re amazing. Ask a friend, teacher, or other t