• Begin by making lists of everything you do and care about!
  • List all of your activities for the past four years, even ones that may seem insignificant or unimportant. Include school activities, awards, honors, offices held, performances, lessons, community service, jobs and travel, etc.
  • Record major travel experiences and note your strongest impressions and how they affected you.
  • List any challenges or accomplishments that you struggled to achieve or that changed you in a significant way.
  • List any short words of wisdom you've heard from childhood that have influenced the way you live and think.
  • List the people who have had a major influence on you and describe that influence.
  • Think about your strengths and successes, especially things that make you proud and happy to be you. What do you think your closest friends and family members would list as your most important qualities, abilities and strengths?
  • List your passions and your burning dreams, hopes and ambitions.
  • Know the purpose and audience for your college essay.
  • A college essay is a sample of your writing, thinking and creativity. It allows admission officers to hear your voice and find out much more about you than is revealed in your grades, test scores and extracurricular activities. It is an opportunity for you to stand out from the crowd and be memorable.
  • Be realistic about the importance of the essay.
  • Essays will not salvage a really bad high school record, nor will they sabotage a student with top grades, test scores and activities. They do make a great difference for students in the middle and for students applying to very selective schools who need to stand out from the crowd. They are just one part of the college application process and should not be feared as a "make or break" opportunity.
  • Read other essays.
  • Essays are everywhere and experience with this genre will better prepare you to write your college essay.
  • Remember the basics.
  • Tell a story, be personal, and write about what is important or meaningful to you. Read your drafts aloud to hear how it sounds. Have a friend, a teacher or two, and the College Counselor read your best draft before making it your final draft. Change all grammatical errors.  Also, evaluate other suggestions to see whether these fit what you are trying to accomplish. When in doubt, trust your own instincts.
  • Take time and do your best.
  • Give yourself lots of time to write, seek the advice of others and rewrite until the essay is the best you can do. Practice, practice, practice! Essays written in haste can come to haunt you.


  • Be afraid
  • Despair
  • Procrastinate
  • Give up
  • Be discouraged
  • Doubt yourself
  • Complain
  • Plagiarize

Just Do It...

And Do It Again...

And Do It Again...

And You Will Succeeed!

The College Essay, prepared by Kathleen McCartin, Former Director of Student Services, Perpich Center for Arts Education