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4 Steps for Writing a Great College Admission Essay

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The University of Massachusetts suggests ideas for essays on the Common Application website

Your college essay is something that you should not only be proud of, but also something that you genuinely want to showcase to college admissions offices. The writing piece itself should display your character, goals, and accomplishments. When I was going through the process of writing mine, I struggled because I didn’t think I had a story good enough to tell. However, after really thinking it over, I finally curated a body of words that I am extremely proud of. Here is how I wrote my college essay. 

Brainstorm Your Essay Topic

The hardest part of the process was coming up with an idea. I wanted to pick a moment, or a story, that really stuck with me throughout life. After trying to start essays, only to give up on them a quarter of the way through, I stumbled upon an old essay I had written in 8th grade. The prompt of the essay was to talk about something that you struggled with and overcame. To me, that was the language barrier between my grandfather and me. My grandfather speaks fluent Vietnamese, while I only speak English, so throughout my entire childhood communication was lacking. Although he spoke broken English, the opportunity to tell anecdotes, give advice, and more were nonexistent. I reread that essay four to five times before I decided that it was going to be my college essay topic.

My biggest advice for choosing an idea is to pick something you are passionate about. From this, the voice in your writing will display your passion — and be a lot more interesting to read. 

Plan Your Essay

Instead of diving right into the writing process, I wanted to plan out the points I was going to hit before putting pen to paper. Like I said earlier, I really wanted to focus on my character, goals, and accomplishments. Because of this, I decided to choose a monumental moment I experienced with my grandfather and build off of that. The moment I chose was when I was 9 years old, I was raking leaves with him, and doing a subpar job. He looked at me and said a sentence in half English and half Vietnamese — but I knew what it meant.

"Why do something bad and take longer, when you can do it well the first time," he told me. This was my mantra throughout my entire life, especially in school, and I wanted to write about that.

Having a planning step in the college essay process is essential because it gives you time to think and reflect upon your ideas at a more detailed level. 

Write Your Essay

For writing the actual essay, because I had planned and articulated my thoughts so methodically, words just flowed out of my fingertips into my computer. I told in detail the vivid memory I had, gave an example of a time during school I lived by my mantra, and talked more about how the language barrier affected my life, and made me who I am today.

One thing about writing your college essay the first time is that you have to know it is not going to be perfect. You will have to write multiple drafts, but the first draft is vital because it is finally putting all your ideas and planning into fruition. 

Get Feedback and Edit Your Essay

Lastly, receiving feedback is another quintessential step in the entire process. Although your college essay topic might be a very personal and intimate, it’s still important to get feedback from multiple people. For me, that was my parents, former English teacher, and guidance counselor. I wanted to receive constructive criticism from all angles: content, language, grammar, and more. Having numerous perspectives from people with different backgrounds really gives light on the holes and weaker parts of your essay. For me, I wrote three to four drafts before finally feeling comfortable with the finished product — all while having the people I mentioned revise it. 

Overall, the college application process can be a stressful and daunting time, but the college essay is something that should somewhat be a fun personal project. The rest of the college application is solely based on numbers like your test scores, transcripts, and more — but the essay is your chance to shine and show that you are different from the rest.

It took me a few weeks to write my essay from start to finish, but to this day it’s still something I go back and read every once and awhile. 

Read this year's essay prompts for the University of Massachusetts on the Common Application website.

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