College Essay Writing

Family Engagement Friday for September 2022by California State PTA Vice President for Family Engagement, Heather Ippolito

As many families with high school students know, fall is not just the beginning of the school year. For a high school senior planning to continue their education at a four-year college or university, it’s also time to prepare applications for college admission. That often includes writing an application essay.

The University of Chicago recently held a webinar entitled The Search for the Perfect Application Essay.  The night was full of important items for a student to keep in mind when completing their personal statement or writing application essays for colleges or scholarships. Here are a few takeaways that high school PTAs can share with their student members and families:

Colleges want to hear about you.  They read essays from thousands, even hundreds of thousands of applicants. They are looking for how you are unique and a good fit for their educational institution.  

Admissions offices want to hear about who you are today, not the five year old you once were.  If you do need to give background from your past, make sure that it leads to who you are now.  While many applicants write about their families, their grandmother who inspired them to work hard or their father who sacrificed everything for his family, remember that you are the one applying for admission.  Try to focus on yourself humbly and graciously, and not on your extended family or friends. 

Take your time. Writing an essay like this will take a good amount of time.  You should take some time to pre-plan what you are going to say, write a rough draft (or two or three), and have trusted advisors assist you in editing.  

Some college bound students who write daily for their academic classes think that their college application will be an easy task to complete.  They sit down at the computer close to the deadline and think they can bang out a killer essay.  Sadly, this often isn’t the case. The readers can tell which essays had lots of time invested into them and which were more like afterthoughts.  

Ask your counselor, English teacher, or another advisor for edits.  While they shouldn’t be writing your essay for you, they can give you honest feedback about the content and tone of your essay.  Remember that the essay should sound like it came from you, not a thesaurus.  

Details matter.  Another tip mentioned was oftentimes, students will use their essays for more than one school. If you do this and you mention the university as part of the essay, be sure you have edited it for the correct school.  A scholarship reader for UCLA shared that they often got applications stating how excited they were to attend Brown University or UC Davis.  Those applications quickly went into the reject pile because the students couldn’t be bothered to update the essay for the correct school. 

For more information about college and career readiness visit the California State PTA website or search “college and career” on our blog.