Tip #1—Read Other Essays that Worked

The College Application Essay is different from the book reports and literature analysis essays that are expected from high school students, so don’t feel like you’re the only one who feels unprepared and unsure how to approach this “assignment.” One way to start is to read a few examples of essays that worked to get a feel for what to write about.


Some of the following websites have examples that might help:

John Hopkins University: Essays That Worked

Tufts University: Past Essays That Mattered

The New York Times: A Few Essays That Worked (And a Few That Didn’t)

The New York Times: Standing Out From the Crowd

Gawker: These Personal Essays Will Get You Into Stanford


In addition to these websites, there are also many books that contain a compilation of successful college essays. However, make sure to note the date on the books as some of them are kind of old and admissions since have gotten more competitive. (The links provided are affiliate links. Purchases through this link help support SupertutorTV’s free content).

50 Successful Harvard Application Essays: What Worked for Them Can Help You Get into the College of Your Choice: https://amzn.to/2M6gV4W

50 Successful Stanford Application Essays: Write Your Way into the College of Your Choice: https://amzn.to/2ntjZJK

Accepted! 50 Successful College Admission Essays: https://amzn.to/2OraLcd

50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays: https://amzn.to/2OTYFtc

50 Successful University of California Application Essays: Get into the Top UC Colleges and Other Selective Schools: https://amzn.to/2OZBC07

Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps, Third Edition: Crafting a Winning Personal Statement: https://amzn.to/2OtdcLE

On Writing the College Application Essay, 25th Anniversary Edition: The Key to Acceptance at the College of Your Choice: https://amzn.to/2npk2WG

100 Successful Application Essays: Third Edition: https://amzn.to/2KKpltn

College Essay Essentials: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Successful College Admissions Essay: https://amzn.to/2MAeqEe

College Essays that Make a Difference, 6th Edition: https://amzn.to/2ntU4S6


Ask your brother, cousin, upperclassmen friend, or anyone else you know who got into the schools you are interested in to read their essays.

College Counselors

Additionally, many college counselors have their own compilation of college essays from past students, and sometimes they are allowed to share them.

OP EDS or Personal Opinion news articles

Don’t confine yourself to college essays when trying to see how people tell personal stories. If you know what topic you want to write about for your college application essay, then you might also want to check out OP EDS or general personal opinion articles on the same topic. For example, if you’re going to discuss an incident of bullying, you might find an OpEd on The Huffington Post of someone who experienced bullying, too. These articles appear weekly in almost every major newspaper in the US and are individual stories that convey personal ideas, concepts, and values in a way that helps create a broader perspective, something that the college essay also requires.

Subscription Websites

Another great resource you can also use is AdmitSee. This online service allows students to see profiles of other recent admitted students, including their essays, for a subscription fee. Use this referral link to learn more about AdmitSee: https://www.admitsee.com/?ref=W7P9J2 (This is an affiliate link. Purchases through these links help support SupertutorTV’s free content).

*Remember, use these essays as a resource. Do not plagiarize or replace a name with your own name. Instead, analyze these essays and try to figure out why they worked and how you can formulate your essay in a similar way to achieve the same positive results. Ask yourself:

  • What strategies are these essays using that work?
  • What topics are these essays using that work?
  • How are these essays structured and organized?


Tip #2—Compile All Your Prompts

Find all of the prompts from all the schools you’re applying to and compile them into one giant document. Read through the prompts and start answering the prompts that move you or seem easier to write about. Remember, you do not have to start with the common app personal statement. Start with what you have inspiration for first.

There is nothing wrong with developing a supplemental essay into your common app essay. Writing is rewriting. A quick, little essay can sometimes turn into a longer one.


Tip #3—Write Down Your Life Story

Give yourself a few hours to sit down and literally type out what has happened to you in your life. Sometimes, getting your story down on paper can help you identify themes, trends, or periods of time that might hold good lessons learned or give perspective on what matters to you, where you’re headed, and what to make of it all. Use this exercise to try to get yourself thinking about what happened to you and what kind of ideas you might write about. However, this is not meant to become the essay itself.


Tip #4—Start with a list about YOU!

Then, make this a list of things you want colleges to know about you, or about what you believe to be integral to you as an individual. For example, you might include your sense of humor, the fact that you believe your grandma to be your hero, your artistic abilities, etc. Whatever it is, these things should be what really makes you, you. This can essentially be a great way to work backwards—first, start by figuring out the “meat” of your essay, and then unravel the stories in your life that reveal these qualities, values, or personality traits and incorporate them into your college application essay.


Tip #5—Just WRITE!

Write. Read. Critique. Revise. There’s nothing wrong with writing page after page of marshmallow mush. If you sit and type enough gibberish for long enough, you may find your brain will actually start to churn out good ideas. You don’t need to search for the “perfect topic” to write about; that perfect topic will not make or break your essay. Above all, what’s actually important is HOW you write your essay and what message you convey through the stories you tell. As long as your essay is answering the questions, you should be on the right track.

When in doubt, start typing, start writing, even if the start doesn’t feel perfect. As you write consider the following questions:

  • What do you care about?
  • Why do you care?
  • What do you value?
  • What makes you different?
  • How are you going to make a difference?

Remember, people have gotten into top schools by writing essays on topics as mundane as lasagna and taking a shower.  If you don’t believe it, go check out our Gawker list of essays above :), and then use these tips to jumpstart your own college essay!

Wondering what college is the right fit for you? Check out our post about how to choose the right college. Also, visit our YouTube channel for more college and test prep advice.