College applications are daunting — and tedious. Yet the essay is one of the most important pieces of your application.

Perhaps you're wondering whether you should write a funny essay or a serious one, or what that pesky "hook" your essay needs, or how to convey enthusiasm for your chosen topic. Maybe you need help with an introduction paragraph or know that you'll need to work on writing dialogue in order to get into college. Perhaps you can't think of anything at all and have already put off writing 500 words for weeks! Whatever the case may be, good news: we've got ideas guaranteed to both make your life easier and set up for college success.

"Why Us?" Essays

Here's how to write the perfect "Why Us" college essay. "I want to go to UPenn because of its low student to faculty ratio, its closeness to the city, it has an amazing math department, and it felt just like home" - this is the worst "Why Us" college essay you could possibly write.

The above example is so generic and bland. Boring essays go nowhere.

In your "Why Us" essay, you want to mention highly specific and unique academic and social reasons why you want to attend the college.

  • Academic reasons: classes, professors, research programs, what you intend to major in, specific academic programs.
  • Social reasons: school groups, clubs and organizations you are interested in, sports you already excel in and can represent the college in, campus culture, dorm life.

As for crafting your story, use examples. If you're talking about why you want to attend a certain college because of its social clubs, go ahead and talk about club meetings or times you've been on campus with other students.

Develop and detail your college essay to articulate really specific, convincing reasons why the admission committee has to let you in.

Make Your College Essay Stand Out
• Simple Words with Direct Meaning• Name-dropping Says Nothing• English or Engrish?• Write Short Sentences• Condense Your Essay• Your Introduction Should Impress• Conclusions Should Not Be Repeated• Passion Should Come Through• Go for Original Ideas• Use Non-Academic Ideas

Read the college's essay prompts. They're there for a reason. Take the time to tailor your essay to their prompts. Make it obvious that you've done your homework as it helps you stand out from everyone else who wrote their own lackluster "Why Us?" essays.

Improved version below:

In this version, we've added a much more specific and unique reason as to why we want to attend UPenn. The entire essay is tied to you as the central subject: "I want to go to UPenn because it has an amazing math program, a great campus culture. I've always wanted to live in a college town, and no other place on this planet would make me feel more at home - I could live with my best friend there and the dorms are so beautifully designed and furnished. Also, it is a really great school academically and I know the math program has some of the best research out there. I am so excited to be a part of it!"

"Reasons I Will Excel at Your College" Essays

You want to write a "Reasons I Will Excel at Your College" essay that demonstrates that you've taken the time to learn about the school and demonstrate that you're going to be an asset to their campus. You need some quick specifics on each college you're applying to, but know that admissions officers likely will not read your entire application. A story also is not what they are looking for here either.

Give the reader intriguing reasons why you will do really well academically at the college - for example:

  • If you are a math major, talk about research opportunities and classes with famous math professors.
  • Assert your commitment to athletics. Tell the reader that you do really well at sports and have had a lot of experience in your town or city - but also include how the college team will make you even better.
  • Leadership.
Showing Leadership in Your College Essay
• Attributes of A Leader• Examples• Informal Leaders• Self Leadership• Sharing Your Vision

The assignment is also to list why you will fit in socially at the school. Don't use generic reasons like, "I have a lot of friends." Instead, talk about clubs you are interested in and ways you could contribute to them. Actually take the time to learn about what each club is about and come up with real, specific reasons on why you would be a great addition.

More Than Friends: Why You Need Your Own Social Network
• Value of Large Social Groups at Work• More Allies Than Enemies• Eyes and Ears Everywhere• Happiest People are Connected• Counter Office Gossip and Win• Capture Attention You Want

How to Start the First Sentence of Your College Essay

The first five words are the most difficult to type, it is the first time the admissions officer "hears you speak". Here's how to nail it: First, don't start with a preposition (before, in, to, with, etc.), don't start with a cliche quote (examples: one in a million, the time of my life) and don't start with an overwhelming amount of imagery.

Things you should do: Start with a "hook" so you can catch the reader's attention and keep them going. This can be as simple and concise sentence the reader won't expect like "Hotdogs are best with mustard". Then, use your real voice. Third and finally, don't fixate. If you can't think of anything, just roll with the first thing (like hotdog), your mind lands on, and write from there.

Starting Your College Essay Intro With a Bang
• Personal Story • Future Plans• Family Motivation• Self Discovery• Quotes• Travelling• Love• Stress• History• Hobbies• Music & Arts• Academia
We use the hotdog example in the below college essay sample.
College Application Essay - A 500 Words Example
• Full-length Essay Idea Sample• Close to Heart Compelling Essay Topic• Deep Personal Experience• Adheres to Typical Essay Prompts

What to Do When You're Stuck

When you're stuck, try writing about the college. If you can't come up with a single insight on why you want to go there, start with the facts and specifics. "I want to go to Duke because I really love their lacrosse program and they have one of the best coaches out there." Or if you are struggling to find things related to yourself that are relatable, try sharing something relevant about your personality or an aspect of your character that is unique or special. "I love reading and writing. In my free time, I read a new book every weekend and write a new story every week because I want to encourage the artistic expression in myself." This is really commonplace and boring. Start off strong.

How are Essays Used to Assess Students

The college essay says two things to the reader: that you are a good writer and that you have something interesting to say. It demonstrates your style, creativity, personality and imagination. While it's only one part of your application, it has the opportunity to give you an edge over the competition.

The essay says a lot about you, your personality and who you are as a person. It can tell the admissions committee that you were able to reflect on yourself, your interests and your passions. It means you were able to take the time to write and edit, which is encouraging for college admissions officers in terms of how well they can expect you to do in college.

Your ability to craft a really good essay will be an indication that you genuinely care about your education and intellectual growth, which is why colleges have essays in their application.

Creative Ideas to Use in Your Essay

Relate to Your Favourite Binge Netflix Show

Write about your favourite TV show - for example, The Office - and use the show as an essay topic, and then relate your personality to each of the characters. Here's how it works.

Most people are familiar with the office sitcom ‘The Office’, which was aired from 2005-2013. The show is about a guy named Michael Scott who is the regional manager for a paper company called Dunder Mifflin.

If you want to relate to his character, then you should use Michael Scott as your hook. For example, if your essay centers around the theme of the college application process, then why not draw a parallel between Michael and the college admissions committee. An example introduction may be, "Just like the Michael Scott at Dunder Mifflin, the college admissions committee has already met some applicants and will meet others later in the year. If your paper is about whether or not you should study abroad, then perhaps your hook could be a scenario in which Michael Scott had previously met Ryan Howard from accounting. He'd question why he wasn't doing his job correctly (which was to mail invoices to clients).

Michael Scott would then have to confront him about his mistakes. He would ask him, "How can you expect me to deliver mail to the clients if you aren't doing your job?" The same sentiment could apply to college admissions. For example, rather than studying abroad during high school, maybe if Michael Scott had met with a student from a different school who is clearly not applying correctly, he'd have to confront him on his actions.

Use a Random Object and Relate it to Different Parts of Your Life

One of the easiest ways to come up with a creative hook that you can use in your college essay is to use a random object, which can relate to different parts of your life.

An empty Pepsi can is a very simple object, and it can be used as a writing hook.

To use this object as a writing hook, think about how this random object relates to various aspects of your life. For example, using the Pepsi can from before, you could use the material as both an introduction and a closing. First, you could mention that the bright red and silver colors of the soda can are similar to that of the college application essay paper itself. Capturing the vibrant color of the Pepsi logo can also be used in your introduction, as it could portray a sense of excitement that your essay will bring to the table.

Another way to use this random object is to use it as a closing for your college essay. For example, when you're done writing your college essay, the last thing you want to do is leave the empty Pepsi can on the table, which would make your family feel dirty and uncomfortable.

Start Telling Your Story by Giving Away the Conclusion

Telling a story is one of the easiest and most creative ways to write an essay. Since so many people expect your college essay to start from the start, you should surprise them by giving some part of the ending away in the beginning. Spolier alert!

Try saying, "I want to share with you my story because I have something important that I want to conclude," and use this opening as a hook to capture attention throughout the remaining paragraphs you have to share.

Mystery Novel Writing Style

When you craft your college essay as if it were a mystery, you wouldn't want to give the best parts away too quickly. This forces the reader to learn more about you by going in depth and in the process learning more about your life experiences or whatever meaningful experience you wanted to share. Though it takes time to conjure a riddle or puzzle, the suspense you create will pay off as your admission essay will be more interesting than your fellow student.