Preparing your College Essay



Your college essay tells your story to those who don’t know you.

With much of the college application focused on scores, grades and rigor, the essay provides a valuable opportunity to shine a light on each student’s personal narrative.  For the juniors who are home, refining your list of schools and creating a profile on The Common App or ApplyTexas, now is an ideal time to start preparing the story you want to tell.

When your scores and extracurricular activities are comparable to those of other applicants competing for admission, the essay can help you stand out.  Or not.  Remember that admissions officers read tens of thousands of essays during a season and you want your essay to be memorable.    

We recommend the following steps to get you started:

Review the essay prompts posted by the Common App (for 2020-21, the prompts are remaining the same as last year) here:

Select the prompt that most resonates with you (not mom, not dad, not your lab partner – YOU.) If more than one prompt speaks to you, view that as a good problem to have.  Write down a few thoughts about each.  Then try to find the one moment, the one experience, that you most want to share.  This will help you choose your final prompt.   Then, go deep.  Rather than simply describing a personal experience or specific event like Hurricane Harvey or this quarantine—explain in detail how it changed you and/or what you learned.

Write a letter, not a research paper.  No MLA format required (or even wanted!) This is your story and you want to tell it in your words so that your individual voice can be heard.  On average, most college essays require three drafts.   This takes time.   Be patient with yourself.

Be mindful of content.    You want to express yourself but remember that your audience is a staff member who does not know you.  Consider language, controversial viewpoints, slang or text abbreviations that will not translate, and attempts at humor.   It’s a gift to be funny and making an admissions officer laugh will make you memorable, but tread carefully here.  What a high school student and an admissions officer find funny may not be the same thing.   We strongly encourage vulnerability.  Be open to sharing personal details that reveal more about who you are, what makes you unique and worthy of admission.   This is your chance to share personal information that you have not already provided in the application itself.  

Answer the question.   Be sure that your essay clearly responds to the prompt.  You can test this by having a trusted friend or family member read the essay without providing the prompt.    From the list of prompts, see if they can identify which one you selected.   If they don’t match, you may need to further revise your essay.  

Find a trusted editor.   Your KHS English teachers are willing to help you review your essays with reasonable advance notice and a respectful request.  Mr. Page generously has been working with students, by appointment through the College Room, a few times weekly during One Lunch.   Someone who knows you well is another good option.   He/She will be able to “hear” your voice in the essay and make suggestions accordingly.

Proofread.  Proofread.   Proofread.   One of the best ways to check your essay is to read it aloud.   Your ears will hear mistakes that your eyes don’t catch.   And, aside from grammatical and spelling errors, check that any mention of the school you’re applying to is the school you are referencing.   We’ve heard too many stories about students explaining why they are a good fit for “University A” in an actual application to “University B.”    It is perfectly acceptable to re-work an essay for different schools’ personal statements or supplements!  You simply want to be sure that you are indicating the correct school with each one.

There is no such thing as “optional.”   If a school on your list asks for a supplemental essay, please take advantage of the additional opportunity to make your case for admission.   Trust us.  In state, Baylor and Texas A&M are just two of those that ask for an additional essay.   

Many of the schools that require additional information via supplemental essays can be found here:

For writing inspiration, view different essay sites online, including:

Johns Hopkins University – Essays That Worked

Khan Academy Essay Writing


As always, please feel comfortable reaching out to us in The College Room with any questions about this process.  We are here to help!

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