Essay Guides and Essay Examples

Read essay examples and essay guides to help you get accepted to your dream college.

Your Best College Essay: Tips for Writing a College Essay That Helps You Stand Out!

Your college essays are a key chance to set yourself apart in the college admissions process. A strong college essay will showcase all of your unique qualities that will help you succeed on a college campus. Avoid the fatal mistake of leaving your college essays until the last minute. Instead, reserve enough time to craft a college admission essay beyond compare.

Keep in mind that the average acceptance rate for college applicants is 68%, but the rate for your dream school may be even lower. For example, many of the best colleges in the U.S., including Ivy League universities, have single-digit acceptance rates. Admissions departments across the U.S. received well over a million Common App applications for the 2022-2023 school year. Many schools are growing more competitive every year, so it’s more important than ever to stand out.

Your personal essay and supplemental essays can easily get lost in the wave of other applicants. In truth, only the best college essays will rise to the top, so it is important to make sure yours is among them.

CollegeAdvisor’s resources will guide you through the entire process, including key information on:

  • Selecting college essay topics
  • College essay ideas
  • Types of college essay prompts
  • How to write a great college essay
  • College essay format
  • How to start a great college essay
  • How to start a ‘why this college’ essay
  • How to end college essays

Writing about yourself isn’t easy, but you can also find more great tips on how to write a college essay for individual schools at As you begin, keep in mind that knowing how to write a college essay is the mark of a great candidate. 

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Selecting college essay topics

To write a standout college essay, you will have to be creative and original. This means you should avoid the overused typical college essay ideas, such as:

  • A historical figure you admire
  • Your favorite place to visit
  • How you saved the day by making a winning sports play

These and other similar college essay topics are too common, so they won’t help you stand out. Even if you have to use a prompt that looks like this, try to attack it in an unexpected way. You don’t want your college essay to be just one of many cliché college essays that don’t inspire your reader.

Other potentially ineffective college essay ideas to avoid in a college admission essay are those that provide too much personal detail. For example, if you want to write about a serious accident and how you overcame your injuries, avoid taking a deep dive into the medical procedures and details about the accident itself. That is not how to start a college essay. In fact, you could end up putting off members of the admissions committee rather than intriguing them. Instead, a good college essay idea would focus on how you turned a challenge into an opportunity. 

Avoid poetry and fiction

Also, don’t turn in a long poem or a piece of fiction in lieu of a college essay. This advice applies to supplemental essays as well. Although your creative prose might reveal aspects of your spirit and personality, creative writing is a college essay format that admissions teams don’t always appreciate. Your college essay should teach your readers more about you—not your poetry chops. 

That said, creativity is still important in college essays. Your college essay should highlight your ability to illustrate points with strong imagery. The best college essays will use vivid imagery, strong language, and a well-structured form to highlight key parts of the writer’s identity. 

Additionally, boasting about your personal achievements in college essays often does not present your character in the best light. This doesn’t mean you can’t highlight your accomplishments in your college essays. However, if you want to describe an accomplishment, add context. Don’t use language that is too self-congratulatory or prideful. Of course, you can be proud of your achievements. But, the best college admission essay is one that exudes confidence, not arrogance.

College essays are no joke

The best college essays also do not solely rely on humor or jokes to engage an audience. Humor is quite subjective, so what tickles your funny bone may not have the same effect on others. Try not to overuse humor in your college admission essay. 

Instead, take a tip from college essays that worked. Use unique descriptions and insights that help your readers understand who you are. If that includes humor, feel free to add in a few clever jokes throughout your college admission essay. However, don’t use them to distract from the actual content of the essay itself. 

In addition, resist the urge to write a college essay that reads like a travelog. Describing the weather in the South of France does not reveal much about who you are and why a college should accept you. Your college essays need to be about you! 

At times, you might be asked to write a college essay about someone else. These essays might seem deceptive, but at their core, they should still center around you. Think about someone you know or a historical figure you admire. How do their experiences and values relate to your life? What about them engages you, and how does that speak to your identity? 

Stay positive

When writing a college essay, you should also avoid making negative observations about the school you’re applying to (or even other colleges). Admissions officers want their students to have a  positive outlook. So, avoid negativity and criticism in your college essays.

One way to accomplish this is to select college essay topics you care about. Choose a theme that reveals your passion and positivity. Get started with some brainstorming strategies to help you identify a few great college essay ideas. 

Additionally, take advantage of’s library of webinars to help you create an application that showcases your personal narrative. Your college admission essay should work in conjunction with your extracurricular and academic interests to show who you are as a whole person. So, as you write your college essays, keep your application narrative in mind. 

After brainstorming

Once you’ve identified some viable college essay topics, see how they compare to some popular topics for college essays that worked, including:

  • A college essay on the valuable lessons you learned from a setback or failure
  • A college essay reviewing how anc accomplishment inspired your growth
  • An essay topic about the ways in which gratitude has broadened your horizons
  • A unique college essay about how your favorite hobby adds dimension to your academic interests
  • A college essay detailing how one experience impacted your life and goals for the future

These structures give you room to tell a story about who you are and how you’ve grown. However, if you’re not careful, these topics can become cliché. So, if you opt to write your college essay on a common topic, make sure it has your own personal spin. 

Most importantly, use your own voice and be sincere in any college essay you write. Admissions committees do not want to read the same college essay topics over and over. Instead, they want to see college essays and supplemental essays with fresh voices and thought-provoking. 

College essays that worked are insightful, authentic, unique, and personal. So, as you draft your college essay, keep these qualities in mind. 

Different kinds of College Essay prompts

The Personal Statement 

Typically, the longest essay you will write in the college application process is your primary College Essay or Personal Statement. This essay will be based on college essay prompts set forth by the Common App and Coalition App. These college essay prompts typically include an array of predetermined topics as well as an option to write on a subject of your choice. You can find the college essay prompts on each application website. 

The Common App and Coalition App typically release their college essay prompts in the summer before application season begins. That way, they’re available several months before your college applications are due. This gives you ample time to research college essays that worked and develop your own strategy for getting started on a college essay.

The Common App publishes its college essay prompts online each year. The Coalition App college essay prompts are also available online. Additionally, if you are planning to submit your college applications through QuestBridge, you can find the college essay prompts on its website. QuestBridge also offers valuable hints on how to write a great college essay.

School-specific essays

You will also likely be required to write school-specific essays as part of your college application process. These school specific essays, also called supplemental essays, are different from your primary college essay or personal statement. However, supplemental essays are just as important, if not more so, to admissions officers. 

Supplemental essays differ between schools and application systems. So, do your research on which college essays you will need to write well before your college application deadlines.

More on supplemental essays

Each university creates its own supplemental part of the college application. Most schools require you to write supplemental essays specific to them. These are a school’s way to assess how you would fit into their specific school community. They also give you the chance to show each school why you are a good fit!

Some schools ask applicants to write more than one supplemental essay. Some supplemental essays consist of several short questions and one longer supplemental essay. The typical college essay length for a long answer is similar to that of your regular college essay, around 400-650 words.

College essay length requirements for short answer questions are likely to be around 150-200 words. Before you start writing, research  the colleges you are applying to. First, find out the type, number, and college essay length of the supplemental essays they ask for. Then, take your time to learn more about each school and its values—this can help you write an essay sure to stand out. 

Supplemental essay example

For example, if you apply to New York University, the supplemental essay is school-specific. NYU wants its applicants to answer the question “Why NYU?” in a 400-word essay. Specifically, the NYU supplemental essay prompt for 2021-2022 was worded as such:

We would like to know more about your interest in NYU. What motivated you to apply to NYU? Why have you applied or expressed interest in a particular campus, school, college, program, and or area of study? If you have applied to more than one, please also tell us why you are interested in these additional areas of study or campuses. We want to understand – Why NYU? 

For a college essay prompt like this, you’ll want to start by researching NYU. Then, choose one or two things about NYU that intrigue you. Don’t be too general, and don’t just talk about going to school in New York—instead, show why you would thrive at NYU specifically, and highlight what you would bring to their campus. 

You can get more tips on writing a great supplemental essay at We’ve curated supplemental essay guides for all of the top 100 colleges.

Short answer essays 

Others, like University of Southern California, ask for a series of short response questions alongside their supplemental essays. Short responses questions tend to be around 100-150 characters, but they vary based on school. 

As you write your supplemental essays and short response answers, keep the required college essay length in mind. Also, remember that shorter essays aren’t always easier. Give yourself plenty of time to write a standout 150-word essay; don’t leave it until the last minute. 

“Optional” supplemental essays

In addition to any required college essay prompts, some schools list their supplemental essays as optional. However, if you are applying to a top-tier school, it’s a good idea to answer all prompts, optional or not. Instead of seeing these optional essays as added work, think of them as an invaluable opportunity to share more about yourself.

That said, there are certain cases where you should skip the optional supplemental essay. For example, if the supplemental essay asks you to expand on any extenuating circumstances that impacted your application, and you don’t have any, don’t make something up. These supplemental essays are designed for students to explain an extremely low grade in a class or a personal event that affected their academic performance. In some cases, this will not apply to you. So, don’t feel pressure to answer those types of supplemental essay questions. 

Schools with no supplemental essays

You may also find during your college application process that some universities do not require any supplemental essays. 

State universities like the University of Colorado-Denver and the University of Pittsburg do not ask for supplemental essays. Nor do some liberal arts schools like Lawrence University, Colby College, and Middlebury College. Take these schools’ policies as another incentive to make your personal statement shine. 

How to Write a Great College Essay

Test scores, your GPA, and the list of extracurricular activities you’re involved in provide admissions committees with a sketch of your accomplishments. Your college essay is your opportunity to fill in the rest of the story

If your test scores are good but not exceptional, your college essay can convey how exceptional you really are. If your GPA is less than flawless, a great college essay can help strengthen your application.

However, there is no shortcut to writing a college essay that stands out. You will need to spend time brainstorming, drafting, and editing your college essay. College essays that worked for past applicants were not written in a day, or even a week. It can take a few months to write a college admission essay that you’re proud of. 

Check out these hints to write the best college essays possible:

  • Choose college essay prompts that fit: The college essay prompts you choose should provide an opening for the topics/stories you have decided to discuss.
  • Know your parameters: Before you begin, make sure you are clear on the required college essay length and college essay format.
  • Create an outline: Organization is critical to writing a college essay that shines, so structure your ideas into a formal outline to guide you as you write. This will also help you get started on a college essay if you’re feeling stumped.
  • Start out strong: Come up with a “hook” in the first few sentences of your college essay that grabs your readers and reels them in. For example, “On New Year’s Day 2020, my life changed forever.”
  • Write a rough draft: Do not plan on writing a college essay in a couple of hours. Treat your first effort as a draft that you will reread and revise until it is perfect.
  • Follow your outline: Keep your essay prompts and college essay ideas firmly in mind as you write your first draft; you can revise it later to make it one of the best college essays possible.
  • Do not go over the college essay length for any of your college essays: Pay attention to college essay length requirements, especially with supplemental essays. Also, do not deviate from standard college essay format. Doing so indicates that you cannot follow instructions.
  • Use proper grammar and accurate spelling: Resist the urge to use slang or texting abbreviations in any college essays.
  • Observe the rules of best college essays: Breaking college essay format rules or deviating from the college essay prompts will not earn you any points. Be prepared to showcase your excellence as a writer—within your given parameters. 

It’s also a good idea to review the websites of your colleges of choice to see whether they offer guidelines on how to write a strong supplemental essay. In addition, research guides on how to write a great college essay from other resources.

College essay format

You should also follow the college essay format mentioned in your college essay guidelines, if there is one. If the application does not specify a college essay format, use the standard MLA guidelines for how to write a college essay.

While some colleges may not place any importance on format, most schools expect college essays to meet strict academic standards. So, do not rely on your memory for correct grammar, spelling, and vocabulary definitions. When in doubt, look it up.

How to Start a College Essay

Choosing your college essay prompts and structuring an outline for your college essay format is a great beginning. Now, you’ll probably wonder, how do you start a college essay?

The best method for getting started on a college essay is creating a thesis statement. This is a single-sentence response to the college essay prompts you choose to tackle. It states your topic and the main point of your college essay.

A strong thesis statement forms the foundation of the best college essays. It should be clear and concise. The following paragraphs of your college essay should then provide supportive examples and/or evidence to prove your thesis.

Let’s take a look at the Johns Hopkins “Essays that Worked” page for some examples. For college essay prompts like, “Describe an obstacle or challenge that you struggled to overcome,” your thesis statement should be clear and compelling. Your thesis could be, “When I transferred to a new bigger high school and joined the squash team, I discovered how rewarding it is to push myself outside of my comfort zone.” 

When you’re getting started on a college essay like this, start with a bit of context. Then, make sure each paragraph directly relates to the thesis statement and reveals something crucial about you. For example, you might describe a distinct strategy or action that pushed you out of your comfort zone. Was it the fast pace of the sport, or maybe the shyness you felt meeting new people? You might also highlight a specific moment when you overcame insecurities and conquered new challenges. However, don’t try to tackle all of these questions at once; instead, choose one story, and stay focused on your narrative and its relevance to your life. 

Finally, make sure that your essay reflects something crucial about who you are. Don’t just tell an interesting story—instead, explicitly connect this story to your identity and growth. To return to the squash team example, your essay might show how you persevere in the face of difficulty and that you are not afraid to learn from new experiences. 

What about the ending?

So, once you’re this far, you’ll begin wondering how to end a college essay. In most cases, the final paragraph of the best college essays will return to your thesis. Then, it will offer a conclusion that puts the entire experience into context.

In our example about joining the squash team at your new high school, your college essay might conclude with, “The experience showed me that the more I push myself outside of my comfort zone, the more my comfort zone grows.” This sentence shows the reader the relevance of your essay beyond its topic—that is, it shows how your experience helped you grow not just as a squash player, but as a person. 

The above example shows how to end a college essay on a positive note. It will leave your readers feeling good about your experience, just like you did. It also gives you room to talk about how you will apply your new faculties in college. That’s the best strategy when it comes to how to end a college essay.

Key Components of the Best College Essays

Many colleges, including Harvard and the University of California, no longer require you to submit SAT or ACT test scores. In the absence of these scores, an even greater emphasis falls upon your supplemental essays.

That means to get into top schools, you must focus on creating one of the best college essays in response to the college essay prompts. Your college essay provides much-needed insight into both your academic talent and your character.

Before you submit your college admission, check your college essay against the following tenets of how to write a college essay. 

Does your college essay do all of these things?

  • Communicate your unique character: What you reveal about yourself in your college essays both answers and expands upon the college essay topics.
  • Write with an authentic voice: Your college essays should sound like you, so unless you frequently use complex language or long words, avoid them in both your college essay and supplemental essays.
  • Don’t be too broad: College essays should cover a single concept in depth rather than skimming through several concepts. For example, instead of talking a little about each of the jobs you’ve had in your life, focus on one key experience. Anywhere from 1-3 examples is a good amount to aim for in each of your college essays. 
  • Provide evocative details: The best college essays draw readers in with interesting and enriching details. Remember to show, don’t tell, when writing a college essay.
  • Use specific language/imagery: Put your readers in the scene with adjectives and images that help them see, smell, touch, taste, hear or otherwise feel the event or emotions you describe. That is a common trait of college essays that worked. 
  • Tell a story with a beginning, a middle and an end: The best college essays don’t skip around in a confusing manner. Instead, strong college essays simply relay events as they actually happened.
  • Contain excellent grammar and spelling: The best college essays are virtually flawless in terms of mechanics. You don’t want to distract from your college admission essay with something as small as a misspelled word. 
  • Stay within the college essay format parameters: Show respect for the standard college essay format. Edit until your college essay falls within the stated word limit for college essays. If your essay is too long, you may be denied admission for not following the required college essay length. 

How to Write a College Essay About Yourself

No matter which of the college essay prompts you choose, the story, observations, and reflections should ultimately reveal more about yourself than your test scores and extracurricular activities do. Your college essay is the place to let your personality shine. 

Remember, you are pitching yourself as an excellent fit for a particular university. So, your college essays should present you in the best possible light.

However, you may have never written a personal essay before. So, you’re stuck wondering how to write a college essay about yourself. The trick to writing about yourself is avoiding some of the common pitfalls of autobiography. Avoid describing yourself in such a way that garners sympathy rather than admiration. Try not to sound too negative or bad-tempered. 

For example, instead of indulging in self-pity, describe how a specific challenge has made you stronger. That’s the best approach to the question of how to write a college essay about yourself. Focus on your reactions, your growth, and your takeaways. Communicate how you’ve transformed a negative experience into a positive opportunity for learning and growth.

As you brainstorm college essay ideas and wonder how to start a college essay, remember that you are not the only hero in your story. Your college essay can also mention those who helped you with an important accomplishment. Describing your relationships with others is also a good way to write about yourself. In fact, it illustrates your humility and gratitude, two admirable character traits. However, at the end of the day, stay focused on yourself. 

When thinking about how to write a college essay about yourself, at all costs, be truthful. There’s no need to exaggerate your victories. That’s one of the top takeaways from how to write a college essay. Tell the truth, and be yourself.

In addition, use descriptions that support your thesis statement. If you want your readers to understand your empathy for others, describe a situation that illustrates this rather than just saying so. Relay an anecdote about a time you helped someone without an ulterior motive.

Finally, explain how a story, experience, or accomplishment changed you or broadened your outlook. Don’t just state it; show it.

Find the college essay topic that works for you

Some college essay topics are more personal than others. Some college essay prompts inspire intensely personal reactions. The trick to choosing the right college essay prompts is to find one that allows you to reveal your character without getting overly personal.

The college essay topics you choose should reveal something about who you are and why you will be an asset to a college. If you feel that the best college essay topics are particularly sensitive ones, the best approach is honesty. Focus on the positives, and show how your trials have made you stronger. 

You do not have to give details that might be off-putting to your readers. Try to use each of the college essay topics as a window into your character and the kind of adult you want to become.

How to Start a “Why This College” Essay

You will likely come across college essay prompts asking, “Why this college?” One or more of your supplemental essays will likely be a version of this question. We frequently refer to these essays as “Why School” essays, and they are some of the most common college essay prompts you will encounter.

What is the admissions team trying to find out from these types of college essay prompts? It could be several things:

  • How much do you know about a college you are applying to?
  • Are you serious about attending if you get accepted?
  • Do you have a realistic view of the school’s academics and campus life?
  • Will you be a good fit for this particular college?

You should always do your homework before answering these college essay prompts. Research the course offerings, the faculty, the location, dorm life, and study abroad programs. All of these details will be helpful when you’re wondering how to start a “why this college” essay. 

Also, read student reviews to get a perspective from the inside. Then, come up with a definitive and specific answer to each of the “why school” essay prompts that you must answer.

Schedule a campus visit

Before you start a “why this college” essay, visit the campus in person, if possible. Not only will it help you come up with college essay ideas, but also, visiting a school is one of the best ways to show your interest in attending.

Many college admissions officers throughout the U.S. place value on your demonstrated interest (DI) in the college when considering your application. In fact, 16% of colleges consider your DI to have considerable importance.

Rather than just walking around the school campus, try to make an appointment in advance to speak with someone from admissions. When you show up in person, on time and eager, your admissions counselor will be able to connect your application and college essays to a familiar face.

Take a guided tour with a current student. Eat in the cafeteria. Attend a weekend event. Then, you can speak with authority in your college essay when you describe what draws you to the school.

Focus on the school in your college essays

Even though you’re applying to more than one university, you don’t need to mention that in your “why this college” essay. Instead, stay focused on each individual school as you write your school-specific college essays. 

Furthermore, when writing a college essay, put yourself in the role of a student at the school in question. What features do you love? What activities will you join? How would you, personally, embody the mission of the university?

Things to avoid

One thing to avoid in a “why school” essay is mentioning the school’s national rankings. Such statistics are not in themselves a reason to attend. Instead, write about how the school’s philosophy and academic approach align with your own.

Additionally, admissions officers already know about the school’s history, founders, reputation, and graduation rate. Your essay should offer information they don’t know, such as why you chose to apply or how that specific college would nurture your academic growth.

Use the two-part answer strategy

Having trouble deciding how to start a “why this college” essay? As you approach these college essay prompts, think of your essay as a two-part answer. First, describe the intellectual appeal of the college and the ways it speaks to your interests. Second, your “why school” essay should also mention how you will give back as a student.

For example, maybe you want to start a club for other West African students like yourself. Or, maybe you want to work with kids in the school’s inner-city community outreach programs. Colleges will be impressed that you already know how you’d contribute to their campus. 

Examples of College Essays That Worked

Part of the research you do as you begin planning your college essay should be reading college essays that worked. These college essay resources and examples of college essays can offer more expert insight. 

Since supplemental essay prompts are college-specific, use the essays-by-school resource from For example, if you want to apply to the University of Pennsylvania, find out all you can from people who have successfully gained admission to UPenn. Read actual examples of UPenn college essays that worked on our website.

Do your research on each supplemental essay requirement—UPenn asks for two supplemental essays. Along with actual essay prompts, find resources that provide example college essays that worked. These college essay resource pages also offer quick tips for how to write a college essay about yourself.

Our library of resources also includes advice from former admissions officers. This can give you even more insight into how to approach different college essay prompts. With help from our team of experts, you’ll find out what essay topics are most impressive to admissions officers and some tips on past college essays that worked.

At, you can read actual examples of college essays that worked. They illustrate what admissions teams look for in a successful supplemental essay. You can also find out how to write a college essay about yourself that is effective.

Final thoughts on College Essays

Generally speaking, the more selective the university, the more important it is to submit stellar college essays. For example, schools like Harvard typically accept less than 5% of those students who apply.

Most of the applicants to selective schools have the best academic records, scores, and teacher recommendations. So, college essays can make a huge difference. 

Think of your college essay, then, as a chance to further your quest for college acceptance. Make the most of it. Find solid resources on how to write a college essay. Then, produce well-planned, well-written college essays that show your readers who you are.

In a 2019 survey of college admissions departments nationwide, respondents ranked the college essay fifth in importance among admissions materials.

First on the list was the student’s high school GPA. Second was the average grade earned in college prep courses, and third was the academic reputation of the student’s high school. Fourth on the level of importance was SAT/ACT scores, and then the essay. However, now that so many schools are test-optional, college essays have become even more important.

Even at larger schools like the University of Minnesota, which accepts about half of those who apply, your college essay carries weight.

Within a large pool of candidates, it’s more important than ever to stand out. Excellent college essays will attract the eye of discerning readers. So, learning how to write a college essay is well worth your time.

A second pair of eyes can make a huge difference on your college essays. However, choose your readers and editors carefully. Choose who to ask how to write a college essay—not everyone can provide the right kind of support. You might ask a teacher, advisor, or family member for a second opinion. 

Finally, focus on what you can control. Nobody can predict if certain college essay prompts will be more of a hit with a particular admissions office. It’s impossible to know beforehand how to write a college essay that will click with all your readers. So, strive to write a college essay that best represents you. 

Rely on what you know about each college and how that intersects with your personality, interests and academic goals. Once you’ve figured that out, you should have a good idea how to write a great college essay.

Beyond the College Essays: College Interviews

Although many universities have made applying easier by eliminating standardized tests and financial aid steps, some colleges still consider applicant interviews to be an important part of the admissions process.

It’s a good idea to do your research or touch base with the admissions office before you visit a college. Then, you’ll know whether you can schedule an interview during your visit.

Larger schools send out admissions representatives to various cities or lean on a network of alumni to conduct interviews on their behalf. If your chosen college is among these schools, you can usually schedule interviews during their visits.

Typically, a college interview does not carry as much weight for getting into a school as your GPA or college essay. This is especially true if interviews are optional.

If a college does mandatory interviews, though, they will have some bearing on your acceptance. Prepare in advance and dress to impress, and you will make a positive impression at your interview.

Just like the prep for a college essay, preparing for a college interview involves some research about each specific college. As you gather information, start making a list that includes specific reasons why you want to attend. It’s sure to be one of your interview topics!

Also, as questions arise during your research, take notes. Some of the answers you can find with a quick search of the college website or on If you cannot find an answer to one of your questions, jot it down so you have something to ask at your interview.

Other popular interview questions you may encounter include:

  • What should I know about you that I won’t find out from your application?
  • What do you enjoy doing outside of school?
  • Tell me about a mistake you made that became a positive learning experience.

Keep in mind during your interview that how you answer questions is just as important as the answer itself. Try to relax and be yourself. Getting to know you is your interviewer’s primary interest. Think of your interview as a conversation, and try not to stress. 

It’s also a good idea to:

  • Know the interviewer’s name and how to say it.
  • Smile often, and offer to shake the interviewer’s hand when you first meet.
  • Be prepared to begin with rapport-building small talk.
  • Practice good grammar when you speak.
  • Listen carefully and take time to think as needed.
  • Close the interview with a positive comment.
  • Afterward, send the interviewer a thank you note.

Write down your impressions once you’ve completed your interview. Some of the topics you discussed or information you learned could become great college essay ideas. Also, if the colleges on your shortlist do not conduct pre-application interviews, that places more importance on your college essays and supplemental essays. Make sure your personality shines through especially as you compose your “why this college” essay.

Beyond the College Essays: Recommendation Letters

In many ways, the letters of recommendation from your teachers are similar to your college essays. They should tell the truth, talk about your character, be interesting, and be concise. However, you typically don’t have a lot of control over what is said in your recommendation letters. So, you should take care with the aspect you can control: who you choose to write the letter.

You should choose a teacher who knows you well and taught you recently. Ideally, this would be a junior year teacher. Teachers who had you freshman year are not the best choice, as you haven’t been in their classroom for three years. A sophomore year teacher is okay for one of your letters, but try not to have two sophomore teachers writing your recommendation letters. 

Although your teachers will likely submit their recommendations directly to the college admissions office, be sure to ask them to send you a copy too. Most of your teachers will probably agree.

However, if you sign a waiver in your application that waives your right to review your application file, you can’t legally access official copies of your recommendations. Many schools ask you to sign these waivers, so don’t expect to be able to view your recommendations. 

You should be sure to ask teachers for recommendations early. That gives them plenty of time to write a great letter that sings your praises.

However, since truthfulness is a hallmark of a strong recommendation letter, you should ask faculty members that know you well. You don’t want a letter that provides only vague information and faint praise. Ask those teachers with whom you have built rapport over your years in high school. They’ll be familiar not only with your GPA but also your personal character.

Sometimes it takes advance planning to build rapport with your teachers, but it is rewarding in many ways. Often, a coach you have played sports for and also taken classes from is a great choice.

CollegeAdvisor can help

We offer extensive resources at for students at every stage of the college admissions process. We add new information about college admissions and college essays constantly, including exclusive webinars with former admissions officers.

Use CollegeAdvisor to research universities like Princeton. Narrow down your choices based on reliable information, and learn how to optimize your chances of admission.

When you join CollegeAdvisor, you’ll have access to our best tips about college admissions from students, former students, and former admissions officers at top universities. You’ll get expert advice on writing college essays that work from students who are attending their dream schools.

We have more than 400 Admissions Experts and former Admissions Officers available to meet with you, discuss your needs, and provide support. To date, we have helped students from the U.S. and 60 countries worldwide gain admission to Ivy League and Top 50 colleges across the nation. 

Applying to college is hard—you shouldn’t have to do it alone. Get started with CollegeAdvisor today.