how to write better essays

9 College Essay Tips on How to Write Better Essays

Want to learn how to write better essays? We’re here to help. In this guide, we have collected the best college essay tips from our experienced team, who have guided hundreds of students through the college admissions process. Our experts have taught many students how to write better essays, helping them gain admission to some of the most competitive schools in the country. 

This guide will teach you how to write better essays and provide you with 9 college essay tips to keep in mind as you write your supplemental essays and personal statements. Our admissions experts have extensive experience with college essay prompts and the college application essay format. They’ve guided hundreds of students through how to write better essays. 

In addition to our college essay tips, this guide will provide insight into college essay prompts, supplemental essays, and other tips on how to write better essays overall. We’ll go over the different essay prompts you may encounter and offer some tips on tackling common essays. This guide will also detail how to use essay examples to help with your writing process. We’ll also offer tips on how to help your essays stand out. If you’re looking for college essay help, continue reading below. 

College Application Requirements

college essay tips

While the college essay is a major part of the college admissions process, it’s not the only element to consider. Many college application requirements include transcripts, extracurriculars, recommendations, as well as supplemental essays. You may also need to submit a college resume and a separate personal statement in addition to your Common App essay. It’s important to pay attention to the college application deadlines as well. Different schools will have different college application requirements, including different college essay prompts. 

Your grades and extracurricular activities can provide colleges with a great overview of your school performance. However, the best college admissions essays give schools a deeper understanding of your identity and goals. College essay prompts are designed to help admissions officers decide who may be a good fit for their campus. Many college essay tips will focus on showcasing your personality and highlighting aspects of your high school career that colleges may not know about. If you’re looking to learn how to write better essays, we’ve detailed the kinds of college essay prompts you may encounter below. 

Common App essay vs. supplemental essays

Through the college admissions process, you will encounter both the Common App essay and supplemental essays. The Common App essay, sometimes known as a personal statement, has a 650-word limit. Students have a choice between seven college essay prompts, and they can send the Common App essay to multiple schools. The college application essay format allows students to highlight a personal interest, accomplishment, or important story. The best college admission essays leave a great impression on the reader and make them feel as if they know the author in a personal way. Researching college essay tips and college essay ideas can help you learn how to write better essays. 

In addition to the Common App essay, you will also encounter supplemental essays. Supplemental essays are typically shorter than the Common App essay, often between 150-300 words. Supplemental essays are school specific, and are designed to see how much you know about the school you’re applying to. In the next section, we’ll detail the different kinds of supplemental essays you may encounter. We’ll also give you some college essay tips to help you learn how to write better essays. 

What is a supplemental essay?

college essay tips

Supplemental essays are essays assigned specifically by a school. While the college application essay prompts may be similar, it’s important to make sure each essay is unique for each school. The supplemental essay allows schools to get more information about you and your interests outside of your Common App essay and overall college application. Not all schools will have supplemental essays, but it’s important to allot time to write these additional essays. Some schools will have 2-3 additional essay prompts, which could mean a lot of extra writing if you aren’t prepared. 

There are many different kinds of supplemental essays. Some schools have very short essay prompts, such as Columbia. These may ask students to list influential books, movies, and ways they explore their interests.  Other schools ask for additional personal statements in addition to the Common App essay, such as Harvard. Some schools will list the supplemental essays as optional, such as the Fordham supplemental essays. CollegeAdvisor recommends students complete every supplemental essay for each school on their college list. This includes all “optional” college essay prompts. 

Here are some college essay tips for some of the most common supplemental college essay prompts. These college essay topics are found at many colleges, and it’s likely that you will encounter them at some point through the admissions process. Reading these tips can help you when pondering what to write your college essays about.  These tips can help you learn how to write better essays and help brainstorm some college essay ideas:

Tips to Write Better Essays

college essay tips

1. Why School Essay 

The Why School essay is one of the most common college essay prompts. This essay asks you to explain why you’re interested in that specific school. As you tackle these college essay prompts, make sure to pinpoint your exact reasons for applying. 

2. Why Major Essay

The Why Major Essay is designed to help schools understand why you’re interested in your intended major. Try to explain your interest, and how that school will help you with your goals—see the UPenn supplemental essays for an example. 

3. Cultural Diversity Essay 

Many schools use the Cultural Diversity Essay to get to know your background better or allow you to highlight important aspects of your identity. The Tufts supplemental essays include a Cultural Diversity Essay. This prompt asks students to explain how their background has shaped who they are. 

4. Personal Challenge Essay 

The Personal Challenge Essay allows students to describe an obstacle they have overcome. Many of the best college essays highlight a student’s personal struggle, but it can be challenging to not overshare. Be sure to read college essay examples to help you strike the right balance. 

5. Extracurricular Activities Essay

The Extracurricular Activities Essay allows you to elaborate on your college resume. It offers you an opportunity to discuss your favorite club, sport, or community project. The Yale supplemental essays include an Extracurricular Activities Essay, asking students to reflect on how they have worked to enrich their community. 

6. Unique or Oddball College Essays 

Some colleges are known for their unique essay prompts, such as the University of Chicago. These college essay prompts require students to get creative, and some of the best college admission essays come from a unique or oddball prompt. While these prompts may be intimidating, they can be a great opportunity for you to flex some creative muscles. They can also be a lot of fun to write, so don’t shy away from them!

7. Short Essays 

Short college application essay prompts can be some of the more challenging essays to write. Learning how to write better essays can help you with the short essay prompts, as you need to be concise and thoughtful about what you include. Every word will matter in a short essay prompt. So, think carefully about what you want to say and how you will say it. This will help you write the best college admission essays possible.

You may encounter a number of different supplemental essays, but all of them have the same goal—to help admissions officers learn more about you and your goals. If you’re still feeling stuck on your essays, U.S News has a great guide on How to Write a Supplemental Essay. Harvard also has great essay writing resources, including 12 Strategies to Writing the Perfect College Essay and student perspectives on the college essay. Vanderbilt has also compiled some essay writing tips, and the Smith College essay tip sheet can also come in handy. 

Do colleges care about supplemental essays?

While it’s hard to say exactly how supplemental essays factor into the admissions process, we do know that colleges care about your essays. The supplemental essay is the best opportunity for you to speak directly to the colleges you’re applying to. As such, it can serve as a great way for admissions officers to get to know you better. While college essay topics can feel silly or repetitive, it’s important to dedicate time and effort to your essays. 

One of the more common college essay mistakes is re-using the same essay for multiple colleges. While you can strategically re-use sentences and phrases, it’s important to make sure that each essay is unique to each college. Colleges want to ensure that the students they admit are passionate about their campus, and the best college essays effectively communicate that passion. The common college essay topics are designed to help admissions officers learn more about you, so it’s crucial to take them seriously. 

Case Study: Ivy League Essays

college essay tips

Let’s think about two hypothetical students, Lisa and Leo. They both have similar SAT scores, GPAs, and strong recommendation letters. They both were heavily involved in extracurriculars and met the admissions criteria for many Ivy League universities. Lisa wanted to learn how to write better essays, while Leo assumed the essays wouldn’t weigh as heavily as the other parts of his application. Lisa started to research college essay tips, read college essay examples, and familiarized herself with the college application essay format. She made sure to read different articles on how to write better essays, such as this one by U.S. News and Forbes’ The Perfectionist’s Guide to the College Essay

Leo wasn’t too concerned about college essay tips or learning how to write better essays. He did not seek college essay help and turned in the same Why Major essay to many of his top choices. While Lisa took care to make sure each of her college application essay prompts was unique and varied between each school, Leo assumed nobody would read the essays. Come Decision Day, it’s no surprise that Lisa was accepted to her top choice, and Leo was waitlisted. 

You can see why Lisa would have an advantage over Leo—taking enough time and effort to learn how to write better essays can help increase your chances of admission. Developing creative and unique college essay ideas can be a challenge, but it is worth the effort. If you research common college essay tips and read different college essay examples, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you learn how to write better essays. 

What makes a great college essay?

With so many resources and college essay tips, it can be hard to determine what makes a great college essay. When learning how to write better essays, it can be helpful to have some guidelines to keep in mind. We’ve collected 5 key components of the best college admission essays to help you learn how to write better essays: 

How to Write a Great College Essay

college essay tips

1. Compelling Hook

A compelling hook can be the difference between a good college essay and a great college essay. If you’re wondering how to start a college essay, introducing an interesting personal story or anecdote can be a great way to set up a compelling hook in your first paragraph. Learning how to write better essays will help you develop compelling hooks to help capture the reader’s attention. Part of writing a compelling hook is to land the ending as well, so be sure to finish strong.

2. Personal detail not offered elsewhere in application 

The college application essay format is designed to help you highlight details that may not be present elsewhere in your application. The best college admissions essays help add to a student’s application and offer insight that helps create a holistic profile. If you want to learn how to write better essays, then brainstorm details or stories that may be missing from your overall application. 

3. Original and engaging topics 

While many of the college application essay prompts will be repetitive, it’s important to make sure your essays have original and engaging topics. Think outside the box and try to approach your essays creatively. After all, learning how to write better essays can help you come up with original topics that will help your essays stand out. If you’re feeling stuck, U.S News has 10 Tips to Inspire College Essays to help. You can also read this U.S. News article on common essay topics and what admissions officers think of them. 

4. Unique and personal voice 

One of the biggest college essay tips is to develop your unique and personal voice. This can be the hardest part about learning how to write better essays. However, it’s crucial in making sure your essays stand out. Your essays should reflect your own voice and help the reader get to know you as an individual. Developing your own writing voice is a great skill that can take significant time and effort. If you’re struggling on developing your voice, Forbes has a great guide you can read here

5. Grammatically sound and free of errors 

It’s common to find college essay mistakes in the first, second, or even third drafts – making the proofreading process crucial. Ensuring that your college essay is free of errors, and follows all applicable grammatical rules, will make a great impression on admissions officers. Learning how to write better essays will help you catch any errors you make. U.S. News has a great guide on Grammar Do’s and Don’t for college essays if you’re concerned about using the proper rules.

Overall, the best way to incorporate these components is to invest a lot of time and effort into your essays. Make sure to ask for college essay help through proofreading, editing, and read-throughs. Having multiple teachers, mentors, and relatives read through your essays will help ensure the best versions are submitted. Learning how to write better essays takes a lot of time and practice, so the earlier you can start, the better.

How do I make my college essay stand out?

With college admissions becoming more and more competitive, it’s important for your college essay to stand out. If you’re interested in learning how to write better essays, we’ve compiled 9 college essay tips to help you. From help on how to start a college essay to breaking down the college application essay format, our college essay tips are designed to help you each step of the way. 

Our essay tips are designed for students across all stages of the application process, from freshmen and sophomores looking to get a head start to seniors deep in the application season. If you’re looking for more step-by-step guides, Forbes has a great guide on How to Write A College Essay. You can read it here

Our 9 college essay tips will help you write standout essays and help capture exactly what you want to communicate to colleges. 

9 College Essay Tips

Tackling the essay portion of your college admissions process can be daunting. In this guide on how to write better essays, we have discussed a lot of useful college essay tips including college application requirements, what makes a great college essay, and how you can write the best college essays possible. Now, we’re going to give you some practical college essay tips that will apply to any prompt you’ll encounter. 

Only the best college essays will rise to the top, so it’s important to know how to write better essays, especially if you apply to reach schools such as Ivy League universities. When considering how to write better essays, it’s important to look at college essay examples like the Tufts supplemental essays, Fordham supplemental essays, UPenn supplemental essays, and Yale supplemental essays. Additionally, always check out college admissions sites to see if they have specific tips for their essays. For example, here are some tips on the Smith College essay. 

With plenty of available resources and college essay tips, like this guide on how to write better essays, you can write the best college admission essays. Our college essay tips come directly from experts who have guided hundreds of students through the college admissions process, like these tips from experts at Vanderbilt. You can also check out our Success Stories, where you can read about real CollegeAdvisor students’ journeys!

Wondering how to start a college essay and how to write better essays? Great! Because we will now discuss 9 college essay tips. These tips will show you how to write better essays that showcase your unique qualities.

#1: Start Early

how to write better essays

Wondering how to write better essays? The first thing you need to know is to start early. You might have heard the first of our college essay tips before, but experts agree that you need to give yourself ample time to tackle college essays. This means enough time to develop college essay ideas, complete drafts, and review them multiple times. That way, you can steer clear of any college essay mistakes. This can be tedious, but it is an imperative part of writing the best college admission essays.

U.S. News suggests that students wondering how to write better essays should start writing the summer before senior year. Schools often release their college essay prompts at the end of summer. Ideally, by the fall you will have drafted your personal statement, finalized your college list, and started working on other aspects of the Common App. This ensures you have a solid foundation when college essay prompts are released. Additionally, this will make it less stressful to dive right into the writing process.   

Most importantly, starting early gives you plenty of time to write multiple drafts before college application deadlines. These can be as early as October or November for those applying Early Action or Early Decision. Regular Decision deadlines are generally in December or January. So, figure out when you intend to submit your college applications. Then, make a priority list of essays in the order of their due dates.

Planning your essay strategy

In addition to your Common App essay, many colleges ask applicants to submit supplemental essays. These ask students to explain what interests them about a particular school or major. These college essay prompts are generally released in the late summer. They also tend to be shorter than the main essay. So, when budgeting your time, don’t forget about school-specific supplemental essays!

Moreover, starting early gives you ample time to familiarize yourself with college application requirements. You can review the essay requirements for each of the colleges you’re interested in on their websites. There, you will find the college essay prompts, word limits, and other college application essay format guidelines. This guarantees that you are well prepared and write the best college admission essays. 

Whether you’re writing the Tufts supplemental essays, Fordham supplemental essays, UPenn supplemental essays, Yale supplemental essays, or responding to the Smith College essay prompts, you’ll need to follow the school-specific guidelines. So, make sure you understand what makes each of these college essay prompts unique.

#2: Practice Writing about Yourself

how to write better essays

College essays ask students to be personal and vulnerable in their writing, which may be unfamiliar to them. However, it’s an essential aspect of how to write better essays. Telling personal details about yourself and your goals does not mean simply restating your college resume. But, it also doesn’t mean you should overshare or “trauma dump.”

While you may excel in crafting research reports, personal writing can be challenging. There are a few contexts outside of the college admissions process where you will be asked to write about yourself. This is where the second of our college essay tips on how to write better essays comes into play: practice writing about yourself.  

There are various strategies you can use to practice. First, you can begin by writing a daily journal. Inevitably, you will have to write about yourself, your thoughts, and your actions. Next, you can audio record yourself talking and write from that. This will ensure your writing captures who you are and even has a conversational tone. You might also try free-writing. Just set a timer and write until it goes off! The more often you do this, the easier it will get. And, you’re bound to find some meaningful gems among the scribblings.

Targeted essay practice

Another good way to get acclimated to writing about yourself is to look at college application essay prompts from prior years and practice responding to them. These college essay prompts will likely be similar to those in your application cycle. Finally, read college essay examples written by other students to get a feel for how to respond. These exercises are key components when considering how to write better essays.

Reading college essay tips is great, but remember that practice is key. Learning to write about yourself is a vital skill when learning how to write better essays. 

#3: Familiarize yourself with the essay prompts

how to write better essays

The most common types of supplemental essays and college essay prompts are as follows: 

  1. Why School Essay
  2. Why Major Essay
  3. Cultural Diversity Essay
  4. Personal Challenge Essay 
  5. Extracurricular Activities Essay
  6. Unique or Oddball College Essays
  7. Short Essays

College essay prompts generally fall into one of these specific college application essay format categories. So, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with them in advance to know how to write better essays. By reviewing past college essay prompts and college application essay formats, you can practice your responses in order to write the best college admission essays. No matter if you’re writing Tufts supplemental essays, Fordham supplemental essays, UPenn supplemental essays, Yale supplemental essays, or Smith College essays, familiarizing yourself with a wide variety of essays will give you an edge. This will increase your admissions odds at selective schools. 

Reading sample college essays

Additionally, to gain a better understanding of what universities look for, it’s beneficial to read through college essay examples of why school essays. Familiarizing yourself with why school college application essay formats will provide insight into the specific aspects of the responses that admissions officers value. So, college essay examples can teach you what to expect from these sorts of college application essay prompts. This is a key component in any student’s “how to write better essays” plan. 

Checking out other college application essay formats, such as examples of extracurricular activities college application essay prompts, can help you figure out how to write better essays about your own extracurriculars. Namely, you’ll want to focus on the impact they’ve had on you and, subsequently, your current path to higher education. 

When preparing to write your college essays, consider the word limit of the college application essay prompts. This will determine how much or how little you can include in your writing. Sometimes, less is more. And, it’s always best to aim for the suggested word limit. 

By following these college essay tips on how to write better essays, you can prepare yourself to tackle college essay prompts and craft outstanding responses. Familiarizing yourself with a variety of prompts will ensure you’re ready for anything when it comes to college essays. 

#4: Take time to research

how to write better essays

Before you start writing, you should learn more about the schools you are applying to. One of the most important college essay tips on how to write better essays is spending time researching the colleges on your list. This will allow you to uncover specific opportunities that align with your goals. And, you should want to be just as good of a fit for the school as it is for you. Moreover, a key part of how to write better essays is including school-specific details.

However, you should not only research the basic things like the college essay prompts and college application requirements. Instead, you should focus on things that are specific to the school and coincide with your interests. What major are you considering? Why is the campus setting appealing to you? What organizations do you want to get involved in? Are there professors that you’re excited to learn from? Foregrounding these details gives you a chance to prove to the admissions team that you have invested time and energy into finding the best college for you.  

Learn all that you can so that you can submit a well-informed and persuasive application. Your essay should show how the college meets your needs and how you plan to contribute to the campus environment. 

Make sure to mention any unique aspects of the school or curriculum that could contribute to your overall career goals. The more details you use, the better you will be able to paint a picture of why you belong at that school. Researching the college you are applying to will enable you to gather relevant information about its values and opportunities. Then, you can use the specific details that attract you to the school to write the most impactful essays.

#5: Outline your essays

how to write better essays

Outlining your essays is one of the most crucial college essay tips in the “how to write better essays” process. Outlines allow you to organize your thoughts, structure your college essay ideas, and ensure your essays effectively convey the intended message. 

Outlines are beneficial because they help you clarify your main points and maintain focus throughout your essay. They enable efficient use of your word limit and aid in college essay ideas development. Additionally, outlines contribute to the overall time management process. 

It can be easy to get distracted while writing and go off on a tangent. That’s okay when it comes to free-writing practices. However, when it’s time to write your actual essay, you’ll need to be more focused and intentional with your writing. By creating a solid plan, you will set yourself up for a successful essay writing process.

#6: Never repeat yourself

how to write better essays

Supplemental essays provide applicants with an opportunity to provide additional information to the admissions committee, highlighting why they are a strong fit for the school. That’s why the sixth of our college essay tips on how to write better essays is to never repeat yourself. Your essays should be used to expand upon different college essay topics, experiences, and perspectives.

You’ll likely run into a scenario in which the school you are applying to requires two types of supplemental essays. Let’s say you choose to write about similar or adjacent college essay topics for both. For example, you discuss your passion for community service in both essays, elaborating on different aspects within each. While this approach may seem coherent, it’s generally a better choice to write about two entirely different subjects for the essays. Writing about different topics demonstrates that you are a well-rounded applicant and would contribute to various aspects of the college community. 

When elaborating on extracurricular activities listed on the Common App, you’ll need to provide additional details and deeper meaning. Be strategic and don’t restate what has already been mentioned. Instead, use this opportunity to dive deeper into specific projects, achievements, leadership roles, and personal growth. 

#7: Showcase your voice

college essay tips

Your writing voice is the unique and distinctive style, tone, and personality that comes through in your essays. Think of it as your way of expressing your thoughts and ideas on the page. When writing your college essays, an admissions team should be able to “hear” your voice. 

An important element of how to write better essays is writing with an authentic voice. Your college essays should sound like you. So, unless you frequently use Shakespearean language, avoid it in your college essays. 

Use these college essay tips as tools to show who you are, what you value, and how you think. By making sure your authentic voice comes through, you can do just that. It’s vital that your essays are an authentic, personal, and vulnerable representation of who you are. Remember, you are what you write

#8: “Show” don’t “Tell”

college essay tips

You’ve probably heard it before, but #8 on our college essay tips on how to write better essays reaffirms the importance of showing, not telling, in your college essays. Your college essays give you the opportunity to show the admissions team who you are beyond your academic achievements. Entertaining or intriguing anecdotes are more effective at explaining your qualities and passions than just statements. 

Think about your most meaningful and favorite life stories. Do they show something about your personality, values, interests, or character?  You should use relevant anecdotes in order to show the admissions officers how you embody certain traits or beliefs, as opposed to just stating you have them.

Let’s take a look at this example of “show” vs “tell” writing:

“Tell” Writing: “I am compassionate and want to help others. I have volunteered at a local homeless shelter, which has been very rewarding.”

“Show” Writing: “Last summer, as I was volunteering at the local homeless shelter, I experienced an indescribable sense of fulfillment. I served a tired-looking woman with three young children a hot plate of food. She met me with gratitude and relief in her eyes, and I met her with a warm smile. At that moment, I saw my small act of kindness make a tangible difference in someone’s life and knew that I wanted to pursue a career that would do the same.”

As you can see, the “show” writing example paints a vivid picture and engages the reader by providing specific details and descriptions. This creates a more impactful and memorable narrative while providing evidence of the argument being made: the student is passionate about helping others. If you decide to write about a common topic like service, do it because your experience has led to thought and reflection, not because you feel like it’s what admissions officers want to hear. 

If you want to know how to write better essays, whether writing Tufts supplemental essays, Fordham supplemental essays, UPenn supplemental essays, Yale supplemental essays, or Smith College essays, showing and not telling is key. You’ll notice it in all exceptional college essay examples.  

#9: Ask for help!

college essay tips

You should approach the editing phase of your college essays with the same importance as the writing phase. This phase is connected to the first of our college essay tips: start early! The earlier you start planning your essays, the more time you’ll have to ask parents, teachers, and advisors for college essay help. Having an outsider look at your essay will teach you a lot. So, make sure you dedicate sufficient time to this critical phase. 

When you feel like your essay is ready for review, use multiple resources to increase the chances of producing an error-free essay. Begin with writing assistant programs, like spell-check, for basic errors. Then, ideally, seek college essay help from at least two knowledgeable adults. Their feedback can help when considering how to write better essays. Additionally, look to these tips from Harvard experts and Harvard students on how to write standout college essays. 

Give yourself time to receive external feedback on your college essay topics and ideas as well as grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Following these guidelines will help you to complete your college application essays before the application deadline. This will ensure you submit work that impresses admissions officers and is free of college essay mistakes. For perfectionists, this Forbes guide to the college essay may be exactly what you’re looking for. 

After reading all these tips, you should now know how to start a college essay. You can always reach out to our advisors at CollegeAdvisor for college essay help by scheduling an appointment here. We also have guides on writing college essays and supplemental essays, as well as examples of college essays that worked. However, when in doubt during your writing process, revisit these tips for a reminder of how to write better essays.

Learning how to write better essays

college essay tips

Many students struggle with figuring out how to write better essays during the college admissions process. They may think they can’t write the best college admission essays or master the college application essay format. However, with the college essay tips listed above and good college essay help, anyone can learn how to write better essays. What makes a great college essay is a combination of practice, revision, and time. 

Are you trying to master how to write better essays? Start by giving yourself enough time to work on your college application essay prompts. Many of our college essay tips require time to research, outline, and plan before you even start writing your first draft. The more time you have to revise and fix your college essay mistakes, the better your essay will be.

Following college essay tips is also important because you may not have experience with this kind of writing. College essay prompts and supplemental essays require different skills than essays for your high school classes. For example, teachers often discourage writers from being too personal in academic essays. However, college essay prompts require a great deal of personal information, and the best essays include authentic personal experiences.

When learning how to write better essays, you can always learn from past successes. Reading essays that worked is a very popular way to gain insight into the college application essay format. Moreover, they may provide inspiration for your own essays, of which there will likely be several. Many colleges ask for multiple supplemental essays, so reading widely will prepare you for the endless college essay prompts available.

Approaching Different Types of Essays

In truth, your understanding of how to write better essays for college will only deepen with practice. In other words, writing for various college essay prompts will improve your final product. Of course, reading sample essays for a variety of topics beforehand will widen your perspective and prepare you to write. With that said, you do actually have to write something—put all those tips and knowledge to good use.

Each essay will demand something different from you: extracurricular experiences, academic aspirations, and challenges faced. While the end goal remains to showcase your best sides to admissions, it can be challenging depending on the prompt. By reading and writing multiple genres of essays, you’ll figure out the best approach to any prompt.

Nowadays, there are many different college essay topics to choose from; some will be better suited to you than others. Knowing what prompts will bring out the best side of you is essential to writing great essays. And don’t worry too much about writing about a never-before-seen or wholly unique experience. Despite what some may say, common topics aren’t off-limits—you just need to fine-tune them to showcase your strengths.

Writing within a short word count is another difficult aspect of how to write better essays. Most academic essays are several pages in length, whereas some college application essay prompts allow fewer than 150 words. Short essays especially require careful word choice and, often, more than one revision. The best college essays are highly polished, refined college essay ideas—basically, start early to get ahead.

Reading College Essay Examples

college essay tips

One of the best ways to learn how to write better essays is to read successful college essay examples. Many college websites will post essay examples from their most recent incoming class. In these, you can see what admitted students wrote about and get some college essay ideas of your own. 

With that said, beware of plagiarism. You should never copy supplemental essays that were written by somebody else. Not only is it considered plagiarism, but it also will not help you answer the college essay prompts better. Developing your authentic voice, with some inspiration gained from research, is the best technique for how to write better essays.

If you’re looking for examples for a wide range of college essay prompts, has you covered there, too. We’ve compiled some of the best college essays, all written by students like you who were accepted into top colleges. These sample essays and their accompanying college essay tips are excellent models for learning how to write better essays.

Another place to find great college essay help is this article featuring 10 different essays that earned their writers’ acceptance at the end of the admissions process. This article features every possible college application essay format, including Common Application essays and different variations of supplemental essays. Regardless of your college essay prompts, you can find college essay tips for how to write better essays. Unconventional college essay topics are particularly difficult to brainstorm for, so these examples can help you figure out how to start a college essay. 

More Essay Guides from CollegeAdvisor

At, we know the value of looking over a variety of successful college essay examples. That’s why we’ve compiled essay guides covering the college essay prompts for over 100 of America’s top universities. From the UPenn supplemental essays to the Yale supplemental essays and Tufts supplemental essays, our guides will help you prepare for any college’s prompts.

Because each school’s essays are different, specific essay guides are an excellent place to start. If you’re seeking college essay tips for supplemental essays at a particular school, the best source is successful essays. Our articles also include guides on how to write better essays for Ivy League schools, the UC system, and much more.

What about college essay tips for non-specific essays? While each school’s supplemental essays are different, nearly all of them require some sort of personal statement. This may be through the Common Application, Coalition Application, or an alternative college application essay format. Certainly, there are many articles out there with general college essay tips, like those from U.S. News or Forbes. However, there is no better way to learn how to write better essays than reading full examples.

Use your network

Finally, don’t be afraid to consult your personal network for college essay tips. Do you have a friend, older sibling, or high school alum who attends a college on your list? You can ask them about their essay or about their experience at the school. If you live nearby, you may even be able to accompany them there to walk around campus.

Their perspective could be very valuable since they’ve already gone through the admissions process and been accepted there. Their insights into your personality can also help you consider which college essay prompts will best serve you. When looking into how to write better essays, make sure you take advantage of all the resources available to you.

Making your supplemental essays stand out

We’ve gone over a lot of advice for how to write better essays. By now, your head may be swimming with all the college essay tips and topics we provided. So let’s get back to basics and figure out the most essential things to writing great essays.

To summarize, we wanted to highlight three more college essay tips to help your supplemental essays stand out from the crowd. And, especially if you’re applying to popular schools, there will be a big crowd.

Depending on a school’s size, an admissions officer may read hundreds or thousands of applications during the college admissions process. And because college application requirements are the same for every applicant, they’re likely reading hundreds of responses to the same college essay prompts. Therefore, making your essay stand out is a great way to make a positive first impression on your application.

How to Write a Standout Essay

how to write better essays

1. Prepare with Research

The first of our additional college essay tips is to do your research. Supplemental essays often ask students why they want to attend the school or explain how they embody the school’s values. In order to write supplemental essays on these topics, you should know what makes the school appealing to you. Consider a virtual or in-person campus tour, and definitely visit the school website. This research will provide a solid foundation for your essays. Detailed, passionate college essays whose writers did their research stand out among generic essays with only surface-level knowledge of the school. So, write about what moves you, and show that you’ve thought about pursuing those passions at that school. 

2. Be Genuine

The second tip for how to write better essays is to be authentic. One of the most common college essay mistakes is writing what you think the admissions officers want to hear. Instead, use the essay as an opportunity to showcase your personality and character.

Don’t just list your accomplishments or try to cram every single accolade you’ve received into an essay. Rather, pick out some personal stories to share that answer the prompt while also providing information about you. The best college admission essays showcase qualities and tell stories not found elsewhere in your application.

3. Don’t Skimp on Time

Finally, anyone who knows how to write better essays knows that time management is paramount. These college essay tips are incredibly useful only if you allow yourself enough time to implement them, so start early! The Common Application opens on August 1st each year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a head start. Take some time to think about which topics are best for you, or research supplemental essays from your preferred colleges. The earlier you start, the better off you will be. 

An early start means more time to edit—after all, the best college admissions essays go through several rounds of revision. Good editing requires time and patience, which is why starting on your essays early is essential. Taking the time to try several college essay ideas and choose the best ones will ensure that you submit your best work. You also need time to rest. Sometimes, learning how to write better essays means taking a few days’ break, then coming back to writing with fresh eyes!

Starting early also gives you more time to write multiple essay drafts and share them with people for feedback. In addition to giving yourself enough time, it is important to ask for help with how to write better essays. Even if you consider yourself to be a strong writer, college application essays require very specific skills. Support during the admissions process can come from family members, friends, and teachers and will take many forms. Just make sure that your editors are not writing the essay for you or making changes that undermine your own voice. 

CollegeAdvisor is here to help

We have already established that the best college admission essays are written with lots of help and support from others. Personalized guidance is important when learning how to write better essays. An expert can often help you put these college essay tips into practice with your own writing. After all, the college application essay format is pretty different from other forms of writing you’re likely used to. In light of that, it helps to work with someone familiar with college essay topics and college application essay prompts.

College admissions can be extremely stressful. The sheer number of college application requirements that need to be completed for each school is daunting, even if you are a strong student. Plus, the skills and knowledge required for a college application are different from the ones high school classes call for. So, if you’re struggling with how to write better essays, know that you’re not alone. There are many resources available to help you. 

Those resources include In addition to our numerous free articles, we offer personalized admissions help to hundreds of students worldwide. If you’re trying to write your best college admission essays, we can lend a hand.

Getting Help from CollegeAdvisor

At, our team of 400+ Admissions Experts and former Admissions Officers has helped hundreds of students approach the college admissions process with confidence. Whether you need help with how to start a college essay or already have a draft, our experts can help you create the best college application essays possible! We offer one-on-one guidance to students as they complete every aspect of their college applications, including essays. We’ll help you brainstorm topics, create drafts, edit your writing, and more so that you feel confident when you press “submit.” 

In addition to your personal college advisor, we also have a dedicated Essay Editing Team whose job is helping students with how to write better essays. They work with your college advisor to provide additional college essay help. This team of specialists will receive your essay and return it within 48 hours with targeted feedback and guidance on how to write better essays. Plus, you can keep sending drafts as you revise so that the feedback you receive will evolve as your essay does.

Finally, where applicable, CollegeAdvisor offers students the chance to have an “application dress rehearsal.” Here, your full application, including essays, is reviewed by one of our former Admissions Officers. They will review the college application essay format with you, check your materials, and flag any issues they see with the application.

They’ll also provide specific feedback based on their experience in admissions offices at the top universities nationwide. They know how admissions officers think and will use that knowledge to help you with how to write better essays. In addition, these former admissions officers will help you prepare for interviews if your school requires them. 

College Essay Tips – Final Thoughts

When it comes to college essay prompts, there are many different approaches for how to write better essays. Different college essay prompts will require different techniques. For example, the Fordham supplemental essays may require different skills and perspectives than the Smith college essay. However, the college essay tips we’ve compiled here can be used with a wide range of college application essay prompts. These tips for how to write better essays come from experts in the field with years of admissions experience.

Don’t be afraid to share essays with your advisor, a trusted teacher, or a family member for additional college essay help. They may be able to see errors that you missed and provide a new perspective on your writing. At the same time, since they know your personality, they can tell you if your writing is representative of your potential.  In addition, seeking support from a expert can give you the added confidence that the advice you are receiving is backed by years of experience. 

Experts you can trust

Our experts can help you not only with how to write better essays but also with any other part of your college application requirements. Supplemental essays and college essay prompts are just one part of the admissions process where our advisors can assist you. We also offer help with financial aid, college list development, test prep, and much more.

To see all the ways that can help you with your college applications, sign up here for a quick consultation with one of our experts. For even more free resources and examples of college application essays explore our site. For starters, check out this article about the Common Application essay prompts and this one for essay topic ideas.

how to write better essays

This article was written by senior advisor, Jess Klein, Bailey Bennett, and senior advisor, Alex Baggott-Rowe. Looking for more admissions support? Click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how can support you in the college application process.