Stuck? How to start your college admissions essay

diary and pen

Writing a college admissions essay isn’t easy, and sometimes starting can be the hardest part. Here are some ideas to jump start the essay writing process:

Keep a journal. I don’t mean the “dear diary” type of journals you kept in grade school where you documented what you did every day or who you had a crush on. Write down things like simple observations, quotes you find inspiring, or your opinion about certain topics that come up in class. Write down something that frustrated you or something you got excited about. It’s the little things that give character to your essay and help make it your own.

Go over your resume or list of activities. If you’re really stuck on what to write, make a list of all your activities and accomplishments (if you don’t already have one). Think about each activity and accomplishment. What were some hardships you faced? How did you overcome them? Was there someone that influenced you in some way? What did you learn that you applied to other areas of your life? What did you do to reach your goals? Write down answers to these questions to reference later on.


Ditch the computer. If you're used to doing everything on a computer, try using a plain old notebook and pen. It gives you a little bit more freedom than typing on a computer - you can write outside the lines, cross things out (much more satisfying than pressing the "delete" button), circle what you think is important, doodle if you need to... You have the ability to be more creative with a pen and paper, and it might help you start that essay.

Get some ideas. Check out what other people wrote in their essays. This might give you some inspiration and, at the very least, give you an idea of what works and what doesn’t.

Pick one story. A good admissions essay will be very focused. In order to do that, you will only be able to pick one short story. Take a look at what you wrote in your diary or after thinking about your list of accomplishments. Pick three or four things that you think would make great essays and think of how you could show those things in a single story. If you can, ask friends, family members, or teachers which story stands out.

Don’t worry about blowing the admissions officers away. Don’t try to write about something you’re not passionate about just because you think the admissions officers will like the topic. Picking something that’s not relevant to you personally will sound generic and will only hurt your chances of getting in. Stick with what you know and care about.

Don’t start at the beginning. You don’t have to think of a title or opening line before you write the rest of your essay. Feel free to start in the middle – or even at the end if you want to. You can also start writing not knowing what order to put the story in.

Don’t worry about writing a perfect essay right away. One reason it might be hard to get started on your admission essay is because you want to write a masterpiece right away. That’s not realistic! When you start writing your essay, the only expectation you should have is to write something down. If you start early, you should have plenty of time to revise it. You probably won’t hit a homerun on your first try, but you at least need to step up to the plate and swing.


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