College Admissions

Decoding and Tackling College Essay Prompts: Hacks and Pro-Tips

Write about a dilemma. Tell us how your experienced shaped who you are. Submit a personal statement. Whether general or specific, figuring out what exactly it is that the college wants to read about in your college app essay is the first step. Then comes step two: What am I going to write? Follow the tips below to help you break down different types of college essay prompts and write an essay that is on-topic and outstanding.

Hacks and Pro-Tips to Decoding and Tackling College Essay Prompts

General Essay Prompts

Sometimes a school does not give you a prompt at all, only informing you that you need to submit a personal statement as part of your application package. Sometimes they’ll state a word count. Sometimes they won’t. If all you have is the fact that you need to write a college entrance essay, aim for a solid, one-page personal statement that demonstrates your readiness for the challenges of their school.

Write about the experiences in your life that have led you to this point. Instead of writing about the events that you think will most impress them, write about what has made the biggest difference for you. This will help your college app essay stand apart from the crowd of applicants with similar backgrounds while giving your personal statement the energy and passion to keep the admissions officers engaged from start to finish.

Also, you need to let them know why their school is your top choice. Avoid writing about things like the school’s reputation. The admissions officers already know that their school is great. Make direct connections between the offerings of the school (courses, programs, internships, clubs, etc.) and your goals.

Particular Life Experiences

If a school asks you to write about a specific life experience, take your essay beyond simply stating the facts of what happened. The school will want to know what the experience meant to you personally. Therefore, tell the admissions officers what you learned and why this experience has made you better prepared to succeed in their program.

What if you’ve never had an experience like that? First of all, don’t lie. Even if the admissions officers basically believe your story, they won’t believe that you’re being sincere. At the same time, don’t start your essay with, ‘Well, something like this has never happened to me.’ The anecdote that you choose doesn’t have to be perfectly squared with the prompt as long as it gets to the underlying life experience that the school is addressing in the prompt.

Prompts About Concepts like Identity or Community

Personally, I find these to be the prompts that are most difficult for applicants. It’s challenging to write concretely about something abstract. However, if that’s what they ask, then that’s what you’ve got to do. Choose examples or experiences that paint vivid pictures in the reader’s mind. Next, you will need to make strong connections between the examples and the skills or perspective that you have gained as a result. As you should with any college entrance essay, have another person take a look at it to see if the essay is expressing your ideas in a way that can connect with others.

Oddly Specific Prompts

Though uncommon, college essay prompts can be long enough to qualify as a paragraph. Usually, the school will provide a generous word count or page limit to give you enough room to address each aspect of the prompt fully. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by so many topics to address, break up the prompt. Are there aspects that fit naturally together? Others that really need to be their own paragraph? Don’t feel the need to organize your college entrance essay exactly as the topics in the prompt are presented. Make sure you touch on each topic, but you can give your personal statement a natural flow that shows your passion and potential to the admissions officers.

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