You’ve been putting it off because honestly, who likes writing essays, right? We promise: “essay” is not a four-letter word. It is true, however, that your college admission essay can make the difference between your dream school and your second choice school. There’s no shortage of college applicants with great GPA’s and ACT scores. Your college admission essay is your best chance to stand out.
And we want to help.
We’ve assembled 133 of the most valuable resources on the web all in one place, and broken them down in eleven categories—what kind of help are you looking for?
- The Master Plan (Choose Your Approach)
- First-Line Lightning
- Tell Your Story
- Sample the Best Essays
- Avoid The Train Wrecks
- Be Creative
- Finish Strong!
- Get Help From the Pros
- Tip Love: Dozens of Hacks from Essay-land
- You’ve Only Got One Day To Write Your Essay?
- Enough Reading: Podcasts & Videos
The Master Plan
A guy who reads admission essays for Cal-Berkley confessed he had a mere eight minutes to read each essay before he had to choose to put it into the “recommended” stack. That means you need a plan for your essay: smart, tight, and powerful. Choose your approach: before your type the first word it’s great to have a grand strategy. The good news is there are people who think about this stuff all day long, and they want to share your secrets with you.
Learn the four basic types of essays in three minutes or less. If you need the big picture in order to get started then this is three minutes well spent. (collegeessayguy.com)
“It’s easy to shrug off brainstorming, outlining, and agonizing over essays for a Saturday afternoon snooze or four back-to-back episodes of The Walking Dead.” That’s why the people at Shmoop won’t waste your time: they’ll give you what you need, fast. (shmoop.com)
What’s really going on behind the scenes after you send your essay off to an admissions office? Leave it to reporter Ruth Starkman to dig deep and give you the inside scoop. (nytimes.com)
You don’t have to write the essay in one sitting, you know. One step at a time, you can break the process into manageable tasks. Put them together and you’ll have a winner. (usnews.com)
Get the down low on the three most common college admission questions and discover time-tested strategies for answering them. (bigfuture.collegeboard.com)
Scan the list of what most students want and need to know about the college admission essay. You’ll probably find a question you didn’t ask, but should have! (collegeessayguy.com)
There are only so many approaches to an admissions essay, which means there are common themes admissions counselors see again and again. But if you handle a common theme with excellence and creativity, you produce uncommonly good work. (aims.edu)
It’s essential: when you choose your approach to your personal statement you have to organize your ideas. Keep it direct, keep it plain, and keep it organized. (collegeessaycoach.com)
Actually these seven ideas are more than tips. They’re the bedrock of building a strategy for a standout essay. It’s a competitive process but you can make your essay shine. (petersons.com)
First Line Lightning
“If your first sentence isn’t compelling, it doesn’t matter if you write the Magna Carta afterwards,” says admissions expert Steve Peifer. “Elite schools are going through so many files that if you don’t grab them fast, they are going to read the rest of your essay to see if you make some terrible mistake. They won’t be reading you for content anymore.”
How good is your opening sentence?
Discover the three vital components of a great opening sentence. Learn how your creative start can set up you up for a well-planned essay. (theeditingworm.com)
He’s tired; he’s cold; and he’s bored stiff. The guy or gal reading your essay has probably read 50 essays before he picks your up. So help him out by waking him up. (greatcollegeadvice.com)
Tell a good store, be funny, or think outside the box: just remember that by the end of the first paragraph most admissions readers make up their mind about your essay. (greatcollegeadvice.com)
The admissions team at Stanford really appreciates good openings—and they collect them. Sample these ten all-time greats. (cbsnews.com)
You can be boring later, but your first line isn’t the place. (thecollegesolution.com)
Check out these seven strong starts and stick around for great advice about how to keep it going throughout your essay. (gawker.com)
It sounds totally random, right? There’s no best way to start an essay; just make sure you grab their attention. But if your opening it makes them want to keep reading, you’re on your way to standing. This creative collection will stimulate your thinking. (Stanford.edu)
These writing coaches give-away their insights about place, time, and the deeper meaning behind the magic of a first sentence. (info.story2.com)
“I thought being chased by a bear was the worst thing that could happen to me that day.” It begs you to read more, and they’ll beg you to come to their school. (nittygrittyenglish.com)
OK, you’re a high-concept person: maybe sample sentences don’t help you. These writing pros share five categories of openings that could just light your fire. (essayedge.com)
The difference between getting noticed could be a matter of courage. Don’t be afraid to be surprising, shocking, or suspenseful. (accepted.com)
Tell Your Story
We get it: this is the advice you’ve heard from everyone about your admissions essay. But the reason you hear it over and over again is that’s it’s true! It’s more than true: it’s vital to your success. College admissions counselors want to look past the scores, grades, and numbers and discover a real person. What about it? Are you something more than just a GPA or an ACT score?
Even if everyone keeps saying, “tell your story” it would be awesome to have some practical help in figuring things out. Here are the two most important parts of telling your story. (greatcollegeadvice.com)
Discover the two vital questions that can take any memory and turn it into a compelling narrative from your real-life experience. (essayhell.com)
It may not be fair, but it’s true: “In a way the college admission game is a standardized assessment, but it differs in that students are suddenly supposed to write not academically but personally.” Get the help you need to craft a personal story. (collegeXpress.com)
It’s a challenge to write something personal and transparent. In this first-person piece blogger Lynell Engelmyer shows you how to turn a challenge into an opportunity. (collegeraptor.com)
No, we’re no asking you to pick which actor should play your role. What we are suggesting is that you can learn something about telling your story from a screenwriter. (audreykane.com)
What’s the deal with a college application asking a teenager to share life stories? In reality, it’s not the life you’ve lived but the lessons you’ve learned. Here’s how to boil them down into something to use in a college admission essay. (udemy.com)
You’ll find ten great ideas along with a bonus of 13 additional links in this very useful post. These guys really know what they’re talking about when it comes to crafting a personal statement. (veritasprep.com)
Learn how three or four key sentences keep any story moving along. This post is like a play-by-play description of one of the most competitive sports around: applying for college. (accepted.com)
Sample the Best Essays
Sometimes we just need someone to show us how it’s done. You’ll find access to more than 25 killer essays, but here’s the caution: these are samples. They’re famous—don’t even think about a copy-and-paste strategy. Drink deep of the creativity, the excellence, and the fun of doing things right, then sit down at the laptop and show the world that you’ve got the goods, too!
“Rarely—and we mean rarely—have we seen students with this kind of writing ability. Did we say rarely yet? Because we do mean rarely. And it’s quite funny.” (ivycoach.com)
The admissions officer at Cornell call this “Most compelling essay ever submitted . . . I was confused, disoriented, and a little disturbed by what I had just read, but I just had to keep reading to learn what the heck was going on in this scene.” (mentorverse.us)
Look at the high praise this essay received from the admissions team: “She manages to impress the reader with her travel experience, volunteer and community experience, and commitment to learning without ever sounding boastful or full of herself.” (quintcareers.com)
Sure, this is an example of a great essay, but better than simply reading an excellent sample essay, you can read expert commentary just below it. (bigfuture.collegeboard.com)
That last entry was helpful, wasn’t it? Here’s another killer essay, along with a critique that tells you why is so good. Class is in session—watch and learn. (bigfuture.collegeboard.com)
Sure, like all the other samples we’re sharing, these three are great, but with a difference: check out the unique points of view offered by international students, who must undergo the same process as domestic students. (internationalstudent.com)
When an experienced admissions counselor asks your permission to share your essay with 20 other schools, you know it’s a winner. (businessinsider.com)
Scan down the list of ten great opening lines, and when you find an essay that matches your style, click through to read it all. (admissionsessays.com)
Discover college admission essays listed by category. What’s your pleasure? Politics? Business? Health? Or you can view 18 essays all on one page. [NOTE: the samples are great, but we DO NOTE recommend purchasing an essay. Why throw away your future?] (custom-essays.org)
A college students lands acceptance at his dream school and then shares how he did it, and unlike the previous website, we love the fact that this one signs off with, “Good luck writing your own!” (nextstepu.com)
You’ll find links to winning essays for Harvard, Princeton, Cornell, and Stanford, along with tips on the how-to side of the ledger. (quintcareers.com)
Don’t be like the guy who saw the double-rainbow a few years back. Dr. Kat Cohen explains the significance of great essays: the why, the how, and the samples. (noodle.com)
Avoid The Train Wrecks
If you spent any time at all reading the Best Essays above, you might be tempted to give up, but take heart! We’ve assembled a collection of the best “what not to do” advice available today. When your grandparents grew up, their mistakes quietly faded away. Now, in the Internet Age, the worst of the worst live on and on, showing us what not to do.
It’s bad enough that Harvard rejected you, but their rejection letter highlights your mistakes, goes viral, and eventually lands at Seventeen Magazine. That’s a bad day, but at least your famous. SPOILER: the letter is actually a fake as Elle Woods’ video essay in Legally Blonde, but still worth your time. (seventeen.com)
That’s right. You’ve sweated the details of a strong opening and built an excellent essay, but it’s the little things that count, like your school’s name. (Shmoop.com)
Some people have the gift of encouragement, except in reverse. But if author Lynn Radlauer Lubell can keep you from making foolish mistakes, you can write her a thank-you not from your new dorm room. (inlikeme.com)
Have you ever thought about how many clichés the average admissions officer reads in a single day? Your original essay will stand out like a breath of fresh air if you avoid clichés. (huffingtonpost.com)
David Letterman may be retired but the top-ten format will live forever. (Does that make it a cliché?) Don’t go through this important list too quickly: these mistakes are common because they are easy to make. (quintcareers.com)
There are no limits to creativity, and apparently there’s no limit to the pitfalls of writing a bad college admissions essay. (cracksat.net)
. . . Just make sure being yourself doesn’t include these mistakes, otherwise you’ll end up being yourself at your second-choice school. (bookrags.com)
This helpful set of warnings goes more than skin deep, because a thoughtful essay is the best way to stand out. After you’ve written your first draft, use this helpful list to check yourself. (huffingtonpost.com)
We like this post not only because the advice is good, and not only because the author extends the metaphor through the entire piece, but also because it demonstrates the importance of proof-reading your work: The headline says “five ways” but the introduction says “seven” (there are five, btw). (essayhell.com)
What happens when a student and her college placement counselor work together? The result is a 360-view of what to watch for. (washingtonpost.com)
And we don’t blame the guy. One honest student shows us what his essay would be like if he took the advice “be yourself” literally. We are on his side. (theweek.com)
“Two cups enthusiasm, one teaspoon determination, and a dash of dreams make the perfect student.” This is also the recipe for a boring essay.” We agree. (collegeXpress.com)
After a dozen posts filled with what not to do, we welcome a quick-and-easy slideshow that sums things up. And we live the introduction: “But for every tortured student, there’s a tortured admissions professional, sifting through an entire forest of paper, looking for an essay that doesn’t scream with gimmick.” (huffingtonpost.com)
People who write for a living call it “writer’s block.” Whatever it’s called there are times when you’re stuck—but the deadline for your essay is coming up. These resources will help you get creative, on demand or your money back.
Sometimes it feels like the “prompts” from the admissions form are design to take the air right out of your creative sails. That’s why we turn to the stories we like best. (essayhell.com)
But become a savvy narcissist. Here’s your chance to talk about a subject near and dear to your heart—you! (huffingtonpost.com)
Sometimes a distraction is the very best way to get words to flow, and who knows? You might be able to use some of what you write. (collegeadmissionbook.com)
When Reddit gets hold of a subject you’re looking at the outer edges of source material. But if you want to make John Stewart slow clap in appreciation, you’ve got to take some chances. (bustle.com)
Writing a list is almost like writing an essay, without worrying about bothersome details likes sentences and grammar. (studypoint.com)
Take a Shower. Learn to Cook. Make an Amazing Playlist. And yes, you’d be surprised what these have to do with writing a killer admissions essay. (huffingtonpost.com)
Change your paradigm: getting a great result may not be about finding the right answers but instead asking the right questions. Here are some of the best questions you can ask.
College admissions expert Elizabeth Benedict likens your essay to a religious experience, and she’s pretty much on point. We can learn from her. (huffingtonpost.com)
It’s an infographic, so it’s fun, and it’s from the folks at Mental Floss, so you know they’ll live up to the word, “offbeat.” (mentalfloss.com)
Sometimes creativity means getting a spark from somewhere else. Here are 100 sparks, just waiting for you to fan them into flame. (neindiaresearch.org)
You’ve tried everything and still facing writer’s block. Maybe it’s not you, maybe it’s the questions on your application. (huffingtonpost.com)
Second only to a strong opening is the need to finish big. The way you end your essay is the last thing an admissions counselor sees before making that all-important choice, accept or reject. Don’t rush the ending of your admissions essay, a strong finish might be the final piece of the admissions puzzle.
The “Kicker” is that punchy final sentence that makes people take notice. But there’s a fine line between corny and confident. Can you walk that line? (essayhell.com)
Some people think it’s harder to get the ending right than the beginning. But at least you’ll go out strong. (collegegreenlight.com)
Three Do’s. Three Don’ts. All of them require focus and energy, but it’s worth the effort. (erracticimpact.com)
The only thing we’ve ever been told about conclusions is that we shouldn’t jump to them. That turns out to be pretty good advice. (essayedge.com)
Each section in this post has bold creative titles, so you can be sure author Craig Heller practices what he preaches. (collegeessaysolutions.com)
You can strengthen your admissions essay by asking yourself the hard questions before a college admissions office asks them of you. Here’s how to prepare your essay. (collegegreenlight.com)
You’ll be confident you’ve done the hard work after you’ve taken the time to double check your essay. But you might be too tired. Or let a friend do it for you. (ownyourownfuture,.com)
. . . And this New York Times article gives you an actual checklist. Use it! (nytimes.com)
Part of finishing strong is attention to detail. Collegewise advice expert Kevin McMullin suggests you take an extra few minutes to make sure you’ve touched all the bases. (wiselikeus.com)
Get Help From the Pros
The good news is: you’re not alone! There’s an entire industry: good folks who want to help you write a better essay. Some of these sites are for-profit companies and other sites are more in the Mother Teresa mold (they just want to help).
You’re thinking, “What’s special or unique about my life?” Or, “How can I honestly present my unique story. This site will give you the nudge you need! (collegeessayguy.com)
If the first exercise helped, you’ve made a good start. Here’s another from the very same source. (collegeessayguy.com)
Who knew: some colleges provide webinars to give you the inside scoop on how to write that killer essay. Like Vanderbilt, for example. (admissions.vanderbilt.edu)
The people at shmoop.com use the tagline, “We speak student.” And they do. They’ll also let you upload your essay and help you refine your work. See? You’re not alone.
You just have to find some. And U.S. News has assembled some of the best. In fact, their annual college edition is a must-read for anyone looking for college or grad school. (usnews.com)
Seriously, a few minutes browsing around the usnews.com site yields help from every possible direction. Here’s another.
Seventeen Magazine (Yes! Them!) knows their readers pretty well. That’s why their experts help you avoid a meltdown as you write your application essay. They will keep you sane.
Who could be a better expert on the process than actual students? We’re glad this site had the good sense to talk with students one on one. (bigfuture.collegeboard.com)
Three confessions: big ones. Don’t worry, he doesn’t confess to anything illegal. (huffingtonpost.com)
It turns out that many schools have an Admissions Dean, like Martha C. Merrill of Connecticut College. The first rule of college? When the Dean talks, you listen! (nytimes.com)
You think you have a lot to do? Listen to high school student Katie Miller’s true-life account of 16 different essays. (washingtonpost.com)
Maybe you’ve read so many BuzzFeed articles you’re only comfortable with the page-per idea approach. Get the quick-and-dirty truth here. (bigfuture.collegeboard.com)
I thought that the essay would be the easiest part . . .” Wrong. Nya Marie tells the plain truth, but also helps you choose the right priorities. (huffingtonpost.com)
Tip Love: 17 Hacks To Make Your Essay Shine
You’ve gotta love sites like these! The next seventeen (17!) entries are chock-full of breakthrough help and life hacks built just for college application essays. Grab a Red Bull and go through them all. Your essay will almost write itself.
From Majorie Hansen Shaevitz and the great people at huffingtonpost.com
We’ve looked at all nine. Honest: they’re wow-worthy. (usatoday.com)
The folks at EssayHell.com are so confident in their work they’re shared just 3 can’t miss tips.
This is our version of over-delivering. Where else will you get some much help assembled in one place? (unigo.com)
We say that because this big-time college essay admissions counselor says, “Go for the dangerous essay.” (nytimes.com)
It’s OK if you get tired of reading because these 5 hacks are in print and assembled into one short video. (bigfuture.collegeboard.org)
Maybe they’re easier to remember when they come across like slogans: “You’re not a ‘writer’ you’re a ‘re-writer” and other gems. (smartplanforcollege.com)
Yes, we’ve heard all the jokes about homeschoolers, but before you snark you might want to see what they have to say. (a2zhomeschooling.com)
Hmmmm, maybe he really did some hacking . . . (businessinsider.com)
Why can’t everything be this straightforward? (thedailybeast.com)
From the common application to the United States Naval Academy, everyone writes college application essays. (usnews.com
No, they’re not from the Big Ten Conference, but like the conference, they advertise ten hacks, but deliver 12. (nacanet.org)
These are time-tested hacks, great reminders: don’t ignore them just because you think you’ve heard them before.
Perhaps 13 Hacks Is Your Lucky Number
It’s not really 13: if you count the bullet points it’s more like 30. (quintcareers.com)
Can they really be hacks if they’re approved? If they get you into Princeton, we think the answer is yes. (princetonreview.com)
Simple, direct, and true. This is the goal, right? (scriendi.com)
You’ve Only Got One Day To Write Your Essay?
You waited until the last minute, didn’t you? No judgment here, just help from people who’ve done the exact same thing as you. Don’t give up! It’s better to pull the mother of all all-nighters than to skip your college application essay.
Admitting you have a problem is first step, right? Fortunately other people have been there before you. Stand up and say, “My name is ________, and I’m a procrastinator.” (magoosh.com)
These goes know their market, don’t you think? Maybe you’re trying to do too much. After all, how much time have you got? (teenvogue.com)
Brainstorming is worth the time it takes because a great idea gets you halfway there. At least that’s what you should tell yourself to get started! (allcollegeessays.com)
The Spartan System has saved students’ bacon for years. Why not apply it to your college admissions essay? (huffingtonpost.com)
If you’ve determined to do the job well, you still need all the elements that make you application essay work well. That includes, Patience, Persistence, and Pop-Tarts—OK, maybe not that last one. (huffingtonpost.com)
If Time magazine writes an article like this one, at least you know you’re not alone. (time.com)
You need a calm voice like this one: “Don’t freak out. You can still do it. (wnyc.org)
It’s not really true: you do have something to say. Plus, you have to say something if you’re going to get this thing written. (greatcollegeadvice.com)
The fewer the steps, the better you chances of crossing the finish line. This isn’t a last-minute post, but it’s great advice, and more important: it’s do-able. (huffingtonpost.com)
Is there a better time to take risks when you’re down to the wire? Perhaps the college professor who wrote this piece didn’t have this in mind when he wrote tip #5, but it certainly applies now. (quintcareers.com)
Honestly the most creative and fun advice you’ll see if you find yourself in this dreadful situation. (collegeessayguy.com)
Show Me Don’t Tell Me:
Yes; of course we’ve heard of YouTube, Vimeo, and podcasts. To finish off your comprehensive list, we’ve made your personal playlist. (You’re welcome.)
We not sure who “Mistersato411” is, but he sure seems to know his stuff. (YouTube.com)
It’s actually a Vimeo, but it’s available to you 24/7. (vimeo.com)
But don’t sweat it. Who better to tell your story than you? (YouTube.com)
You know, just three guys talking about the application essay. But it’s from Princeton, and it’s good. (YouTube.com)
Somehow mistakes don’t seem as threatening when it’s just a nice guy reassuring you. And he gives great details. (YouTube.com)
This is actually the most practice help we found for procrastinators. Also, it’s link-rich with opportunities to follow up on the ideas. (YouTube.com)
We included this non-application essay because Kerri Wethington is an organizational genius. It’s great help for anything you write. (YouTube.com)
Each podcast might contain multiple episodes so be sure to look around. The instructions are simple: download, grab your ear buds, and go about your day mowing the lawn or driving to work.
You’ve hit the mother lode with this podcast! Plenty of resources for writing, as well as other helps.
The name makes sense, right? On-target with plenty of entries. The good folks at Stitcher have really served a full platter here.
The podcast is about all things for writers, and you’ll find two targeted at college admission essays!
An expert in communications chats with an admissions officer. (This link takes you to the episode focused on writing your essay.)
One high quality entry from the people behind Slate Magazine. (slate.com)