The college application essay is your opportunity to speak directly to the Admissions Committee and help them understand you as a person. Other than an interview, this is your only opportunity to convey your thoughts, opinions, and outlook on life. It also gives you a chance to highlight your accomplishments or obstacles that you have overcome. Keep in mind that Admissions Offices use this piece to evaluate your communication and writing skills, so take the time to do a good job.

Three Steps to Writing Your Essay

1. Prewriting – To begin, you must first collect and organize potential ideas for your essay’s focus. Since all college essay questions are attempts to learn about you, begin with yourself. Use the self-analysis worksheet provided on page 13 of your packet to help you brainstorm ideas and discover your strengths. This will also help you discover patterns and connections in different parts of your life.

2. Drafting – The next step is to decide what type of essay you would like to write. There are three basic styles you should consider: standard essay, less-is-more essay, or narrative essay.

Standard Essay: Take two or three points from your self-analysis, dedicate a paragraph to each, and make sure you provide plenty of evidence. Choose things not apparent from the rest of your application or elaborate on some of the activities already included.

Less-is-More Essay: Focus on a single interesting point about yourself. This format works well for brief essays of a paragraph or half a page.

Narrative Essay: Tell a short and vivid story. Go straight to the body of the essay, write one or two narrative paragraphs that grab and engage the reader’s attention, then explain what this little story reveals about you.

3. Editing – Now that you have a good draft, it is time to make improvements. Read it over yourself to find and fix any errors. Then have someone else do the same. Get feedback and make sure the reader understands the message you are trying to convey.

Sample Essay Questions

“You” Questions

  • Tell us about a person who has had a significant influence on you.
  • Evaluate an experience or a risk that you have taken.

“Why us” Questions

  • Why is Sage a good college choice for you?
  • Tell us about your career goals and how Sage can help you achieve those goals.

Creative Questions

  • Describe a fictional character, historical figure, or creative work that has had an influence on you.
  • Do you believe there is a generation gap? If so, describe the differences between your generation and the others. If not, explain why not.

Examples of Good Introductions

I am the colors of my art. I am the brush that strokes every inch of the paper, designing a masterpiece. When my heart beats, the colors pink, blue, red, and black are formed. My emotions create a self portrait that expresses the essence of me. A brush dabs into sienna paint and then yellow ochre. With the first stroke, I create my face and see a mother. I see a strong black woman who works everyday to support her family. Her eyes are bold and wholesome. I paint soft skin to look like roasted almonds and color the lips a soft pink. Two more strokes accentuate the high cheek bones that bring about our shared smile.

“Ask the question why,” my theatre teacher always insists. “Ask why things are the way they are.” In my Theatre of the Oppressed class, we benefit from many discussions on racism, poverty, and authority. On the subject of poverty, I began to think of some of the people in my neighborhood who are enslaved by life’s pressures.

Poetry is the single most free-falling feeling next to cliff jumping. Trust me, I’ve tried cliff jumping. Poetry sends me into a dream world, where the only thing that matters is the way I feel. I can draw pictures with my words, make sounds with my syllables, and create tastes with my descriptions. I feel free with poetry.

Examples of Bad Introductions

To learn a lot about nutrition science, and to get the best possible education there is from your college, and to explore the many opportunities offered. For my mother, who continues to find away to make it with the health insurance issues everyday, whether it be the doctors, the prescriptions, medical bills, etc…

My main concern in the community is the lack of knowledge about headphones and how dangerous they can be. My little sister uses IPod headphones which are commonly used today; the proper term is ear buds head phones. She started using them around mid year last year, since then her hearing has not been the same. At first I thought she was just ignoring me but then soon I realize that she really couldn’t here me, sometimes she would rub her ears for a long period after she took the headphones out of her ears. I’m doing a quality of life research project on headphones, and how they cause loss of hearing, right now I am sending in my work into the “New York Times” and “Daily News”. I want to get my point across so manufacturers…

Examples of Good Opening Sentences

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston Churchill’s quote summarizes my whole high school career in one simple statement.

I have big feet. I always thought they were cumbersome and far from feminine. Through the years though, they have become my biggest ally.

I pulled my bright green t-shirt over my head and began to lace up my cleats for the days soccer practice. Reading the logo on my shirt, a teammate asked curiously, “Why are you MAD?”

Word Usage

  • Do not use contractions (would’ve, you’re, can’t, etc.).
  • Do not use “this,” “that,” or “these” unless followed by a noun.
  • Do not start a sentence with “it” or “as if.”
  • Do not use back-to back infinitives such as “to go to” or “to run to.”
  • Do not use the following words, since they are too general. Dig deeper!

Do’s and Don’ts


  • answer the question given or title your essay if there is no specific topic
  • keep your focus narrow and personal
  • be original and be yourself
  • brainstorm before you begin writing
  • develop your main idea with vivid and specific facts, events, examples, and details
  • spend a bulk of your time on the introduction, but make sure your conclusion is just as powerful
  • allow many people to read it and proofread over and over again

Do Not

  • put down other people or colleges
  • plagiarize another persons essay (it has to be about you!)
  • wait until the last minute to get started (even if your topic is about procrastination)
  • use big words to sound smart, since you may use a word incorrectly
  • forget to change the name of the school if you are using the same essay for multiple colleges

More Tips

Be aware of your audience. If you are applying to a school that is well known for your major (Physical Therapy, Engineering, etc.), they could be tired of hearing the same topic over and over again. No matter how well written your essay is, avoid giving them reasons to think, “Oh no, not another essay about”

Take responsibility for your actions. There is a fine line between defending a bad grade on your transcript and not taking responsibility. Have someone else read your essay and ask if it comes off in a negative tone.

Stay positive. Even if its a heart-wrenching story, tie it together with a positive spin in the end. Explain how this experience has motivated you or helped you grow as a person.

Do not simply write your resume. Tell the admissions committee something about yourself that they have not already read in your application. Set yourself apart from the rest of the applicants.

Do not forget to proofread. Read it yourself and have others do the same over and over again. Spell-check will not catch all mistakes.