How to survive writing your college essay

Can’t they just take my word for it that I’m a great person?

As a survivor of the college application process and now employed tutor of admissions essays at Emory University, it’s time for me to impart my knowledge on the necessary tips and techniques to tackle the essay.


Start early

No matter what holidays you celebrate (or don’t) the winter months are for overeating and loving family drama, not lying in the fetal position under your desk with sixteen supplemental essays literally looming over your head. I won’t say which one I did.

Boil your personality down into three or four qualities

It feels cheap, but you are complex and complicated and too much for one bite, so break it down for them.

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Prepare to be lied to

Specifically, I mean prepare yourself for the realization that the old adage “you really just write three to five essays and rotate them” may be a bold faced lie. See #1.

Learn the language

“What are your top ten?” Top ten what? TOP TEN WHAT?! That was an actual question from one of my supplements. Step back and learn to decipher what the essay questions are really asking.

Don’t pretend to be perfect

I promise you, admissions knows that the greatest challenge you have overcome is not getting an A- in advanced Physics instead of an A. They want to get a sense for the person you are, not the robot you hope to be.


Don’t pretend you own all the world’s problems

I’ll say it once: a hard knock life is not a prerequisite for college admission, so don’t try to force a soap opera out of an essay about your favorite class in high school.


Get creative

I once read an admissions essay about how being tall made a high school senior decide to apply to the university she ended up attending. It. Was. Incredible.

Make connections

Admissions officers have a lot of essays to go through, so don’t make them guess how your love of popcorn relates to your burning desire to study sociology – spell it out.

Read it aloud

It feels like you’re crazy, but it’s the only way to catch typos.



Everything will work out just fine. Even if you don’t end up where you imagined, you’ll end up somewhere that has so much to offer you.