Ask a College Advisor: How Do I Write a Unique College Application Essay?

Hear from one of our education professionals on writing a stand-out college application essay.

portrait of Lauren Albano, M.Ed.
by Lauren Albano, M.Ed.

Published on June 7, 2022

Edited by Amelia Buckley
Share this Article

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to start your journey?

Ask a College Advisor: How Do I Write a Unique College Application Essay?
Image Credit: fotostorm / E+ / Getty Images

Question: How do I write a unique college application essay?

Answer: Writing a unique and compelling college application essay may seem daunting, especially considering its great importance in the admissions process. Submitting a strong essay with your application can be an opportunity to stand out from other students with similar grades and activities. It can also help admissions officers gauge your fit and potential ability to succeed at their school, giving them a chance to get to know more about you.

Let's walk through some advice for writing a unique college essay to help you stand out among other applicants and increase your chances of being admitted to your target school.

Plan Ahead

One of the most important things you can do to set yourself up for success and craft a unique essay is to give yourself plenty of time to write, review, and revise. Setting aside ample time will give you the space you need to think creatively and write an essay that strongly reflects your interests and goals, helping it stand out.

Many admissions departments recommend starting your essay the summer before senior year to give yourself plenty of time to review and edit.

Brainstorm

Colleges want to know who you are beyond the data points of your GPA, test scores, and list of extracurriculars. Take time to reflect on what makes you unique by writing out a list of your personal experiences, achievements, skills, and goals.

After identifying your unique experiences, select a few that will allow you to tell a story and demonstrate why you're an ideal applicant. Consider what you can share about yourself that goes beyond the actual accomplishments or experiences. What do your experiences say about you as a person, the skills you possess, and how you've grown?

Take notes throughout your brainstorming process and reference these later when you start creating an outline for your essay.

Align Your Brainstorming Notes With a Prompt

Before you begin writing your college essay, review the prompts and choose one that is meaningful to you. Reference your original brainstorming notes about your strengths and experiences, then start with an outline that clearly addresses the prompt while highlighting your strongest achievements and areas of personal growth.

Since your essay likely has a specific word limit, focus on deeply elaborating on one or two examples rather than listing out all your life accomplishments. Consider this an opportunity for admissions counselors to get to know you and your thinking process, how you approach obstacles, and what you value in life.

Think About the Specific School

While you may be able to re-use some essays for multiple college applications, many schools require an additional "why this college" essay. Admissions officers use this to find out why you are specifically interested in their school. Take time to read through the school's mission and values and see what distinguishes it from other schools.

Articulate your fit by referencing an academic program, extracurriculars, and/or any other unique aspect of the school that appeals to you personally. For example, if the school expresses a strong focus on social justice and this resonates with your values and experiences, dig into that in your essay. And don't neglect to provide clear examples.

Summary

Before you begin writing your college essay, reflect on who you are and any experiences that showcase your skills and values. Choose a topic that is meaningful to you — one that allows you to authentically express why you would be a good fit for your intended school.

Start writing early so you have time to get feedback from multiple sources. Finally, edit and proofread your essay carefully before submitting your application.

Have a Question About College?

In our Ask a College Advisor series, experienced advisors provide an insider look at the college experience by answering your questions about college admissions, finances, and student life.

DISCLAIMER: The responses provided as part of the Ask a College Advisor series are for general informational purposes only. Readers should contact a professional academic, career, or financial advisor before making decisions regarding individual situations.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare your school options.

View the most relevant school for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to find your college home.