The 10 Best College Essay Books to Help You Write a Killer Personal Statement

Getting ready to write your personal statement for college? These 10 best college essay books can help you get admitted to your dream school.

portrait of Samantha L. Solomon, Ph.D.
by Samantha L. Solomon, Ph.D.

Published August 25, 2022

Edited by Hannah Muniz
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The 10 Best College Essay Books to Help You Write a Killer Personal Statement
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Writing a personal statement for your college applications can be intimidating. In addition to the usual anxiety about choosing a good topic and writing a strong essay, crafting a personal statement that can help you stand out among other applicants can feel like a huge undertaking.

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Ready to start your journey?

One way to get started is to pick up a book or two about writing the best college application essay. College essay books can teach you helpful tips and tricks and provide some inspiration for your essay.

Check out our picks for the 10 best college essay books to increase your chances of getting into your dream school.

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1. The Elements of Style: Annotated Edition

By William Strunk Jr.


Chances are you've encountered this book before in your English classes, but it's on this list for a good reason. A classic go-to guide on writing style, "The Elements of Style" (1918) is an important companion to writing anything from college admissions essays, to research papers, to professional emails.

This updated (and annotated) edition from 2020 includes everything you'll need to know about writing style, including grammar and punctuation rules, principles of compositions, form, and phrasing.

2. College Essay Essentials: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Successful College Admissions Essay

By Ethan Sawyer


This 2016 book is easy to use and chock-full of real sample admissions essays to help you put your best foot forward when you apply to college. Author Ethan Sawyer includes helpful resources to get you started, and detailed explanations of the different types of essays colleges typically ask for.

Best of all, the book contains 24 essays written by real students admitted to elite colleges.

"College Essay Essentials" also walks you through all of the important steps for writing an essay, including brainstorming exercises, revising, and techniques for making your essay stand out.

3. 50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays, 5th Edition

By Gen and Kelly Tanabe


As its name suggests, this 2020 book presents tons of high-quality sample essays. The 50 essays included were all written by real students applying to Ivy League schools, but you can gain value from reading them even if you're not aiming for the Ivies specifically.

Each essay comes with an analysis that details the essay's strengths and weaknesses, which can help you see the variety of application essay styles and decide which to use in your own statement.

The book also includes guidance on the most common essay mistakes applicants make and a Q&A with an Ivy League admissions officer.

4. On Writing the College Application Essay: The Key to Acceptance at the College of Your Choice

By Harry Bauld


"On Writing the College Application Essay" (2012) includes easy-to-digest chapters on specific topics and issues about how to write a successful admissions essay.

The author relies on his experience as a writer, teacher, and admissions officer to summarize the most important aspects to keep in mind when writing your essay. Some of the areas he emphasizes the most include knowing your audience and leaving enough time for revision and rewriting.

5. Essential Writing Skills for College and Beyond

By C.M. Gill


Although this book doesn't specifically focus on writing application essays, it's a helpful resource to keep on hand when crafting any kind of essay. "Essential Writing Skills for College and Beyond" (2014) includes techniques for writing all kinds of paper you might encounter in college, such as research essays, term papers, and creative writing assignments.

Many of the more general topics about brainstorming, developing and sticking to a timeline, and revision are applicable to admissions essays, too.

Best of all, this book is an illustrated guide, so visual learners can benefit from seeing the topics laid out in a compelling and easy-to-follow way.

6. The Complete College Essay Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing the Personal Statement and the Supplemental Essays

By Brittany Maschal and Emma Wood


This 2021 book includes many of the basic resources contained in some of the other texts above, such as sample essays, tips for different parts of the writing process, and brainstorming prompts. But what sets "The Complete College Essay Handbook" apart is that it walks you through the entire college essay writing process, including the supplemental essays.

Some schools require you to submit more than one essay as part of your application. These supplemental essays typically ask you to respond to a specific prompt.

This book provides sample essays as well as a walkthrough of the different types of questions you may encounter, along with tips on how to respond effectively.

7. Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps: Crafting a Winning Personal Statement, 3rd Edition

By Alan Gelb


This book's author, Alan Gelb, is a college essay coach and an expert at helping students write successful college admissions essays.

"Conquering the College Admissions Essay" (2017) focuses on the step-by-step process of writing a personal statement, from thinking about what story you want to tell and what topics to discuss to drafting and revision.

This updated third edition addresses supplemental essays and even waitlist essays.

8. Write Your Way In: Crafting an Unforgettable College Admissions Essay

By Alan Gelb


This book really focuses on the "personal" part of the personal statement. What are the ways you can use your voice and unique experiences to stand out from the crowd?

Author Rachel Toor argues that the best college admissions essays focus on experiences that demonstrate growth and struggle, rather than successes and achievements. "Write Your Way In" (2017) can help you find ways to hook your reader with a compelling personal perspective.

9. B+ Grades, A+ College Application

By Joie Jager-Hyman, Ed.D.


Far too often, we think of the college application process as an opportunity to simply show off grades and other accolades when, in fact, most colleges aim to evaluate applicants holistically.

Although "B+ Grades, A+ College Application" (2013) focuses on the entire college application process, it contains a helpful section on writing your college application essay. One major tip: Write with the aim of demonstrating who you are beyond your grades.

10. Soundbite: The Admissions Secret That Gets You Into College and Beyond

By Sara Harberson


This 2021 college admissions book explains one key element to application success that's particularly important to keep in mind when writing your application essay: the soundbite.

When tasked with reading dozens, if not hundreds, of applications, admissions officers usually feel pressure to make quick decisions. This often leads them to have to boil down students' extensive applications to a sentence or two at most, which author Sara Harberson calls a soundbite.

In this book, Harberson helps college applicants design their own soundbites to ensure their applications — and especially their application essays — stand out.

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