Zinc’s Essential College Essay Advice

Young woman working outside on laptop computer.

With just 650 words to introduce yourself to a school, the college essay is a new kind of writing and can feel daunting at first. We asked several senior Zinc tutors (all of whom are also published writers) how to craft an outstanding college essay–and have a great time while writing.

If you’re just getting started, be sure to review this year’s Common App essay prompts before you begin.

Here are seven Zinc must-haves for a standout college essay:

  1. Have fun. If your essay is interesting to you (and to your parents and friends), then it will be interesting to the admissions department as well. If your essay bores you, then it will bore them too. 
  1. No topic is off-limits, but… If you’re writing about something more traditional (fun times at summer camp, the love of a grandparent, the time your team lost and you learned a lesson), then there’s more pressure to write about this in a surprising, original way. 
  1. Don’t be afraid to go weird. Don’t censor yourself, especially in the brainstorming and drafting stages. As one Zinc tutor shared, “Too often I find myself rescuing a fantastic sentence that a student has just described as totally stupid–I was going to delete that.”
  1. Write to be seen. Make sure each paragraph includes one clear, meaningful image. Your story will be a lot more compelling if your reader can easily picture what you’re talking about.
  1. Know your assignment. The college essay is a personal narrative, authentic to who you are and how you think–it’s not a business letter, term paper, or summary of your résumé. If you’re asking for feedback, make sure it’s from someone who understands the process and who will help you develop your voice.
  1. Learn from what works. The best way to get a sense of what makes a college essay great is to read some. We like 100 Successful College Application Essays, collected by the Harvard Independent.
  1. Embrace the challenge. Even professional writers experience occasional doubt, uncertainty, and frustration. When the process feels tough, remember that great writing always requires multiple drafts. You’re becoming a better writer with each attempt.