As an admissions counselor, one of my primary roles is to attend college fairs, high school visits and other events throughout the year, where I get the chance to meet with prospective students and families and answer their questions about CU. You can imagine all the of the questions I get asked, everything from “What is the average GPA and test score?” to “How good is the campus food?” and everything in between. One of the most common questions I answer is “Do you REALLY read the essays? And do they ACTUALLY make a difference in the admissions process?” My answer every time is, “Yes, absolutely!”

“What makes an essay stand out? What are we REALLY looking for in those essays? Where do I get started when writing my essay?”

These are just a few of the questions many students have about the college application process, and questions I strive to answer! I have broken down the college essay writing process into 5 easy steps to help you tackle the Common Application essay questions, as well as CU Boulder’s supplemental essay prompt.

  1. Brainstorm: This is the very first step to any writing assignment you may encounter. Don’t put that pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) without brainstorming first! Many of the essay prompts on the Common Application, the CU Boulder supplement and other college applications ask you about yourself. The whole point of application essays is to allow us to get to know you personally. Start by brainstorming events that have shaped your life, traits you see in yourself or that you feel accurately describe you, your strengths and weaknesses and anything else that makes you who you are.

  2. Write: Just put pen to paper. Do what feels right to you, whether that means starting in an outline format or writing in full paragraphs, putting your ideas into thought bubbles or mapping out your main points. Just get it down on paper! This will help you start to notice any themes and recurring traits, events and people that may be important to you and your life. Consider this step your first draft, let your ideas flow and don’t edit anything during this part of the creative process.

  3. Be honest: It is obvious to us when you write about an event that didn’t actually happen to you or an experience that wasn’t actually yours. Sometimes the best essays aren’t about profound, life-changing events; they are reflections on a personal experience no matter how big or small. Take the time to reflect in your brainstorming session to focus on what really matters to you, what you want to convey to the admissions committee and how you want us to feel after we read your essay.

  4. Get feedback: Have an actual human, like a parent, counselor, teacher, friend, brother, sister, coach-- ANYONE-- read your essay. I know it can be tough to allow other people to proofread (and criticize) your work, but the first draft is never the best version! The more people you have read your essay, give constructive criticism and provide you with helpful feedback, the better your essay is going to read. Plain and simple. And be sure to actually answer the essay prompt. It seems obvious, but many students get so caught up ensuring that their essay reads well that they forget to answer the question in the first place.

  5. Submit: YAY! This is the last step. You may have stressed out over this essay for days, weeks or even months, but now you are in the final stretch! Make any last minute changes (check for spelling mistakes, obvious grammar errors, etc.) and save the final draft just in case. Then you are ready to turn in your college essay! Congratulations!


Kate Ward photo

Kate Ward
Admission Counselor
Office of Admissions