College essays can be an especially difficult task. Many schools require multiple essays per application, and keeping track of all the essays while ensuring quality writing can be a strenuous process. But SCS is here to help. In this article, we’ll be breaking down the college essay writing process into manageable steps, with analysis from essay prompts from the 2022-23 application process.

1. Read the prompt, then read it again.

One of the biggest traps that many students fall into is writing an essay that doesn’t answer the prompt to its fullest extent. Most prompts are not a singular question. They likely have multiple parts or questions that need to be answered in your response. For example, if the prompt is about leadership, it’s likely also asking about the influence your leadership had, if it helped to resolve any issues, and any lasting contributions your leadership had. Pay close attention to every detail that the prompt is asking for.

2. Brainstorming

When you read the prompt, what is the first example that pops into your mind? Write it down. Continue to write down every single idea that you have, even if you think it’s a mundane and boring subject. While many people can come up with inspiration for prompts through ideas, many also cannot. Don’t be afraid to look up especially difficult prompts and see if there’s any guidance online. For many high profile schools, like the Ivies, there are a multitude of guides that are posted online for prompts, or you can find past examples of essays that alumni have written. Take inspiration from their ideas, format, style, and incorporate it into your own. However, do not copy. It’s clear to tell which ideas are copied as the essays often come off as stagnant, redundant, and uninteresting. In addition, it is unethical to plagiarize.

3: Get into the writing mode

Essays that stand out to admissions officers are ones that are enjoyable to read, and flow like a story. To write like an author, read a book! Read a couple pages of your favorite book to prepare your mind for writing. Reading will help your mind subconsciously pick up on smooth transitions, correct formatting, and new vocabulary that will then be integrated into your writing.

4. Write

While an empty google doc may seem daunting, just start writing. Whether it’s fragments of ideas that aren’t fully formed sentences, or you have a whole story planned out, the most important part of an essay is to bite the bullet and start writing a couple sentences. Once an essay is started, the rest will come easier as your mind will begin to fill in the story. Don’t worry about correct grammar or punctuation, just write down a draft of your first ideas.

5. Revise

Once you’ve finished your draft, take a step back and read your essay out loud. Reading out loud will help you hear grammar mistakes easier, and you can decide if you like the way the essay flows. Once you feel as though you have individually revised enough, take your essay to a parent or friend. Have them read over it, and take into consideration the critiques they may have. However, it’s important to know that no one else but you will fully understand the message you are trying to convey. Therefore, if you think their advice is not applicable, don’t feel pressured to change your essay to fit their standards. Just make sure it fits yours.

6. Submit!

Congratulations, you’ve finished the essay! Make sure to submit the essay and application by the deadline to whichever platform you’re using. You’ve done it!

Now that we’ve established the steps to write an essay, let’s look at a couple of prompts from the 2022-23 application season and analyze how to write them.

Stanford: The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning.

This is a great prompt to start with an anecdote. Start with a first person story about the experience, or how you found out about an idea, and try your best to immerse the reader into the story. Be raw with the storytelling. Highlight the highs and lows, and be real with your experience. However, you need to gradually link the story back to Stanford. For example, does Stanford have some programs or clubs that could help you continue to explore your interests in college? What about classes? Are there any professors that are experts in that topic? How are you planning on meeting them? While providing an immersive experience is important, it’s also essential that the essay eventually leads back to Stanford, and why Stanford is the right school for you.

UC Berkeley: Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

When brainstorming for this prompt, stop and think why an academic subject inspires you. Was it a childhood curiosity? And what did it stem from? Or, was there a certain experience you had that sparked an interest? This is another great place to start with an anecdote! Detail the first experience you had with that subject, and describe how you continued with pursuing that academic interest throughout your life. Again, finish it by relating back to the school. How is UC Berkeley specifically going to help you pursue that interest? You need to state a specific program that will help you.

UPenn: How will you explore community at Penn? Consider how Penn will help shape your perspective and identity, and how your identity and perspective will help shape Penn.

First identify what communities you are already in. Are you a BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, an athlete, have certain interests, etc. Then, see how your community in your hometown can transfer to UPenn. Are there any organizations that represent the same things? What about companies in the Philadelphia area? How are you going to interact with them? What will be your contribution to these existing communities in Philadelphia? The most difficult part of this prompt is answering how your identity will shape Penn. Make sure to take time to consider things that make you unique, and how you can contribute to Penn.

The college application process is hard, so be easy on yourself. Make sure to start early, take your time, and slowly work through all the steps. If you feel as though you need extra help, feel free to contact Student Coaching Services for a free consultation!