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Your college application essays are an important part of the college application process. They serve as a way to communicate your uniqueness to admissions officers and show how passionate you are about their school. Some colleges will have specific prompts they want you to answer. Others will ask you to describe your story. Whatever the topic, be yourself, speak in your voice, and don’t try to cram a bunch of words from the thesaurus. Here are some more tips for crafting a stellar essay:

1. Start early

First, plot out all the different essays you need to write and each of their deadlines. We recommend doing this in the spring of your junior year or the summer before your senior year. This will give you plenty of time to think through the prompts and brainstorm writing points!

2. Create an outline

Take the prompt of each essay and break it down into parts. Think about the reasons admissions officials may ask certain questions and what they hope to learn about you from your answer. Next, pair personal stories or experiences that illustrate your answers. Don’t worry about polishing your ideas immediately, it’s just a brainstorm for all your thoughts and potential ideas. One way to organize your outline: write your thesis, and then bullet point a clear beginning, middle, and end.

3. Read some examples

Some colleges will publish essay examples on their website. See if the colleges you’re applying to have examples, and check them out! You will get a feel for the ways each college identifies exemplary work. If you can’t find any information on schools’ websites, search online for “sample college essays” for examples. (But please do NOT plagiarize them!)

4. Brainstorm beyond your transcript

When you write your essay, imagine you’re sitting in the room with the admissions counselors. They already have your transcript and resume. What else should they know? How can you expand upon the information presented in other parts of your application? Which traits and facts would you like to bring to light?

5. Stick to detailed examples

For your anecdotes, focus on specific details to flesh out the scene. You won’t have enough space to tell your entire life story, so focus on a few examples to bring your essay to life! Don’t worry if you feel your topic isn’t anything revolutionary. Many admissions officers will appreciate your thought process turning something ordinary into a learning lesson. Remember, as long as you are giving your best writing skills and doing your best to show admissions officers who you are, you are on the right track!

6. Have a few people review it

After you’ve finished a draft of your essay, have someone you trust (a parent, counselor, or teacher) review it. Check for grammatical and spelling errors. Be sure to limit the number reviewers to one or two people, because too many voices may muddle yours!

With these tips, you are on your ways to writing outstanding college application essays that you feel proud of! If you’re having trouble brainstorming, check out these ways to conquer writer’s block!