Once you choose your essay topic, it’s time to focus on the writing. Remember, your admission counselor wants to learn about you as a person as well as evaluate your writing ability. Put your best foot forward by submitting a thoughtful, organized, grammatically sound essay that tells a clear story about you.

Our very best tip: Give yourself plenty of time. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, breaking the project into smaller pieces will help. But that strategy only works if you don’t wait until the last minute.

Here are five more suggestions to help you write a strong essay.

Start with a strong hook.

Choose an opening scene that drops your reader right into the action. For instance, if you’re describing a rafting trip, your first sentence might be something like, “A blast of icy water hit my face as I struggled to catch my breath and keep the boat upright.” That’s much more dynamic than, “Last summer, I went on a weeklong rafting trip.”

You can take the same approach for less dramatic topics. For example, if you’re writing about how your relationship with your stepsister has evolved over time, you might open with the scene of a significant conversation: “Helen and I sat facing the sunset, but neither of us was focused on the brilliant orange and purple display. Instead, each of us was waiting for the other to break the silence – which had been the dynamic between us for the past 11 years.”

Your first sentence or two is your chance to hook your readers – to intrigue them and make them want to know more. Build on those sentences with an opening paragraph that describes the scene in vivid detail and sets the stakes for your essay.

Get to the point.

After your opening scene, give your reader some context. What story are you telling, or what truth are you explaining about yourself? By the end of the first paragraph or the beginning of the second, your reader should understand where this essay is going and where the tension is. 

In the hypothetical essay about the writer’s relationship with her stepsister, the main point might be conveyed in a sentence: “Helen and I had been part of the same family since we were both six, but until last summer, I had never felt like my stepsister wanted to be my friend.” This sets up the “problem” of the distant stepsibling relationship, while hinting that something different happened last summer. Now the reader is ready to learn what happened next.

It may be helpful to write a one-sentence summary before you start working on your actual essay. That sentence can keep you focused as you write. That sentence might also find a place in the first or second paragraph of your essay.

Take time to reflect.

One purpose of the admission essay is to help the reader get to know you as a person. If you’re telling a story about an event, be sure to reflect on how the experience shaped you. How did that rafting trip teach you to be brave or to work in a team? What did you learn about vulnerability from trying to get closer to your stepsister?

Ask for feedback.

Ask someone who’s not familiar with the story you’re telling to read your essay. An outside reader can point out places where your essay doesn’t make sense, or where you might come across differently than you’d hoped. A good question to ask your reader is, “If you didn’t know me, and all you saw was this essay, what would you think about me as a prospective college student?” Are you leaving the impression you want to leave? And are you being honest?

Pay attention to the mechanics.

Grammar, spelling and punctuation matter. So do paragraphs. Proofread your essay multiple times, and ask someone else to proofread it, too. When you submit an application essay, you’re essentially telling the college, “This is an example of my best work.” Make sure your essay lives up to that promise.