It may be only 500 words, but the admissions essay portion of a college application can mean the difference between acceptance and rejection. How you write your personal essay shows the admissions committee why you are different from everybody else. It provides information about you that test scores, grades, and extracurricular pursuits do not. You can use the essay to describe a favorite activity, to tell a story about yourself, or even a story about your dog, but make sure to really use it — in a way that captures the reader’s attention and shows that you are exceptional.

Here are a few thoughts from those who read college admissions essays for a living.

“So many of the applications submitted to us are from students who possess excellent academic credentials. One way that we distinguish among students is through the essay. The essay provides applicants with the opportunity to become real and fully dimensional to the readers. It also provides a forum for the applicant to come forward about life’s priorities; we look at the essay as the culmination of how a student thinks about what is important to him or her.”

— Admissions Officer, University of Pennsylvania

“Your essay should provide the reader with a fuller view of who you are and how you think. You don’t need to write about thermonuclear war or a life-shattering event. Everyday happenings in our lives often reveal more about who we are and what makes us tick.”

— Admissions Officer, University of Southern California

“Essay topics are designed generally to draw out the student’s creativity and thought processes by requiring him or her to assess abstractions as well as to discuss the concrete world. The process of writing a mechanically sound essay is an integral part of this. Some bright students write poor admission essays that demonstrate to us that they are either careless, sloppy, or overly confident–that they are certain their grades and other accomplishments will be enough to get them admitted.”

— Admissions Officer, Williams College


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