Writing Successful Application Essays

Excellent personal essays are usually much harder to write than any other kind. This is primarily because it is very difficult to provide proper insight into your personality within a few pages. Application essays will require you to think about who you are, and analyze yourself and your goals.

  1. Begin by reading the instructions very carefully. What is being asked? What is not being asked (writers tend to forget the actual purpose of the essay in their enthusiasm to write about themselves)? Are there specific directions, such as word limit or deadline, and if they note them down. Following instructions perfectly gives the reader an idea of your professionalism.
  2. Research. Find out about the field you’re applying in and the program, and then examine yourself. Why do you want to be a civil engineer or anything for that matter? Why do you want to go to this specific college? Be truthful to yourself and if the truth doesn’t particularly look good (you want to go to Harvard because your father and grandfather and great-grandfather etc. went to Harvard) then make it look active. The above example could be skirted to show that Harvard holds a special place in your family and is your first choice because of the deep ties you feel with it.
  3. Sift through your life to find the real gems: Find out what makes you who you are. How are you unique? What motivates you? What changes do you think you can bring to your career? When using anecdotes and stories, make sure they provide the reader a glimpse of who you are. Be honest with yourself.

Write a draft

Personal essays don’t require the sort of brainstorming definition or research essays do. Using formal language and verbosity make the piece sound artificial and patronizing. Once you’ve realized what you want to include in your essay, spend half an hour writing freestyle. After reading what you’ve written, analyze the tone of the article. Can the reader grasp what you’re trying to say? Are you making generalizations and using clichés? Have you been able to express yourself in a clear and empathic way?

Highlight everything you wish to use in your final draft. Find the details you want to add, and if they are generalizations, then try and personalize them.

The final essay

Consider the following things:


To tell you the truth, the reader will not particularly be interested in you. It is necessary to catch his or her attention. You can do this by

  1. Not wasting space with the information you have provided to the rest of the application. Remember the two-word rule for essays: Don’t Ramble.
  2. Assuring your audience that you know the challenges of the program and the field, and look forward to them.
  3. Convincing the reader that you are prepared the program or area, psychologically and morally as well as educationally.
  4. Not overstating your case. Don’t be so specific about your future goals that you come off as presumptuous or naïve ("I want to become a dentist so that I can train in wisdom tooth extraction because I intend to focus my life’s work on taking 13 rather than 15 minutes per tooth."). Your goals may change--show that such a change won’t devastate you.
  5. Proving you respect your audience and their time by writing a clear, organized, and concise essay.
  6. Explaining truthfully about your setbacks and your limitations. It’s very likely the audience will respect you more for it.
  7. Avoiding clichés at all costs. Every doctor wants to help save lives; every lawyer wants to work for justice--your reader has read these general clichés a million times.

The use of voice and style in your essay can change it from being poor to above average. Aim, to be frank, candid and personal. Share yourself through anecdotes (but make sure they are relevant to how you perceive life, your motivations, and your goals). Many writers ruin what could be an excellent essay, by using complicated phraseology and hard words. Intelligence is not limited to an overwhelming vocabulary, your clearness of thought and insight will also impress your reader. Always remember to respect your audience’s intelligence.