Many tutors on Method Test Prep’s tutoring team––including yours truly––have helped students write their college admissions essays. As requests for college essay help have increased over the past several years, we’ve gained a good deal of experience in guiding students toward a final piece that gives the admissions committees something significant to consider. In the process, we’ve also encountered many essays that have made us scratch our heads. Here are a few things that, in our judgment, must [or must not] happen if you want to write a great college admissions essay.

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  1. Write the Essay Yourself…Especially if You Are Getting “Coached”

    This seems pretty obvious, but it may surprise you to learn that many essay “coaches” actually end up writing significant portions of their students’ essays for them. Not only is this unethical, but it’s also embarrassing. We’ll tell you flat out: it's painfully obvious to admissions officers when they are presented with an essay that is the product of a little too much “coaching”. While the essay is supposed to help your case, it can actually damage your admissions prospects if the readers realize it’s not a product of your own efforts (and trust us: they will). When and if you receive advice, help, tutoring, coaching, or whatever else you call your form of essay assistance, make sure the writing is your own.

  2. Maintain a Narrow Focus on an Element of Your Development and Character

    Students tend to wonder: what is the point of writing all these essays? Many are surprised to hear that they should not serve as secondary résumés on top of the list of clubs and achievements usually described elsewhere on the application. Rather, you should use your essays to reveal an element of your character that isn’t otherwise obvious from the rest of the application details you provided. Try to write about  something that sheds light on the person you’ve become through your experiences and self-reflection. Remember that colleges want their admitted classes to comprise mature and diverse student bodies. When admissions officers can see that you’re insightful, it will be easier for them to imagine you as a student that can fit the mold.

    And another thing: try not to include everything but the kitchen sink. When you try to cram too much into an essay, it ends up reading like a grocery list instead of a well-formed piece of writing. You can go as deep as you want…just don’t try to summarize your entire life story in the process.

  3. Stop Using Clichés, and Avoid Abusing the Thesaurus

    In these modern times, students tend to utilize myriad hackneyed phrases and try to impress readers with copious vocabulary-quiz-style verbiage.

    Now, wasn’t that sentence horrible? This is what your essay will sound like if you lean on overused, meaningless phrases (“in these modern times”, for example) and get too excited about vocabulary substitutions. Pro tip: write well, but at your level and using a style that is natural to you. This isn’t a vocabulary quiz. Nor is it a standard five-paragraph essay requiring a broad introductory phrase or the restatement of a quotation. Keep in mind that admissions officers are reading literally thousands of essays; do you want yours to sound like artificially enhanced, generic mush? We don’t think so. This isn’t to say you can’t use some interesting vocabulary, or that you can’t quote a figure you find genuinely interesting or influential; just don’t purposely try to sprinkle in words or quotations in efforts to “elevate” the level of your writing. The fact is that it usually ends up sounding worse than if you had just kept things simple.


It’s difficult to write a comprehensive guide to writing an excellent essay, but one thing is for sure: the three points above are some of the most important you’ll read. Leave us a comment if you have any other insights you’d like to share!