How to Write a College Essay

College Counseling Tutorial: How To Write College Essays

The age old question of how to write college essays is a tough one. When we think about college essays, we tend to associate it with boring questions like “Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?” We tend to then start searching on Google for help with college essays. We are usually bombarded with hefty blogs or advertisements for college counseling services. Yes, at EFC, we provide these services too, but this isn’t the point of this blog. We want to provide you with a resource that will truly give you help with college essays. So, here are all of our secrets. How to write a college essay comes down to four main components: Structure, brainstorming, the prompt, and your voice.

Following A Set Structure

One of the most common comments we get from students on how to write a college essay is “Dan, I don’t know where to start….” We always start any college counseling program with understanding the structure of essays. Each essay has three parts. The length of each part really depends on the word count limit. The three parts of writing college essays are personal anecdote, background information, and reflection. Each portion serves a very specific purpose. The personal anecdote serves to invite the reader into your world. This is the most important part of writing essays for colleges because it makes your essay more relatable and therefore more engaging. Now, when we think about background information, we are providing supporting details on what information is needed to make your anecdote more powerful. It should begin to highlight the second most important part of any college essay: insight into growth. Writing college essays are all about showing admissions officers that your experiences have led to growth. We hammer this idea away with the reflection section. So when you think about how to write a college essay for your dream school, think first about structure


When we think about the most difficult part of starting a college essay, it is brainstorming. Most students don’t know how to talk about themselves, let alone write about themselves. Most adults struggle with this as well, so it is completely normal. Having a good college counselor can help, but only if they can ask insightful questions. Questions that can really lead onto the next train of thought. Yet, these questions need to answer the prompt. A well-trained college counselor will really guide a student in the brainstorming process. Okay, so what if you don’t have someone that can do that for you? Sure, it makes writing college essays harder, but it is not impossible. Here are some of our essay brainstorming tips. First, read the prompt and really understand it. Take some time and highlight the main question. Then, set a timer for 15-minutes and just write/ type whatever comes to mind. So what if nothing comes out? Well, we have the best college counseling resource hidden in plain sight: family. Most of the time, we are really close to someone in our family or someone we consider family. This person is probably going to be the best college counselor you can have at least for this section of the essay writing process. Sit down with them and have them do the brainstorming step we highlighted above. The most difficult part of how to write a college essay can be brainstorming, but it is not one that we have to do alone.  

The Prompt

The one aspect that is easily overlooked in how to write a college essay is the prompt. Sometimes, we read the prompt, we understand the prompt, but then somewhere along the essay writing process, we forget about the prompt. This is why at EFC, our college counselors re-read the prompt at the beginning of each edit of an essay. When you are writing essays for college, it can be a very emotional or boring process. Regardless of which, it is easy to lose sight of the point. When you are thinking about how to write such an important essay, don’t forget to constantly remind yourself of what the prompt is.

How to Write a College Essay: Your Voice

The last and most important step in how to write a college essay is to use your true voice. A lot of the time, students feel like their story is boring and end up making up a story. College admissions officers can tell. College counselors can tell. It is so important to portray your story, your growth, and your insights. Doing so will truly make writing a college essay easier, but it will also boost your chances of getting into your best fit college. I always tell every single one of my students in our college counseling program that writing a college essay may be a growth journey in itself. Somewhere along the way, we all have to write something that will affect the rest of our lives. And, it is okay to not be ready in the beginning. Because when you embark on the journey, it might be one filled with self-discovery. 

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