Writing Essays: Getting Started

Brainstorming

Start brainstorming and writing early. In some ways, this is the most important assignment of your high school career. Give yourself enough time so you can do your very best.

  • Watch our QuestCast on What Makes a College Essay Stand Out to get essay-writing advice directly from admissions officers and QB staff.
  • You can also read the Bridge Blog re-cap of the QuestCast here.

As you write

Use the following checklist to keep your writing on track:

  • Focus on 1-2 ideas. Tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end, and focus your essay on just one or two overarching ideas.
  • Share details of your background, if you are comfortable doing so. Showcase your ability to overcome difficulties that your peers may not have faced.
  • Write about yourself. Make sure your essay reveals who you are and helps to complete the picture you’ve outlined in the rest of your application.
  • Demonstrate emotional maturity. If you choose to write about problems in your life, use a mature, composed tone. Make sure you’re ready to write about them in a way that shows personal growth.
  • Show, don’t tell. Use anecdotes and vivid description to illustrate your story.
  • Observe word limits. Try to approach the word limit, but don’t go over. Each word should be carefully chosen.
  • Let your personal writing voice shine. Avoid unnatural words — admissions officers want to hear from you.

After your first draft

Ask teachers, mentors, family, friends, etc. for feedback on your essay. Reach out well in advance of any deadlines, and give them at least two weeks to give their feedback. Ask them in person (if possible) if they have time and would be willing to give you feedback. If they say yes, you can send them a message, such as the one below, with your essay attached. 

Dear XXXX,

Thank you again for agreeing to give feedback on my college essay. I’ve attached my current draft of the essay to this email. You’re welcome to leave electronic comments on the document, or print it out and write notes. For your reference, I’ve put the essay prompt at the beginning of my essay.

As I mentioned when we spoke, I would appreciate receiving your feedback by XXX so that I have time to revise the essay by the application deadline of XX.

Please let me know if you have any questions or need any other information.

Thank you,

XXX

After receiving feedback, revise, revise, revise! You should plan on going through many drafts. Remember, you don't have to take all the feedback you get — go with what you think will be most helpful. 

Make final edits carefully. Your spelling, grammar, punctuation, and formatting should be flawless. It helps to read your essay out loud to catch mistakes you might otherwise skim over. Check to make sure that your edits and revisions haven't taken out your voice and personal writing style.