Tips for Writing a College Essay in 2021

The college essay has been a staple of college applications for years. But now, more than ever, essays are a piece of the puzzle to tell a holistic story about a student’s background, obstacles, and educational journey. With many institutions of higher education moving toward a test-optional format this year, the college essay is elevated in importance. This fall, Hobsons surveyed over 3,000 high school seniors to find out more about their college essay experience.

More than 80% of high school seniors surveyed have already written or plan to write a college essay or personal statement. Another 12% are unsure. With more and more colleges requiring a personal statement, this has become a central activity for college applications.

Over half of students wrote their essay in September and October, and an additional 15% plan to write in November-January. 25% of students wrote their essay during their junior year or into the summer.

Although students feel that their essay will be influential in the admissions process, many do not feel confident in the process. This could be a reflection of distance and hybrid learning throughout the pandemic.

A college essay or personal statement is often a reflection of student experiences and priorities. When asked what topics they plan to cover in their essay, most students said they would reference their own personal struggles in life. Recent events are also an influence in the essay, with almost a third of students writing about the pandemic, social justice, or the 2020 presidential election.

3 College Essay Writing Tips

Students can begin to feel more prepared throughout their essay process in a few ways, and families and school counselors can assist them with this.

  • When students understand their strengths, they can better reflect on their personal experiences and aspirations. Help students explore their strengths with Gallup’s StrengthsExplorer and talk with them about how they use their strengths in everyday life.
  • Students should also research the institutions to which they are applying, and write specifically to the essay prompts for each individual application. It should be lighthearted or share a personal experience in their own words – an essay should help admissions offices understand a student from their own perspective.
  • Encourage students to ask for help. This may include talking through a prompt with an adult or asking a peer for a review. Sometimes this is all it takes to build some confidence!
Topics College and Career Readiness K 12
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