College Application Essay Dos and Don’ts

Though there are many schools that offer free college tuition, it’s up to you to submit your application and make sure you have the right credentials. Here is a guide on what makes an excellent essay for your entrance exam, in addition to some general tips about how not do apply.

The “college application essay examples” is a survival guide that provides tips on how to write an effective college application essay. This article will give you some examples of what not to do and what to do when writing your essays.

Young man writing essay on paper 1950s 1940s.

Note from the editor: This is a guest post by Tony Budding.

It might be difficult to write a personal statement for college applications. The questions are frequently open-ended, allowing for a variety of responses. It also has the potential to make the difference between acceptance and rejection.

I provide ways for selecting the issue and composing the statement in this post. Reading multiple bad essays in a sequence is mind-numbing, as a former English instructor can attest. College admissions officers must examine a large number of essays. Their monotony is broken by the surprisingly colorful, honest, one-of-a-kind personal statement, which quickly differentiates the application. It’s possible that this will be yours.

Let’s start with some reasoning. Good thinking leads to good writing. In a personal essay, excellent thinking is derived from self-awareness. Self-awareness is undoubtedly the most valuable thing a guy can have. As a result, think of the personal statement as a gift.

I believe in making advancement by putting in a lot of work. In terms of self-awareness, you should strive to outperform your peers. There are no shortcuts, but there are some dead ends. Consider this page a road map of worthwhile paths and fruitless detours.

There are two stages to this process: gaining self-awareness and writing the essay. The former is naturally valuable, while the latter is focused on achieving a certain purpose. That objective? To persuade the admissions officer that you belong at their institution after reading your essay.

Colleges look for students who believe in their mission. These kids, in theory, are aware of their interests, challenges, and goals, have formed a strong work ethic, and are motivated by internal motives (not grades). These pupils develop into lifelong learners. Gender, color, location, academics, athleticism, creative aptitude, and background experiences are all things that colleges strive for.

That is the perfect situation. Your objective is to illustrate how your principles have driven your quest of greatness in some manner by identifying what drives and inspires you. Because the essay is brief (usually 650 words or fewer), it must be focused. You’ll take advantage of this by showcasing just the aspects of yourself that best represent your ideal inner student.

What to Avoid

Let’s start with what not to do.

Don’t treat this like a traditional academic paper. You’re not attempting to persuade your reader, teach them, or explain a thesis. Personas like Authority, Educator, and Pontificator should be avoided at all costs. You’re not an expert in anything; you’re going to school to learn, and the only thing worse than a pontificating professor is a pontificating student.

I don’t have everything sorted out. Don’t make the mistake of assuming you already know what you want to accomplish with your life. Also, don’t make predictions about the future.

Don’t go into detail about your accomplishments. Don’t write anything about it. Don’t make a summary. Also, don’t make an attempt to be amusing.

Never, ever, ever use absolutes (see what I did there?).

Don’t attempt to imitate a college student’s voice. Make no attempt to imitate anybody. Don’t be concerned about whether or not people will like you. Don’t make any false statements. Also, don’t reveal the complete truth (it wouldn’t be appropriate anyhow).


You are the focus of attention.

There are a lot of “don’ts” on that list. What more is there to say? You.

You are the sole person on the planet. Nobody else lives inside your skull, thinks the same way you do, feels the same way you do, sees the world the same way you do, or desires the same things you do.

Your topic is you. Not the whole of you. Your guiding principles. You were inspired by them. You were moved by it.

This is exactly what universities want to see. Each of the Common Application Essay Prompts asks for personal significance, motivation, and/or impact. They want to learn all they can about you.


Self-knowledge, which comes through self-inquiry, is the starting point for writing such an essay. Humans are made up of a mix of common and unique characteristics. You go on an inner journey to discover and separate these parts via investigation. More than only the writing process benefits from this significant effort. When done correctly, it creates the foundations of character upon which you may construct your life.

Self-inquiry is essentially asking “Who am I?” in as many different ways as possible. There are several approaches to it. The following are some samples of queries geared at young males who have less expertise traversing the inner sanctum. Start with these questions (or come up with your own), but follow up on each response with further research. With honest reflection, explore your vast inner world.

1. What do you do with your free time and why do you do it?

Inner values are often revealed via discretionary behaviors. What do you do once you’ve finished your schoolwork, chores, and practices? How do you pass the time on a hot summer day? “What would you do if no one ever found out, and why?” is a similar question.

If you don’t have a lot of free time, focus your search on your preferred hobbies. In any case, consider what it is about these things that you like. Why? Then follow up with a series of why questions for each response.

What is the purpose of the drill bit that drills the well of comprehension? It’s a good idea to use it early and regularly.

Here’s an illustration. Let’s pretend you like shooting baskets in your driveway. Why? It’s enjoyable. Why? Because it’s satisfying to take a shot. Why? Because it indicates I’m improving. What difference does it make? I’m not a big fan of losing. Why? I want to come out on top. Why? Because if you’re not first, you’ll be last! What’s the big deal about being last? Losers do not acquire decent jobs and do not live happy lives.

This procedure revealed a correlation between the enjoyment of driveway basketball and the qualities required for a happy existence. All real questions, in my experience, uncover some harmony between seemingly insignificant decisions and underlying principles. Because everything is interrelated, practically any superficial action may lead to genuine understanding.

Keep a running list of your ideas at this stage. They’ll be put to good use afterwards.

2. What global injustices are you ready to assist correct?

The world isn’t always kind. It has never been and will never be. Some forms of injustice are more noticeable than others. Which ones are you talking about, and why? The question, on the other hand, goes a step farther. Which ones are you willing to assist in the repair of?


This might take a multitude of forms. If the problem is near to home, such as child care or soup kitchens, you may volunteer. If the topic is political, such as wealth disparities or immigration, you could do study and debate. If product or service innovations meet a demand, you can choose a professional path like medical research or international banking.

The importance of values-based action cannot be overstated. It’s one thing to bemoan political corruption. It’s one thing to talk about it; it’s quite another to act on it. You know you’ve hit on something substantial when your interests and passions are strong enough to compel action.

3. When you reflect on your life so far, what events stand out as the most significant and why?

What are the most vivid recollections that you keep returning to? Which of your former experiences do you consider while making current decisions? What was it about these events that had such an impact on you? Ask why once again.

Sometimes the most vivid recollections are associated with relatively inconsequential events. Don’t be fooled by this. This recollection is memorable for a reason. Make use of it. Keep digging and asking why.

4. What does it mean to live a quality life, and what does it take to achieve it?

While this is a difficult issue for teens to answer, it is one worth considering. Consider your friends and relatives (both close and far away): who seems to be the happy, and what do they have in their lives? Careers, family, social activities, vacations, housing, and communities are all things to consider. Which combinations appeal to you the most?

The importance of this investigation stems from the fact that every aspect of life necessitates compromise. You can’t have everything. An essential, high-pressure work, for example, takes time away from leisure and family time.

Remember that the purpose of these questions is to gain self-awareness. You’re not attempting to plan your life, but rather to figure out what matters to you. Which features entice you the most? Play the game of either/or. Is it more important to spend a lot of money or a lot of time? Is it better to live a life of travel or a life with children? Fancy automobiles or a slew of pals? These differences are arbitrary, yet they are instructive. And as frequently as you can, ask “Why?”

5. There is no such thing as an island. Who has had the greatest influence on you, and why?

People are always working hard to help you succeed, no matter who you are. Parents, relatives, instructors, acquaintances, and even strangers are all on the list. What are they doing to help you? What motivates them to do it? What impact does that help have on you, both directly and indirectly?

You may realize not just what important to you, but also how intertwined we are as a species, by acknowledging their efforts. You have an influence on others around you since we’re all linked. What do you want to achieve with that impact? What do you want others to say about you, what you’ve done for them, and who you are as a person?

Now take a step forward with it. What talents and experiences do you need to become that person if that’s the influence you want to make? How well do the universities to which you’re applying match your requirements? It’s conceivable that your application will be changed as a result of this investigation.


Composing the Essay

You should be able to spot common themes once you’ve done these questions. These are most likely the most interesting subjects to write about.

Now carefully read the essay prompts. Frequently, you have an option. Any of these may work, so start with the one that seems to be the simplest (you could find out later that it doesn’t). Make a basic idea of how you’d want to respond. Place your topic in the context of where you are currently, with an eye on how your college degree will help you go down this route. This provides the institution a better understanding of who you are and why you’ll be a successful student.

Aside: If you don’t have strong answers to these questions, I recommend deferring your college plans until you do. College is a significant time and financial commitment. Wait if you don’t have a strong cause to be there. I really wish I had. I squandered my college years despite receiving outstanding marks and graduating in four years because I did not pursue my own education. I didn’t start studying for myself until five years after graduation. I’ve studied enough for numerous degrees during the last 20 years, but I’ll never be able to recapture what my college experience may have been.

Identify distinct periods of most struggle, stress, worry, and/or tension as you form your ideas. Describe how these events impacted you at the time and how they continue to inspire and encourage you now. These are more indicative of your personality than major accomplishments. Your accomplishments are also highlighted in other portions of your application.

Make preparations for a lengthy voyage. It’s not simple to come up with a sentence like this. A number of false starts are expected. These aren’t mistakes; they’re just part of the process of improving your thoughts. You’ll revise and modify your essay many times as well.

Bolts and Nuts

Consider starting small. Describe a significant incident that shaped your ideals and had an impact on you. Extrapolate your ambitions for the information and skills you’ll need to live your life in accordance with these principles.

This works because your storytelling and event descriptions disclose a lot about you. At the Dam, by Joan Didion, is an example of this. She doesn’t define herself once in the 1,000-word essay, but by the conclusion, you have a fairly solid idea of who she is.

Please respond to the question. Make sure your essay responds to the question. Return to the question after each rewriting to ensure you haven’t strayed.

Finish on a high note. You should expect something from your college experience. You’ve experienced previous life events that have influenced your values. These ideals drive you to take action right now. The combination produces a desire for something in the future (knowledge, experience, skills, and engagement) that necessitates a college degree.

Make use of vibrant details. Bring the reader into the event by providing particular details that helps them to have a sensory experience. Avoid generalizations like “I felt frozen and perplexed.” Use specific imagery instead: “The northern wind cut through my sweatshirt, and the shivering distracted me.”


Take a chance. Make no apologies for speaking openly about your experiences and ideals. Don’t be concerned about whether or not the reader agrees with you. They’ll appreciate your candor (and if they don’t, you’re at the wrong institution).

Be modest. Allow life’s puzzles to stay unanswered. Pursue growth rather than perfection. The previous paragraph’s boldness relates to your ideals and viewpoint, whilst humility refers to your knowledge and capacity to alter the nature of the world. (If Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Teresa couldn’t make the world a better place, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to either.)

Keep the big picture in mind. You’re attempting to get admission to the school. They’re searching for pupils that are innately driven and bring real interest and problem-solving skills to the classroom. Make sure your tale emphasizes these characteristics of your personality.

Have fun with it. It should be inspirational to write about your innermost interests. Take the investigation and writing seriously, but not too seriously. Trying to be hilarious is not the same as being light and/or playful.

Write excellently. Every word is important to you. Get rid of the clutter. Have a smart beginning and finale. Your rewrites should be rewritten. If you haven’t already, read William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. It’s a book on writing that’s so brilliantly written that it’s a joy to read. If your essay is due tomorrow, at the very least, go through my list of suggestions here.

Check for originality. Read your essay as though it were someone else’s work. It’s not supposed to function. It wouldn’t make sense if someone else claimed authorship of your remark since it should be so unique to your life and experiences.

Look for an editor. Every writer need the services of an editor. Find someone who can assist you fine-tune what you’ve written, whether it’s a family, a friend, or a teacher.

The don’ts should be avoided at all costs. After each draft, go through the list of things not to do again. Unwittingly, some of these have undoubtedly crept in. It takes a lot of fortitude to keep focused while ignoring everything else.


The objective of the essay you write for your college applications is to get you admitted. To do so, you’ll need to compose an original essay on your beliefs and goals, as well as how you’ll utilize your college degree to help you reach them.

The majority of your classmates are producing dull, uninteresting, and cliche-ridden essays. After reading hundreds of substandard submissions, admissions examiners’ brains are numb. For them, your candid and informative writing will be a breath of fresh air.

To do so, you must outperform your classmates on two fronts: self-awareness and writing. To begin, devote the time and effort necessary to understand what actually inspires you. Then put in the time and effort to write in your own voice, clearly and simply.

If done correctly, you will have received several acceptance letters and discovered new levels of self-awareness with which to pursue your life’s goals.


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Do you want to comment on this article? Send us a tweet or join the Facebook conversation!

Tony Budding spent many years at Mount Madonna School in California, where he taught high school writing and English. In addition, he created a professional sport (Grid), taught logical reasoning in a Kaplan LSAT prep course, spent a decade delving into Eastern metaphysical traditions, and just released an operational explanation of awareness. He presently works at DRL, a drone racing company, as the Director of Media.



The “how long should a college application essay be” is a question that many students ask themselves. There are certain dos and don’ts to consider when writing an essay for a college application.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do and donts for college essays?

A: The dos are to be yourself and show your personality; dont use too many fancy words. It is more important that you sound like yourself in writing rather than trying to impress an audience with a long list of vocabulary words.
The donts would include not using profanity, being overly religious or political, and avoiding traditional gender stereotypes such as men should only wear blue while women can never wear purple.

What should you not write about in a college essay?

A: Avoid any mentions of illegal activities, alcohol use or abuse.

What should you not do on a college application?

A: Do not ask for a scholarship.

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