3 Tips on How to Write a “Strong” College Essay

Phatk
3 min readDec 12, 2020

The past weekend has been important for many high-school applicants who checked their emails to receive their official results from US colleges as 1) “admitted”, 2) “waitlisted”, or 3) “rejected” after applying during the early actions/decision cycle.

Here are my “3 Tips on How to [build your profile first] to Write a Strong College essay”.

Tips #1: Start asap. Similar to writing an academic essay, it is good to have a plan or an outline. To create a good outline, first pick which two choices that you think are easy to write from this official list of Common App essay prompts. Prompts #1, #2 and #6 are easy to write because you will be writing about yourself — specifically about “identity”, “failure” to “success”, and passion. Prompts #3 and #4 are hard to write because you will be reflecting on how you “questioned/challenged” a norm or discussed an ethical problem as well as your solution for it. #3 could be easy to write if you choose to write about Thai politics and #4 could be if you can “prove” how much progress and effort you have put into your “solution”.

Here is my guide to write “good” outlines. I picked non-Common App essays to write here.

Tips #2: Know your “unique” strengths. Decide which activity or anecdote you want to share or shed some light on your 650-words Common App essay that will differentiate you from others.

The most common caveat (thanks Keith Schwarz for my first introduction of this word) is to be a jack of all trades or master of none if you are an international student. In your list of activities and experience in IB CAS (Creativity, Activity, Service) in which you list the number of hours of an activity that you have done to demonstrate X, your list of service-related activities is a copy-and-paste of other students from your HS. Your list of activities under creativity shows that you did 10 things for 5 hours each, etc.

As the author found out that IB CAS has changed over the years too, he is happy: “IB changed the requirements for CAS a few years ago. Now, you do not keep track of CAS hours themselves. Contrary to what I thought, apparently the sum needed to be 150 back then, with close to 50 in each (i.e. minimum of 40 each), although my IB coordinator would not have accepted that.” (Source: Quora)

Tips #3: Reach out to alumni. No matter who you are, you can try googling or facebooking to find an alum of your high school or that university to politely ask for help. You may want to cold-call or cold-email but it is unlikely that they will reply or respond unless you can share your resume or say in 1 minute why they should reply to you, a very challenging but not impossible feat.

For my college application, I argue that I am the “best” entrepreneur and physics Thai high school researcher as well as one of the cofounders of RIS chess club. I, however, tried too hard to be a well-rounded student and committed to so many unfruitful clubs and activities.

Here is a copy of my extended essay. I got a 2 (EE and TOK essay) instead of 3 and Mr. Ross Kuhl said that I “sucked” at writing although I wrote 10 drafts and he told me how to write. With the benefit of the hindsight almost 7 years later, it is so true.

Good luck!

Phathaphol K.

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Phatk

Stanford Data Science Researcher under Chuck Eesley. Passionate about EdTech, Poli Sci, and mentoring. See http://stanford.edu/~phatk