Preparing for College

More College Knowledge Q&As

Question: I'm not a good writer.  I'm afraid I won't be able to put together a decent college application essay.  What should I do?

Answer: You're not alone.  Many high school students fear the essay, or "personal statement."  You may not have to write one, though.  Quite a few college applications either require no essay or make it optional.  If you're working on an application that requires an essay, here are some basics to keep in mind.


First, most essay topics are so broad that you can work almost any kind of information into them.  This fact works in your favor when you're dealing with several applications requiring essays.  Once you have written a good one, you can usually adapt it to fit other essay questions.

Let me give you a tip on a book that will set you straight on writing application essays.  Go to the library or bookstore and find Harry Bauld's On Writing the College Application Essay.  This thin paperback is worth its weight in gold.  It's so readable and enlightening, you'll not only learn how to write a great essay, but you'll also improve your writing across the board.  That can't hurt.

What college admissions people want to know about you is what goes on inside you.  They don't need to hear about your big vacation or how sports have made you a better person.  You have to latch on to a special story about yourself that really tells about yourself.

Remember, the rest of the application is going to give them much of your personal information.  Your essay should give them a strong impression of you.  I can't give you a comprehensive course on essay writing in this limited forum.  I can, however, encourage you to read some great examples from other sources as well as Bauld's book.

Check out the essay Bauld cites that has this lead:  "I do some of my best thinking in the bathroom."  It's a winner.

Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.