The essay is also used as a way to assess your writing skills. American universities prefer original essays in which you express your thought in a concise and grammatically correct way. Regardless of content, your essay will be assessed in terms of grammar, clarity of writing, style, and orderliness. If you scored relatively low on your ACT or SAT test, you can use the essay to compensate by displaying mastery of the English language.
Most universities offer a list of essay questions to choose from. You can find this list on the university’s website. If you are applying through the Common App, you can choose between several essay prompts available on the Common App website.
Feedback and tips
Would you like personal feedback? The Fulbright Commission can proofread your essay. Email our Educational Adviser for further advice.
There are two core ingredients needed for a good essay: content and style. You can choose between a wide variety of subjects, although many prospective students opt to write about school activities. You don’t need to limit yourself to your high school experiences. It might be an idea to discuss your past or future in your essay. The selection committee is interested in your future plans and how you intend to reach your goals, and the people who influenced your life and how.
A good essay takes time. It can be wise to start brainstorming potential ideas during the summer before your final year at school. Consider the Common App essay prompts and select a couple to write about. Make sure that the prompts you choose allow you to discuss your vision and ideas.
If the selection committee wants you to comment on a question or prompt, keep in mind that they are not looking for one specific answer. They are just supplying you with an idea to elaborate on according to your own insights and creativity. Start by writing a draft and ask someone to read your work (a family member or teacher) to give you some feedback. Ask if the message is clear, if the text is well-written, and if they can recognize you in it. Review your essay after a period of time. It often takes several drafts to write a good essay.
Some universities offer examples of good essays on their website that you can read for inspiration. Some examples are:
- Start at the beginning. Have you done enough research to convince the university that you would be a good fit? Try to figure out why exactly you want to enroll in that particular university. Avoid vague language and meaningless phrases like “I love America”.
- Come up with an interesting introduction. Start with an anecdote, or include a quote that means a lot to you.
- Be honest in your essay and share your feelings and commitment. It’s not a problem if you’re not entirely sure of your future plans. This shows that you’re thinking and planning ahead, which is a positive quality. Don’t be scared to share your shortcomings. Maybe you can turn them into one of your strengths! Universities like to see their prospective students consider their development.
- Remember to discuss why your hobbies and activities mean so much to you. For example, don’t just mention that you’re a member of your school’s debate team, but also discuss why you participate and what you have learned. Include concrete examples.
- Try not to use your essay to list all your activities. The intention is to elaborate on your other submitted documents, not to copy them. Make sure to focus on new or additional information.
- The admission committee also checks to see if you stick to your assignment. Make sure you answer the question and don’t deviate too much from the prompt.
- Include a clear conclusion. This is the last part the admission committee will read, and the part they will remember best. Ask yourself what you want your reader to take away from your essay. What kind of impression are you hoping to leave? Make sure all your arguments come together in the conclusion and that you answer the central question or prompt.
- Most essays will have a maximum word count. While all essays are carefully considered, a selection committee needs to read hundreds of essays by applicants, so they can’t be too long. When writing, try and focus on content over length. You can always cut sections before submission, if necessary.