Tips to Structure Your College Essay, Ideal Length, Dos and Don’ts

College Application Essays
Most colleges and universities will require an essay with your application for admission. You should know that your college application essay should be personal. While writing about yourself may seem intimidating, you can think of the work as an opportunity to introduce yourself and show off your writing skills. College admissions counselors will read your essay to understand what you have to offer their campus.

Tips to Structure and Format Your College Essay

When writing your personal essay for college admissions, you may have questions about the proper format and structure. Here is a breakdown of some tips to keep in mind when outlining, writing, editing, and revising your college application essay.

1. Hook the reader in during your introduction

Your college essay must start with a strong introduction paragraph. The first paragraph should hook your reader in, set the tone for your paper, and give the reader an idea of what is to come. Spend some time in your first sentences providing a background for your narrative. You may choose to set the scene through vivid imagery. You can also hook your reader in through a personal anecdote. Do not shy away from vulnerability, as emotional details offer the reader an opportunity to relate to your story and understand who you are on a deeper level.

2. Tell a story and show off your writing skills

The body paragraphs can describe an event, person, or memory that has shaped your life. You can also choose to detail a challenge, fear, or obstacle that you have overcome. Regardless of the essay’s subject matter, you should take advantage of the opportunity to show off your writing skills.

If you are skilled with artistic language, dedicate space on the page to describing the sensory details or emotional peaks in your story. If you favor analytic language, you can work to provide background information and build connections in a thoughtful way. Be sure that your authorial voice is true to you.

Your college admissions essay does not need to be happy or flowery in style. It should be genuine to who you are, offering a realistic and interesting look into what you bring to a college campus. As you tell your story, consider details that bring your voice to life.

3. Spend time reflecting

Another essential tip to keep in mind as you write your body paragraphs is to spend time reflecting. If you write an essay about a mistake you made without reflecting on your personal growth, the college admissions counselor may question how you would serve as a positive addition to their campus.

Your college essay should tell a story about something (or someone) that has impacted your life. While many students will make errors by avoiding talking about themselves, be sure that you spend significant time in your college paper talking about yourself!

4. Talk about your future

One more tip concerns the conclusion of your college application essay. Sometimes, ending the paper can be the most challenging part of your writing process. You may ask, “How do I wrap this all up?” An excellent finish to your paper will include a discussion of your future. Remember, the college admissions counselor reading your work wants to know how you will contribute to their campus. You may utilize your concluding paragraph to state exactly how you plan to make your mark at their school.

What is the Ideal Length for a College Application Essay?

When you read the prompts for each college application essay, you will likely find a maximum word count. Some colleges provide a range in words that they expect from application essays.

If the prompt includes a minimum word count, you should write within the given range. Do not write less than the minimum number of words suggested in the prompt. You should do your best to take advantage of every inch of space available to you on the page.

Your work must come as close to the maximum word limit as possible. You should not go over the maximum word count, as the submission portal may automatically cut your writing off, or your admissions counselor may not finish reading your work.

The Perfect College Application Essay: Do’s and Don’ts to Keep in Mind


1. Format your college application essay properly

Some submission portals will ask you to upload your college application essay. The safest way to upload your work is in the form of a PDF. Be sure that the image is of high resolution, and always check that your work does not distort when converting the document format. Check the instructions for submission to ensure that the online application portal accepts the format you plan to submit. Write your college application essay in black 12-point font. Choose a basic font, like Times New Roman. It is a good idea to double space your work (so it is easy to read) and include page numbers.

Other submission portals may ask students to copy and paste their work into a text box. If this is the case, be sure that your formatting is easy to understand. Line breaks should clearly distinguish one paragraph from another. Avoid italicized and bolded fonts, as they do not properly convert when pasting text into a text box.

2. Stand out amongst the thousands of papers your reader is evaluating

Writing a college application essay that is vulnerable, honest, and organized should be your priority. Look for opportunities to write about something unique to you. It would help if you looked for moments in your work to pull the reader in and leave an impression.


1. Go over the word count

Again, submitting an essay that passes the maximum word count is never a good idea. If you are unable to fit everything you want to say into the prompted word count, consider how to improve the concision of your writing. Avoid submission portals chopping the end of your essay off or admissions counselors skipping your last paragraphs by adhering to the instructed maximums.

2. Avoid talking about yourself

The goal of the essay should be to provide an idea of who you are. Whether you are writing about a person that changed your life, an event that shaped you, or a challenge that changed who you are, the reader wants to know how the narrative circles back to you. You may write an incredible paper about your trip to Guatemala, your soccer coach, or your favorite book, but regardless of the subject, your paper should always focus on the impact that “thing” had on you.

As you write your college application essay, consider these tips! You can learn more about college applications and essays through FLEX College Prep’s Admissions Consulting. Utilize the advice from former admissions counselors to increase your chances of admissions. Our essay specialists will guide you every step of the way to ensure your college application essay is competitive. Try FLEX College Prep to boost your chances of admission and refine your essay writing process!