Tips for a Good College Essay
Hamilton: Words Matter
As a college with a long tradition of emphasizing writing and speaking as cornerstone values, we like to say that students come to Hamilton to find their voice. In our admission process, we seek students who embody that aspiration and demonstrate that potential in their application essays and short-answers, and their communication with us.
But don’t let that intimidate you. Really good writing is hard, and takes lots of practice (and you will get plenty of that in college!). We do not expect perfection, but we do hope to get to know you a little bit better through your writing. Think of it as your chance to have a voice, and a seat at the table with the admission committee who is reading your application. What do you want them to know about you?
The Hamilton Admission Team offers these tips for you to consider when sitting down to write your college application essays.
College Essay Tips
- It goes without saying that your essay needs to be written by you. Believe it or not, the voice of a teenager is very different from a parent’s, and we’ve gotten pretty good at spotting the differences.
- Choose a topic that’s right for YOU – something about which you’re passionate. If you’re not interested in what you’re writing about, chances are no one will be interested in reading it. The best ideas for topics come when you least expect them...write them down as soon as you are inspired, and keep a running list on your phone.
- Share something that’s unique to your experience, or information that we’re unlikely to learn about you elsewhere in your application. Most important is for you to be real and be yourself; unless you want to be a theatre major, it is way too hard to try to be what you think we want you to be. (And, truly, we just want you to be you.)
- In sharing something about yourself, you don’t need to share everything about yourself. It is ok to be personal, and writing about growth and mistakes is good (perhaps even welcomed); but resist the urge to be too casual or to over-share.
- If you are passionate about an issue, don’t avoid it because it may be controversial. At the same time, your essay topic does not have to be world-changing and does not have to demonstrate you are perfect. Sometimes the simplest topic leads to the best essay.
- Be a good storyteller. Use a strong opener – catch our attention right from the start. Poignant moments in time, with a little bit of reflection, often make great essays.
- Show rather than tell. Use anecdotes, examples, and descriptions. Make it your best, most engaging writing. Trim the fat. (And resist the urge to use the thesaurus!)
- Revise often and early, proofread carefully, read it aloud, and don’t be afraid to start over. It is ok to have someone else look over the essay to help you catch things you missed, but don’t over-edit and make it sound like a research paper.
- Remember, substance and voice are better than perfection.
- You’ve got a great essay in you!
Essays that Worked
We have collected just a few of the exceptional essays written by newly enrolled Hamilton students (with their permission, of course). They offer a glimpse into the diverse backgrounds and experiences, as well as the writing talents, of our newest Hamiltonians. Enjoy!
Seven Sins of Writing
We're here to help! Avoid common writing pitfalls in your college essay by using this popular resource from our Writing Center.