Tips and Advice Blog

Expert Tips for Writing a Fantastic Essay

Amy Tiberio, Dean of Admission

No matter where admission professionals go, the college essay tends to be the most talked about component of the college application. The college essay has had a long and storied history in this process. Ask some, and it is the single most important aspect that can completely make or break an admission decision. Ask others, and it is an insignificant piece that is barely even read.

The truth is actually somewhere in the middle: Yes, the college essay is important. Be thoughtful and spend the appropriate amount of time and care on it. And, yes, the essay can affect your admission decision or scholarships awarded. But how much weight the essay has will depend on the individual applicant, and on each college’s admission process.

Specific to the RWU process, the essay is always read (by multiple people) and definitely considered as part of our holistic admission review. Essentially, what this means is that we are interested in taking every piece of information and all context into consideration so that we are making an admission decision on the whole person, not just on some formula of GPA and test scores.

Here are a few tips to take into consideration on crafting a great essay:

Choose a topic about you. The first challenge for many students is simply figuring out what to write about. One way you can approach this is by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What’s the one thing I want the admission committee to know about me?
  • What do I care deeply about, or in other words, what would I not want to live without?
  • When I reflect on my past, what experiences or moments have defined who I am or who I want to become?
  • If someone who knows me well had to describe me to someone else, what would they say?

These prompts can help you identify your distinctiveness and most meaningful experiences.  And, the more you genuinely care about the topic, the better your essay will be. Most importantly, make the essay about you, not about what you think we want to hear. Being genuine helps us really get to know you and lets us imagine how you will be as a student on our campus.

Tell us a story. Storytelling dates back to ancient times, and it is likely our oldest and longest-lasting human tradition. There is a reason for this: everyone loves a good story. We all love to go on the journey through a beginning (introduces the setting and sets the context), a middle (takes us through a “conflict”), and an ending (offers the resolution). Think about this structure as the vehicle for addressing the topic you identified by following the advice above.

Be multi-dimensional. Think about the things that the admission committee will already know about you from your college application: activity list, demographics and family information, transcript, recommendation letters. Is there anything important about you that is not introduced by these? For example, if you are a dedicated, 3-sport athlete and known in your high school community for being an athlete, these application components will tell that story loud and clear. But, perhaps you are also an amateur photographer who is always the one taking family photos at parties and gatherings. It is always refreshing for us to read an essay about something like that versus reading an essay that reinforces something you already told us about. 

Conclude with a good “So what.” No matter your topic, be sure to end your essay with a tie to who you are now, and the way your story relates to your upcoming college experience. Has the experience inspired your major? Have you learned some key lesson that shapes the type of person you’ll become? Beyond assessing your writing ability, the admission committee uses your essay to better understand the type of community member you will be and the contributions you will bring to the campus. 

Take your time with your essay and know that it’s normal to hit writing blocks. You may need to step away and come back to it as part of your writing process. Reading it out loud is a good way to assess your writing and make tweaks.It will likely take several drafts and time for reflection and revising. And, don’t forget that we are here to help. We love to talk about essays with you. We invite you to reach out to your assigned admission counselor if you want advice or expert guidance with your topic or writing along the way.

Everyone has a story to tell, and we can’t wait to read yours!

Tips and Advice Blog