How to conquer your admissions essay

Feature photo: how to conquer your admissions essay.

Here at CSU, we’re not just looking for students who know how to sit through classes and ace exams. We want those that bring something unique to the table and add to an already vibrant place.

That’s why the essay portion of your application, something we refer to as your Personal Statement, is so important. It’s the best way to stand out, show us who you are, and demonstrate why you should be here.

You know it’s important and that fact alone can make it stressful. Don’t worry though — our admissions counselors have you covered. Use their top tips below to make your essay stand out.

1. Make it all about you

A personal statement is the story of you.

Writing about yourself may feel awkward, but keep in mind that this portion of your application is one of the only ways counselors get to hear directly from you. Keeping the focus on yourself is important. It’s not wrong to tell us how much a personal hero or inspiring person impacted you, but be sure to avoid turning your statement into theirs.

Getting personal can also feel risky, especially if your topic includes details you wouldn’t normally share. Rest assured that our counselors will respect and honor your story by keeping it private. 

PRO TIP: Read your draft thoroughly. If you’re talking about someone else more than yourself, it’s time to turn the attention back to you.

2. Don’t start typing yet

You’ve heard it before. Begin to organize your thoughts before jumping in head first. Writing your application essay is no different.

Before you touch that keyboard, do this first:

  1. Jot down what makes you who you are. It could be a big success, a memorable failure, a part of your identity, or something you’ve spent a lot of time and energy on.
  2. Make lists with your thoughts and feelings around each of these topics. Don’t be selective when building the lists — just write down 5-10 things that come to mind.
  3. Now that you have some loose thoughts around different areas, choose the topic that best represents what you’ll bring to the table as a student. It might be something different than any other student or just the topic that is closest to your heart.
  4. Take your list of thoughts and feelings around your topic and build an outline. Try to find a common thread that ties all of your thoughts together into a coherent story.

Now, let the typing begin.

PRO TIP: Can’t decide which topic is best? Bounce your ideas off of a teacher, coach, or family member.

3. No one wants to read a novel

When we’re under pressure to write something amazing, two things can sometimes happen:

  1. We clam up and can’t think of anything to say.
  2. We get anxious and add too many details, too many examples, and flat out too many words.

Although writer’s block is awful, writing too much will turn your essay into a snorefest.

Talk to any admissions counselor and you’ll hear the same thing: narrow your essay down to the recommended limit and don’t go over it. If you need help cutting it down, our last two tips might come in handy.

PRO TIP: If a part of your essay doesn’t clearly connect to your main topic, that’s a good indication it’s time to cut it out.

4. Stick to your own words

Have a famous quote or two that speaks to you? As you consider adding one to your essay, keep in mind that admissions counselors see a lot of quotes. Unless it’s a real game-changer, we’d rather hear what you have to say.

PRO TIP: Instead of famous quotes, share your own personal motto.

5. Catchy phrases aren’t that catchy

“Global perspective.” “Leader of tomorrow.” “Real-world experience.”

These phrases may seem great at first, but they really don’t tell us much.

Dense words and catchy phrases are not required to craft an essay that stands out. If they don’t resonate with you and truly add details to the conversation, don’t use them.

PRO TIP: If you’re having trouble finding the right word, look for synonyms using an online thesaurus.

6. Your draft reader should be someone who knows you well

Do you have a teacher or coach you’re pretty close to? A school counselor that has helped you wade through post-high school options? Ask them to look over your draft.

They’ll be able to tell if you’re bringing your best self forward and will also know you well enough to be honest. They can help you cut down the parts of the essay that, upon second glance, aren’t all that necessary.

PRO TIP: Our admissions counselors are here to help as well.

7. Proofread, proofread, and proofread again

Misspelled words, run-on sentences, and even mentioning the wrong university — yep, we’ve seen it all. Proof your essay before you turn it in or it could turn a counselor’s smile upside down.

PRO TIP: Use an online service like Grammarly to help find simple errors you can correct. It won’t replace proofreading, but it might give you a head start.

Writing the essay can be tough, but it’s not the only thing we need to see from you. Make sure you’re on track with the other application items by checking your application guide.