Tackling the College Essay


Hello, high school seniors! This one’s for you…

At this point, many of you are already up to your eyeballs in the college planning and application process—and that means lots of essay writing. Sure, all of the brainstorming, writing, and re-writing may seem tedious now, but your essays are an extremely important piece of your application. Our first piece of advice: Make sure to treat each essay as an opportunity to share more about yourself, beyond just test scores and GPA.

Here in the JHU Admissions Office, we read A LOT of essays and, quite honestly, it’s our favorite part of the application. We discover what makes you tick, what you are passionate about, and why Hopkins is the perfect place for you to live and learn for the next four years of your life.

So how exactly do you go about conveying that very message to our Admissions Counselors? Here are a few tips to help you nail your college essays (straight from our Admissions Counselors themselves!):

  • Write about your personal experiences. You can write about a family member, coach, teacher, etc., but we are looking to admit you, not your grandmother.
  • Don’t try and include everything. Focus on one topic, not everything you’ve been involved in during high school. Essays are a chance to elaborate on something that is important to you.
  • Tell us something about you that we won’t get to see anywhere else in the application. Listing extracurricular involvements again is a missed opportunity to show a different aspect of you.
  • Pull us in from the beginning. An attention-grabbing intro is the first stop to a memorable essay. We read thousands of applications and your GPA and testing are important, but not what sets you apart—that is your essay.
  • Answer the question that is being asked in the prompt.
  • Be conscious of hot topic issues and potentially controversial topics (politics, religion, war, pending/recently passed legislation). If an opinion or idea is an important part of who you are, don’t be afraid to write about, but be sure to be respectful of both sides of any issue and remember that regardless of your individual opinions, your essay is a professional document.
  • Write naturally. Use your voice to show your personality. Be expressive, but your goal shouldn’t be to dazzle us with your word choice (or command of a thesaurus).
  • Be you. Your essay can be funny, if that is your personality. But if you don’t consider yourself funny, this isn’t the space to try to be.
  • Edit and proofread your essays carefully. Then have someone else, preferably a teacher or counselor, edit and proofread them as well. Spell-check doesn’t catch everything.

If you are still in search of some inspiration, check out our Essays that Worked page. Each year our Admissions staff selects a few essays from admitted students that really stood out. We even tell you why we liked them. Happy writing!

8 thoughts on “Tackling the College Essay

  1. Thank you! This is exactly what I needed to reassure my self that my essay has everything Hopkins looks for!

  2. “Tell us something about you that we won’t get to see anywhere else in the essay.”…..should read “…..anywhere else in your application.”



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