What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

What Admissions Officers Look for in Your College Essay?

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Anna Smist, a Yale Admissions Officer, in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.


What’s Covered:



When it comes time to submit these essays, you will either be applying through QuestBridge, the coalition application, or the common application. Essays are one of the most important portions of a student’s college application. They present an irreplaceable opportunity to paint a picture for the admissions officers of who you are. College essays do pose their unique set of challenges, but there are tricks to help students with this process. 


Writing About Specific Moments


To get started, think about the purpose behind these essays. A student has about 500 words or less to convey their story to admissions officers. When you’re writing, your topic doesn’t have to be about anything specific; it can be more general. Some of the best essays students have submitted were not about detailed descriptions of their interests but an experience.


You can start with a general topic, such as your interests or extracurricular activities, and then dive deeper into a specific experience you had in one of those topics. An example could be writing about a relationship that you have with someone, but, instead of talking about the relationship, you can reflect on a conversation you had with them. This will bring a personal aspect to the essay and make the reader feel more connected to you as the writer. Similar things can be done with places. If you want to write about a place that has meaning to you, you can dive into a particular event that happened at that location and why it has meaning to you. Your essays are all about bringing the reader into your life, and the best way to accomplish that is by writing about specific events.


Appealing To Admissions Officers


Making Your Story Unique


Students shouldn’t write about anything too general, and there are no cookie-cutter expectations for students’ essay topics. When you approach your essays, try to write about something only you can talk about. There are thousands of students writing about the same topic as you are, so you have to find a way to differentiate yourself from the others. This is what admissions officers are looking for in your essays. They want to read about a unique story or memory that no other student could have written about except for you. 


Let Your Voice Shine Through


Ultimately, when it comes from your voice or your view, it’s going to sound unique and different. Think about books and movies. Many are over the same topic, but the way the story is told matters a lot. When you read a novel from the first-person perspective, you get inside that person’s head for a moment and get to see how they think. Reading essays is something admissions officers really like because they get to know the student. When you are writing your essay, make sure your voice comes through. Admissions officers want to know what kind of student you are and how you will fit into their campus community. The best way for them to understand this is through your essays. 


Students often share topics or stories that the admissions officers might not be familiar with. For example, when writing about your diverse experience in terms of sexuality, gender, or race, the admissions officer reading it might not be familiar with your exact experience. No matter your topic, make sure you provide some context to your essays so that no matter who the admissions officer is, your story will come across.


If you’re looking for some examples of college essays to help get you started, check out this post: 19 Stellar Common App Essay Examples.