How to Approach the College Essay Writing Process

The first step to writing a successful college application essay or personal statement is learning how to tell your story.

In this article by Alice van Harten, P.h.D., you’ll learn about a writing style that you can use to communicate your story in a simple, organic way, along with some tips and techniques for overcoming writer’s block and working through the creative process.

“I will help you share your experiences without feeling like you have to impress anyone or change anything about yourself. During our conversations, you may even forget that you’re working on an essay, which means you’re on the right path. When you’re comfortable, it’s easier to open up and share the things that define you. I’ll help you bring your experiences to life in your essay, supporting you throughout the writing process and helping you find your voice.”


Showcasing your experiences

I’ll ask you to tell me about your family background. What were your parents and grandparents like? Were you in a privileged position growing up or did you have to fight to get a good education? What did you and your friends spend time together doing? Questions like these will help us identify your core experiences, the parts of your life that have shaped who you are.

At first, all you need to do is talk and write about your authentic memories, without worrying about how they’ll “look” in an essay. You’ll share your thoughts, and I’ll take the lead on developing a strategy for your essays and what we’re going to emphasize.

Overcoming writer’s block

Early in the writing process, you shouldn’t worry about things like word count. Just allow yourself to write. Write more than you think you need to, without editing or changing anything. It’s better to have extra material to work with than not enough. I can always help remove irrelevant detail during the editing.

If you get stuck, try writing through the problem and about the problem. Explaining why you’re stuck can can help you move forward and discover new connections.

The cause of writer’s block varies, so I tailor my strategies to my individual clients. If a client feels intimidated by the idea of admissions officers reading her essay, I will ask her to think of me as her audience. Sometimes I send a list of questions to a client to answer, and he goes one by one, writing his responses or sharing them during a phone call. It all depends on which technique will best unlock the potential of a given client.

Trusting in the process

I’ve worked with many writers — excellent writers and writers who struggle to put their thoughts on paper — which means I’ve witnessed a lot of clients complete the writing process from start to finish. I know that eventually the story will come and that you can trust the same will happen for you.

The writing process can be daunting. It’s a challenge to tackle the big questions, to create an engaging opening, and to hold the reader’s attention throughout your essay. You also want to be sure you answer the prompt accurately and don’t get caught up spending too much time on a topic that’s not relevant or that’s already showcased in resume or somewhere else in the application.

But putting together a successful essay is also deeply rewarding. Uncovering your authentic story not only makes your application stronger, it also can help you focus your academic and personal goals, making you a stronger candidate in interviews and a better participant in your undergraduate studies.

Remember, the best personal statement is the one that addresses the question in a way that is tied in to your personal experience.

Explore how college admissions consulting can simplify your application process. Connect with our experienced College Consultants for personalized guidance today.