How to Write the Perfect College Essay


Peter Kelleher tirelessly working to complete his college application essays.

Jacob Reeves, Journalist

The blinking type line, an indicator of the progress you have made so far, stares back at you from it’s position in the top left corner of your screen. Your page is blank, and you have no idea how to start. “Getting those first few words down is one of the most important steps in writing your essay,” Jeanine McDonnell, from the Atlas Center for Educational Success says. “To get your first words down, just start spitting out whatever is on your mind. Don’t worry about grammar, number of words, or making it perfect. Change all of that after you get things onto the page,” she explains.

Jeanine provides students in the Olympia area with assistance in all aspects of college applications, including SAT preparation and essay writing classes. She also has years of experience reviewing essays for admittance to colleges, and has very helpful insight and tips for students that want to stand out from the crowd. “You don’t have to have the most interesting story to stand out in essay writing; you just need to tell the story well,” she remarks. Jeanine has a few key rules that she has students follow when writing essays for applications, rules that can make or break an essay. “First, show, don’t tell. If you want to show how you are great at rolling with the punches, don’t say: I am good at rolling with the punches. That is telling and breaks the flow of your essay. Second, vary the length of your sentences. Build emotions by shrinking the size of your sentences. Third, vary your word choice. Say the same word three times in a paragraph and it feels like a million. Finally, think about your senses in your story and use them to paint a picture. If you’re baking bread, make the reader feel the flour on your hands and smell the yeast.” Wrapping up your essay in a profound and impactful way can often be difficult, and she believes that “Concluding a college essay in a strong way is different for each person.” Jeanine has students consider what they are trying to accomplish in the story, and suggests to “highlight that in the last two sentences.”

Peter Kelleher, Senior, has been working very hard to fine-tune his essays for college applications. He feels that he has a method for brainstorming that has worked well for him, explaining, “I just think about the core aspects of my personality, and then I think about the different stories I could tell that would exemplify those traits.” Although the process of coming to an idea is essential, Kelleher believes that the most important part of your essay is “the part where you reflect about yourself.” He states, “The story is important to set up, but it’s all about how it ties in with your personality.” 

Genevive Nguyen, Senior, agrees that telling an authentic and personal story is very important. “I would say that it’s all about details,” Nguyen comments. “Especially showing how you learned something, not just saying what you learned. Details are the only thing that makes stories interesting to others.” Encouragingly, she says that “People always think the things they do in their lives are super uninteresting, but other people might find those things to be super interesting. You just have to be as genuine as you can.” Lucy Kuhn, Senior, adds “I think honestly you have to bare your soul. I feel like that’s the vibe.”