10 Tips for writing an unforgettable college essay

By Kristin Diekevers ’07, Associate Director of Admissions

A 17-year old me is sitting at my basement computer, fingers lightly touching the good ol’ Gateway keyboard from yesteryear and…nothing. I’m blank. I’m here to write my college essay, and I’m straining not only on the first sentence, but the topic itself. Sound familiar?

The Common Application is set to go live August 1; it’s time to think about your college essay. Thrilling, right? I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be painful, and it can even be enlightening.

After a decade of reading thousands of college essays submitted to Hope College for admission, here are my top 10 Tips for Writing an Unforgettable College Essay:

  1. Your topic is not OSFA (One Size Fits All). Ask yourself this question: can anyone else write this essay? If the answer is yes, it’s back to the drawing board. Sure others may have a similar topic, but the way you tell your story should be uniquely you.
  2. We want the feels from the start. How do you want us to feel after reading your introduction? Are we balancing on a cliff eager to find out what comes next? Are we shocked by your personal admission? Are we nervous standing on stage with you at your first high school musical? An emotional connection leaves us excited to continue reading.
  3. Reeeelllllaaaaxxxx. Right now, you have time on your side. If you’re feeling wound up trying to organize your thoughts, just start writing and concern yourself with structure later. If writing in your bedroom makes you feel isolated and stuck, a change of scenery could help. It might even be that typing on a computer seems too permanent; grab a notebook and pencil instead.
  4. Review, revise, repeat x3. Remember Writer’s Workshop in elementary school? The writing process is important and should certainly be applied to your college essay, so be sure to proofread after each draft. You may have to rewrite entire sections of your essay, and though it can be frustrating, the end result will be something you’re proud to submit.
  5. It’s not a text, tweet or #nofilter. Don’t write like it is. You must use capital letters and punctuation. A series of generic one-liners will not produce a cohesive story nor can 140 characters. You may find inspiration through your social media, but put your filter on knowing your writing will be read by professionals.
  6. Develop your narrative. No term papers allowed. I have no doubt you did your research when you wrote about Kate Chopin’s motivation for writing The Awakening or the religious principles of the Puritans who settled in the United States. I will also be eager to learn about this when we talk. For your college essay, though, it’s all about painting a picture through the story you tell.
  7. Does your essay sound like you? It should. Over your high school career you have developed your own writing style, your own voice. That includes how you organize your thoughts, use punctuation, and what words you use (and don’t use). If one of your editors suggests a word that you know instantly doesn’t sound like you, don’t take his/her advice.
  8. We’ve read the rest of your application. Don’t pretend like we haven’t. When you apply for a job, your cover letter should not simply restate everything that can be found on your resume. Similarly, I end an application review by reading the essay. Though you may highlight an event or activity listed in your application, it should not be a summary of it or what you gained from each activity of which you were a part.
  9. Who else has read it? Admissions committees are made up of diverse individuals and personalities. It’s important the people reading your essay before you turn it in are diverse too. Choose people who know you well (parent, grandparent, teacher, coach, youth pastor) and those who don’t (a parent’s co-worker, a teacher’s spouse, the gang who has coffee with your grandpa every Friday morning). Collect their feedback and refer to #4 above.
  10. All good things must come to an end…a really good one. It’s time to wrap it up no more than 650 words later. Ending your story well is as important as starting it. Establish your take-aways and remember those feels.

Keep this in mind: your essay will be one piece of your larger application, and for most colleges, it will not be the sole item that makes (or breaks) your chances for admission. Head over to Common Application and get started (or continue) telling your story.

What to Expect for First Year Advising

Freshman advising is an incredibly laid back experience. The process depends on whether you declare a major your first year.

Not sure on your major yet?

If you don’t declare a major your first year, your advisor won’t change. Your First Year Seminar professor will be your advisor until you declare your major. There’s no need to worry if you don’t know what you’re going to major in, most programs can still be completed in four years if you declare your sophomore (and in some cases, junior) year. Before classes even begin (during Orientation week), you are required to meet with your advisor to go over the classes you’re enrolled in. Then, at the end of your first semester (and all semesters to follow), you are required to again meet with your professor and go through the classes you’re planning on taking for the following semester.

Declare a major

You can request a professor from the department for your major directly on the major declaration sheet, or you may be assigned an advising professor. You should meet with your new advisor, especially if you’ve never met them before, just so the two of you can get to know each other outside of the constraints of a classroom. From there, your advisor can give you specific, thoughtful advice regarding your major, and the classes they believe would be best for you.

Your advisor is the person who can help you with just about anything and everything. They’re there for you and they want to help you, and watch you succeed. They can help you figure out what classes would be best for you and help you find internships and summer jobs. They can be excellent references on resumes, and a great source of guidance.

Your responsibilities are to take initiative in scheduling appointments and having a valid reason to meet with your advisor. Whatever you schedule an appointment for, you should be prepared for the meeting. For example, when you have your semestral meeting with your advisor regarding classes to take, you should have the classes you’re planning on taking already in mind to share with them.

Exploring majors

Hope’s liberal arts emphasis allows you to explore multiple possible majors, while still working towards graduation. This means that you’re free to take courses ranging from the arts to math, and still receive helpful credits along the way. Hope also offers a career development center where you can take tests that show you which field you would be best in. Your advisor is another great source of advice when exploring majors and planning for your future. 

Fly-In Weekend

This past weekend “Fly-In Weekend” happened and I was one of your hosts, so if you are prospective student, this is something that you may want to think about.

The Fly-In program kicked off on Thursday night at 7:00 p.m., where the visiting students gathered with their hosts in front of the fireplace in Phelps Dining Hall. By the way, it is called Fly-in Weekend because students fly in to Hope from all different states, like New York, Utah or California. Continuing back, we gathered at 7 p.m. to play some ice breaking game and to have a little informative session of what is happening for next 48 hours the stay.

On Friday, the prospective students had an all-day program and then we went to a basketball game. The day starts at 8:30 a.m., where there is a student panels, actual classes visits, campus tour and trip in the Holland area and to the beach. The we went to a dinner and 7:30 p.m. basketball game. The next day, they were flying back to their respective states.

It is a great event for anybody who really wants to experience a Hope College over the night. You sleep with an actual student for two nights and everything is set up for you. So definitely something to think about if you are highly interested in Hope College.

How Do You Make Summer Internship a Reality as an International Student at Hope College?

Internships are part of the college experience for many students. A lot of students do not start to think about it until later in their college careers, so it is unique for me, since I am only a freshman. At least that’s what the Career Development Center said when entered their office in October 2015. Nevertheless, here is what does it take to make a summer internship a reality from the international student standpoint.

All international students studying in the United States are on a student F-1 Visa, which strictly disallows work outside of campus. This is because the primary purpose of the student is to study, not to work, which make sense, but it just makes things complicated for international students. So in order to have summer internship outside college campus, the international students need to plan the internship through school and make it part of a class or/and major requirement.

Firstly, students need to declare a major. Without declaring a major, international students are unable to “connect” the internship to a school experience. When the student declares a major, one gets a adviser.

Secondly, the adviser within the major helps the student pick the summer internship class. Also, this adviser is the college official that evaluates and grades student’s work.

Thirdly, the international student gets one page CPT (Curricular Practical Training)* from from the International Office. The student fills it out together with the academic adviser.

Next, the student registers for summer internship class, ranging from 1-4 credits.

Lastly, the company or firm sends a letter confirming details of the student´s employment, which is required with as part of CPT form. So when student gets the letter, one turns it in together with the CPT form to the international student office.

And there you go. Internship is all set up.

*CPT is a “a work authorization that will allow you to do internship”

Sukumar, Raghuram. “What Is the Difference Between OPT and CPT?” Happy Schools. Happy Schools, 13 Nov. 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.

What Is the Best Way for Men to Dress for a College Interview and Visit?

We all know this saying. Never judge a book based on its cover. In regards of life, it is a good motto, but if we are talking about a formal event like the college interview or visit, students should dress appropriately.

The key is appropriately. The definition by Dictionary.com states:  suitable or fitting for a particular purpose, person, occasion, etc.

We can all agree that students, in order to make the best impression, need to dress formally. By saying formally, I am referring these basic rules:

  • Students should realize that one is still a “student”, not a businessman. A student is representing himself, not a company or corporation. On the other hand students should not wear outfit similar to this.
  • Sweatpants, or very loose hoodie is too informal of an outfit. Especially hoodies or sweatpants that have a different logo of another college or university.

Here is my recommendation of three appropriate outfits that are based of formality and seriousness.

This the most formal outfit.

Outfit number 1.
Outfit number 1.

A sport jacket with not ripped jeans without a tie shows a seriousness of a student. Students do not have to wear necessarily a button up shirt because a sport jacket looks excellent just with a white or green t-shirt, like it is in the picture below.

Outfit number 1 in a different example.
Outfit number 1 in a different example.

Next outfit is simple, wear jeans with a shirt rolled up to the elbows. This outfit feels very elegant, simple, and free. If one wants be extra fashionable then student should match the color of shoes with the color of the belt.

Outfit number 2.
Outfit number 2.

Lastly, the least formal outfit, but still very sharp and appropriate for a college interview and visit is; pants not jeans with a polo shirt. Do not wear jeans because polo shirt is casual enough, so with a jeans it would be too “average” or too “causal”. Use formal pants (not dress up or suit type of paints) to match the color of polo t-shirt.

Outfit number 3.
Outfit number 3.

Things to avoid.

Do not wear sneakers. Shoes are very important with to an outfit and sneakers are too causal especially with sport coat or formal shirt. In Czech we have saying that based of the shoes you can tell the character of the person. For example, leather shoes are an excellent choice.

Do not wear extravagant accessories. It is normal to have watches or some kind of necklace, bracket, but remember that you are a student trying to impress a college.

Do not wear white Nike or Adidas workout socks. It is just painful to watch someone nicely dress up with a white Nike socks and it also looks awful.

Lastly, dress in colors and type of cloth that you feel comfortable, and which matches. Do not try to be someone else.

What Are Good and Bad Questions to Ask During the Campus College Visit?

People say that there are no bad questions – which can be true in the classroom – but during a college visit it is not exactly like truth. Let me give you an example. Below is a easy accessible screenshot of the Hope College profile.

Profile of Hope College
Profile of Hope College (source: collegedata.com)
  • How many students are attending Hope College?
  • What is the women/men ratio?
  • What is the cost of attendance?

These are good examples of bad questions because they refer to information which is already very accessible. It shows that the student has not done that much research about Hope College, which also illustrates the level of interest.

On the other hand, here is an example of a good questions:

  • What makes Hope College better than other liberal arts colleges?
  • What opportunities are there for at Hope College for summer research?
  • Does Hope College have a strong alumni network?

It is not about doing hours of research about the college. If one spends about one hour of searching for the basic school information, then the student should have a good idea about the college. Also, I would not give that much credit to reviews of colleges because everyone is different and students visit & attend colleges for different interests and purposes.

Lastly, avoid questions about things which are on the official website or another college profile website. Come with questions which will make the tour guide or college representative think.

What Does It Take to Write an Excellent College Application Essay?

College Essay Topic. It is a dilemma of every student applying to college. Is there a “good” or “bad” topic?

A college essay is a place where the admission representative has a chance to “meet” the applicant more closely. That being said, what is it that make a college essay successful?

A successful essay will reveal something about you that the admissions reader may not have already known, and will show how you interact with family and friends and demonstrate your beliefs or explore your passions.”

In other words, a lot of people write about their activity, beliefs, lessons learned or some sort of story. It is relatively easy to write about something that happened. But the key is to use a passion, relationship or belief to highlight oneself from other applicants through that experience that happen.  To reveal something new about oneself.

On the other hand, here is what to NOT pick for an essay topic.

“ Avoid writing about things like scoring the winning goal, topics of public consciousness like natural disasters, or something that happened to you in middle school. Also, avoid gimmicks like writing in a different language, presenting your essay as a poem, or anything else that is stylistically “out of the box.” Your focus should be on the message rather than the presentation.”

It is too basic and too cliché write about winning goal or for example community service. Yes, it is great that applicant is doing well in sports and contributing to the community, but another thousands people do it as well and. It does not differentiate or make stand out the applicant from others.

Here is great video by Princeton Review that will answer some of your questions about the college application essay.

Key takeaways

  • Perfect college essay does not exist
  • Do not write about what you think that college wants to hear
  • Be yourself, be honest.
  • Honesty about oneself, one’s life, personality and feeling brings uniquest/originality
  • Uniqueness and originality is what makes college essay stand out from others 


Cohen, Kat, Dr. “The Best and Worst Topics for a College Application Essay.”       Noodle. Noodle, 22 Apr. 2015. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.