College Application and Essay Tips

College Application and Essay Tips

Madison Harman, Editor

As 16, 17, and 18 year olds, we are either becoming or already painfully aware of the fact that college applications and essays are not an easy thing to complete on your own. A college application and essay should not become victims of procrastination because, whether we want to believe it or not,  they play a vital role in beginning our future.

Once I began applying to colleges and writing my essays, I would see small headlines on websites entitled Do’s and Don’ts for Applying to College. At first, I ignored them, but as the year went on and my stress level increased, I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to get some help. I visited multiple websites, the guidance office, and a few teachers throughout the school. They helped me so much, and I hope that after reading their advice and visiting a few of these links below, you will learn something new to help you get accepted to college.

Application Tips:
Before you even begin applying to college, consider the following factors: location, size of college, admissions requirements, academics, college expenses, financial aid, and housing. The College Board website will provide help decide what you want, and give you a list of colleges that fit your desires.
College Board is most commonly known for SAT registration, but it has more to offer than that. Below is a link to a section of tips and reminders to follow in order to successfully complete and send your application.


Essay Tips:
The link below has 10 tips that you should avoid while writing your college essay. These tips range from writing topics to grammar advice.


Next is another College Board page that has multiple links. I read through five or six different pages and I couldn’t pick just one to share. Although some information is repeated, each link has something new to offer.



The following information comes from a handout that Mrs. Boozer,  guidance counselor, had given me after one of my visits to her office. It’s very common for a college to give an extremely vague essay topic, and sometimes even let you pick one completely on your own. Knowing how to handle that freedom appropriately is vital.

“When picking a topic to write about and even answering a prompt that’s already provided, you have to remember that there are thousands of kids out there who will be writing about winning the big game, or a teacher that influenced them. My best advice is to dig deeper, tell a story, and show your colors – while being respectable, of course.” – Allen Grove, College Admissions Expert

Grove strongly suggested throughout his article to avoid the following topics:

1. Any alcohol or drug use – even if it’s something you’ve overcome
Expressing your use of illegal substances or underage consumption isn’t exactly the best way to catch a college’s attention, at least not the attention that you want.
2. Run-ins with the law
Everybody makes mistakes, and sometimes that includes breaking laws. Although colleges understand that, it’s definitely not something you should include in your essay.
3. Don’t Be a Hero
This one is tricky because being a hero in a situation is definitely something worth telling, but reminiscing on your heroism can sometimes lead to being arrogant. If this is a topic you choose, I strongly suggest you have teachers look over it multiple times.
4. Lectures
Sure, it’s extremely possible to write an amazing essay on topics concerning abortion, gun control, and war, but it’s extremely common for the writer to become too involved with the topic and show their opinion more than facts. It’s important to remember that the people who view your essay may not agree with your opinions, especially if you’re planning on venturing away from a small town and entering a larger city.
5. Self-Pity
It’s extremely common for writers to pick very tragic events from their life, like depression and other heavy topics. Allen Grove strongly advised avoiding these topics because, in his words, “they might make your reader question how ready you are for the social and academic rigors of college.”
6. Travel Journal
A travel essay is another essay that works exceptionally well when done correctly. An essay on this topic should include details about a meaningful experience. It should not be a logged summary of your trip.
7. Excuses
Everybody encounters a bad semester or even year throughout high school. A college essay isn’t the place to explain why your grades weren’t up to par at a certain time. If you feel this information needs to be shared, visit the guidance office and let them pass on the information, or express this problem in a college interview.
8. A list of Accomplishments
Your accomplishments concerning academics, sports, community service or anything else can be shown clearly in almost all college applications. Unless you are focusing on one specific topic, this is something to avoid.


Another well-written website also listed topics you should avoid writing about:



At this point you’re probably stressing out and wondering what topics are left to write about. Below I gathered multiple essay prompts that have proven to be effective topics. At the bottom I also included more links.

1. What Matters to You
When the time comes for you to begin writing your essay, consider these factors: What makes you special? What’s unique about you? What are your passions? Go deeper than just scratching the surface like thousands of college essays will. Make your reader understand what you can bring to their college.
2. Tell a Story
Kelli Mahoney, a Christian Teens Expert, suggests “Once you find your passions, find a story that exemplifies that passion.” Telling a personal story, different from just winning a big game like I mentioned before, is going to make your reader immediately enter deeper into your personality.
3. Something You Did That Changed Another Person’s Life, or Your Own
Earlier heroism was mentioned as something you should avoid, but if you know how to tell a story without having a big head about it, this would be a great topic. For me, I wrote about my trip to New York City when I fed homeless. I didn’t do it with any intentions of showing my community service, but rather explaining how that experience showed me that I want to spend my future pursuing a career in psychology.
4. Something That Means A Lot to You, But Nobody Else Seems to Care About
An essay concerning something like this is definitely something to consider. College admissions will see things about you that they haven’t already read on 1,000 other papers.
5. Long Term Goals in Life
If a college is going to grant you admission to their campus, of course they would want to know your plan. Include what led you to set these goals for yourself, and how you plan to accomplish them.
6. Something That Has Changed Your Outlook on Life
Even if you can’t currently think of one, we all have events that caused us to think differently.



Adult Mentor Advice:


Mr. Gold:

While interviewing Mr. Gold, he greatly expressed that his essay and interview are the two main elements that got him into college. He is not shy when it comes to sharing that he graduated high school with only a 1.9 GPA because he worked hard in college and proved his strengths.

His main piece of advice is to write something that sticks out to admissions. “You want to make them say WOW!” Mr. Gold’s essay was so personal that it showed Grove City College that he had more to offer than they could see throughout his grades.

Mr. Gold advises taking part in any community service you possibly can. “Colleges want to see what’s not on your transcripts. They want to see the things you do that are worthwhile and that your transcripts can’t show them.”


Mrs. Lightner:

Before I could even finish asking what advice Mrs. Lightner had, she had an answer. She strongly advised more than once to avoid procrastination. Mrs. Lightner’s closing statement was, “it’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do right away, still pick a college and still apply anyway.”


Mrs. D:

Mrs. D shared with me that it was a tradition to go to school at Penn State in her family, and although she continued that tradition, it wasn’t until after she looked at multiple schools that she decided Penn State was good for her.

She applied to multiple schools and visited all of them. After seeing that an all-girls Christian school wasn’t exactly what she was going for, she looked into IUP. She told me that this environment wasn’t for her, either.

“I do not suggest just visiting their website. Tour the schools and get a feel for it. Find what fits you.”


Mr. Fricko:

Mr. Fricko also stressed that it is okay to go undecided to college. He wrote me a quote that I thought was definitely something worth sharing.

“Many times our students are force-fed their options from their parents, teachers, and other adults. It is imperative that today’s seniors are the driving force to their post secondary education and their future.”


Mrs. Laird: (Clarion University of Pennsylvania Honors Program Manager)

Mrs. Laird started by informing me what rolling admissions mean. If a college has rolling admissions then that means they accept applications all year long. On the other hand, there are schools that have deadlines. So applying to college early is always a great idea.

She also advised to avoid writing essays like “Why I Want to be a Teacher” or “Why I Want to be a Nurse.” Mrs. Laird’s reasoning for this is that being told why you believe you’re a good fit for their college is much more interesting to read about, and in the long run it reveals a lot more about your true colors and personality. So she advised when applying to colleges that has an essay requirement with no guidelines, it’s always a good idea to explain why they should pick you, and why you’re so suitable for their school.