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College Essays. Do’s and Don’ts. Peterson’s Best College Admission Essays by Mark Alan Stewart & Cynthia C. Muchnick. DO Favorite Teacher Coach Arch-Rival Struggling Student at School Neighbor Distant Relative DON’T Immediate Family Best Friend Dog/Cat.

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college essays

College Essays

Do’s and Don’ts

Peterson’s Best College Admission Essays by Mark Alan Stewart & Cynthia C. Muchnick

personal relationships and influences


  • Favorite Teacher
  • Coach
  • Arch-Rival
  • Struggling Student at School
  • Neighbor
  • Distant Relative


  • Immediate Family
  • Best Friend
  • Dog/Cat
Personal Relationships and Influences


  • Individual Rights
  • Consumerism
  • Fairness/Justice
  • Free Trade
  • Internet Issues (privacy, alienation, education)


  • Environment
  • World Peace
  • Prejudice/Discrimination
  • Drugs
  • Crime
significant events


  • Ordinary field trip turned unexpected adventure
  • Song, Poem, Novel that made a deep impact
  • Unexpected gift from unexpected source
  • An informal social situation that you replay over and over
  • Teachers or authority figures let their guard down


  • College Admission Process
  • Big Trip to Faraway Place
  • Wilderness Survival
  • Winning/Losing a Game
  • How Hard Work Pays Off
  • Most unforgettable experience
Significant Events
personal qualities


  • Those little habits that sometimes annoy others
  • A time you put your foot in your mouth
  • An attachment to a personal possession
  • Study habits you would like to change
  • Your unusual awkwardness in social situations


  • List of your favorite things
  • Your determination and tenacity
  • Your diversity
Personal Qualities
theme and content


  • Convey a positive message
  • Strive for depth, not breadth
  • Convey your true and genuine thoughts/feelings
  • Write about something you feel strongly about
  • Write about what you know or have experienced firsthand
  • Write about other people as well as about yourself
Theme and Content
theme and content1


  • Try to sell yourself
  • Write an important or scholarly essay
  • Try to guess what the admission committee wants
  • Rehash what the reader already knows about you
  • Waste your essay to explain red flags in your application
  • Write anything that might embarrass the reader
  • Write an essay that reads like a newspaper
  • Even think about mentioning popular TV shows, movies, musicians, or actors
Theme and Content
structure and format


  • KISS – Keep It Super Simple
  • Use logical, frequent paragraph breaks


  • Limit yourself to the 5 paragraph essay format you learned in English class
  • Use poetry unless it’s the only way to get your message across
  • Use drawings unless you are a serious artist
Structure and Format
style and tone


  • Try too hard to be funny
  • Insult or offend
  • Whine, complain, or appear bitter, sarcastic, angry or boastful
  • Come across as overly humble
Style and Tone
opening sentences


  • Introduce yourself to the admission committee—

“Hello, my name is….”

  • Ask the reader’s permission to tell him/her about yourself

“Please permit me to discuss my…”

  • Reiterate the topic or question or itemize the points you will make in subsequent paragraphs

“In this essay you will read about…”

“I will discuss…”

Opening Sentences
opening sentences1

DO start your essay with:

  • An enigmatic statement that makes the reader wonder to what or to whom you are referring
  • An obscure quotation (avoid popular quotations)
  • A thoughtful question
  • A trivial observation that anyone can relate to but that nobody else would ever think to mention
  • A paradox
  • A gross generalization
  • A confession
  • An overly obvious statement
Opening Sentences
essay endings

DO end your essay with:

  • Closure – a sense that you have come full circle
  • Final sentences to end any suspense and to answer any question that you might have posed earlier
  • Short, forceful sentences

DON’T end your essay with:

  • Words like “finally,” “in sum,” or “in conclusion”
  • Repeat or sum up in any way
  • End your essay with a quotation
Essay Endings
final guidelines


  • Use analogies, but don’t overdo it
  • Incorporate dialogue into your essay
  • Mix up sentence length – have more short than long
  • Use an active voice instead of a passive voice

(active) The applicant wrote an outstanding essay.

(passive) A less-than-outstanding essay was written by the applicant.

  • Proofread and Revise
  • Use ample margins 1”-1 ¼” on all sides
  • Use high resolution laser printer
  • Use highly readable fonts and a font size of 11 or 12
Final Guidelines