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Tips for Writing Your College Essay

Posted by Kim Struglinski on Monday, October 9, 2017

When I speak with students about the components of an application to Vanderbilt, I always save the personal essay for last. This is partly because it is my favorite part of the application to read, but also because I know this is often the most dreaded part of the application process. I know, I know: writing about yourself is hard. Condensing an entire life’s experience into less than 1000 words is a tough task. But it is pivotal in helping colleges get to know you through the application process. The essay is an important component of the application that helps us understand what our applicants would contribute to our campus community. Here are a few of the tips I always share with students when talking about the essay. You can also read a few more tips from previous blog posts(here and here) if you would like some additional advice.

  1. Write like you speak. Here’s my favorite trick when I’ve got writer’s block: turn on the recording device on my phone, and just start talking. I actually use voice memos in my car when I have a really profound thought (or a to do list I need to record), so find your happy place and start recording. Maybe inspiration always seems to strike when you’re walking your dog, or on the bus to school. Make notes where and when you can so that you can capture those organic thoughts for later. This also means you should use words and phrases that you would actually use in everyday conversation. If you are someone who uses the word indubitably all the time, then by all means, go for it. But if not, then maybe you should steer clear. The most meaningful essays are those where I feel like the student is sitting next to me, just talking to me.
  2. Building on that idea: What should we know about you that we don’t already know? Your essay is the only piece of your application that you have complete control over at this moment. Your academic record is largely set, and your activities outside the classroom have been building upon one another over the last few years. So what else do we need to know? Why would our campus be a better place with you around? The answer to that question is different for every student, so help us understand what unique experiences and perspectives you would bring to our campus.
  3. Make sure it’s about you. If we threw your essay in with everyone’s in your senior class, your friends, teachers, and parents should be able to tell us which one was yours. Between what you write about and how you write your essay, it should scream “you” and ooze your personality. That also means that you need to write about yourself. I know – that can be hard! But the whole point of submitting this application is to help us understand why you would be a great fit for Vanderbilt, so make sure you are communicating that. If you tell us about why your mom or cousin or teacher inspire you, that’s great, but that also makes us want to admit them to Vanderbilt. It is totally fine to write about the impact others have had on you, but make sure you close the loop and help us understand why that impact affects you – not your mom/cousin/teacher!
  4. Use the application as a way for us to get to know you. This last piece of advice is a bit broader than the essay alone, but the essay is one component here. Use the entirety of your application, from your transcript and letters of recommendation to your essay and extracurricular activity chart, to help us get a complete picture of who you are. If you are contemplating submitting supplemental materials – from artwork and recordings to additional writing samples – think about how you can tell us about those experiences through the components of the application you are required to complete. There is a lot of space to provide information to us, so make sure you use all of it.  Is there something else that is important for us to keep in mind? There is even a spot for that, in the “Additional Information” section. Yes, the various application components ask for specific information, but make sure the information you provide in those components represents you through and through.

There is no one single way to write a college essay, and no perfect topic that works for every student. We received upwards of 31,000 applications last year, which means there were upwards of 31,000 different topics and types of essays. Make your essay your own, and help us learn more about who you are. Happy writing!

Posted in Application Process, General Information, The College Essay and tagged: college applications, college essay, writing, writing your college essay

Vanderbilt University doesn’t require many other supplemental essays in their application. While this means there’s less to work to do, it also means you need to put a lot more effort into your personal statement. 

To help get that brain of yours moving, here are 5 essays from students who gained acceptance at Vanderbilt:


Vanderbilt ‘17

My grandfather waited patiently for me to surrender the blocks to him after my frustration sunk in. I remember the large crevices and calluses on his hands and marveled at how such large extremities could move with such gentle grace, while my tiny smooth hands barely had the coordination to grasp a single block.  He never comforted me, praised me or showed affection; it was part of his culture. Instead, he always reminded me that patience is key.  Growing up and developing coordination takes time, there was nothing I could do to rush the process besides wait for the frustration to pass and try again. View full essay. 



Vanderbilt ‘19

I am a different person than I was two months ago. Before the summer, even during the summer, I was convinced it wouldn’t happen. I couldn’t understand why, but the program wasn’t “working” on me; I wasn’t having the life-changing experience past fellows had promised. And yet, here I am - I’ve changed. Our summer English assignment had been to create an anthology of three poems that “deserve to be read for as long as poetry is read in the English language” and also to compose three poems. During the first week of school, we each had to share our reflections. I’ve never struggled to speak in class, and before this summer, I was certain I had it all together. As I prepared to reveal the complete state of confusion that I had found through my experience on Bronfman, I listened to the first few students read from their anthologies and heard them conspicuously avoid their own work. Finally, I stood and offered my voice, “I’ll read.” Keep reading. 


Vanderbilt ‘19

If the 500-yard freestyle didn’t have counters, I would still be swimming. (Actually, that happened once and I ended up swimming a 550.) When I compete in the 500, I’m not thinking about the race. I don’t think about my speed, and I don’t think about the people swimming on either side of me. The moment I dive into the water, none of that matters. I set my pace, my overworked brain shuts down, and my subconscious takes over. Read on.


Vanderbilt ‘18

If there is one place in the world where I am content, it is Sunday dinner at my Grandma’s house. There are three courses of the Italian food that no one will ever be able to cook just like my grandmother does. The oval table it’s served on is surrounded by three generations of my mom’s family all taking the opportunity to relax at dinner together to take a breath and rejuvenate for the upcoming week. Although the weekly tradition has become less consistent as my cousins and I have grown both older and busier, Sunday dinners will always hold a special place in my heart. Continue reading. 


Vanderbilt ‘20

C, G, Em, D: over and over I strummed these chords on my first acoustic guitar. Every time, the transition between each chord became a little quicker; the sound rang out a little more clearly. It was final exam week of the first semester of my freshman year, and I was trying to take a mental break from studying. By winter break though, these simple chords came together as I learned to play my first songs. I looked up how-to-play videos on YouTube, bought different chord books, and practiced every day. I doubled, tripled, and then quadrupled the amount of chords and songs I knew. Keep reading. 


Interested in reading these students full personal statements that got them into Vanderbilt? Unlock all of them in one go with our Vanderbilt package! 

Our premium plans offer different level of profile access and data insights that can help you get into your dream school. Unlock any of our packages or search our undergraduate profile database to find specific profiles that can help you make an informed choice about where to apply! 

Not sure if you want to apply to Vanderbilt yet? Do your research and browse through profiles of students accepted to see essays, stats, and advice. See how they got in, and how you can too!

About The Author

Frances Wong

Frances was born in Hong Kong and received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. She loves super sad drama television, cooking, and reading. Her favorite person on Earth isn’t actually a member of the AdmitSee team - it’s her dog Cooper.


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