What Are the Components of a College Application?

  • Completed application form
  • High school transcript
  • Standardized test scores (if required)
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Interview (if recommended or required)
  • Student activities list/resume
  • Application fee (application fee waivers may be available)
  • Essay or personal statement

Some students get nervous just thinking about it!

Tips for Getting Started

Take a minute to reflect:

  • How are you feeling about applying to colleges?
  • What are you most looking forward to?
  • What are you most concerned about?

When you think about it, most of the application components have already been determined by your past experiences. You simply submit a record of the past. Nevertheless, your essay or personal statement is one component of the process you can still shape to inform the admissions committee.

You can write a personal essay that makes you shine! Your test scores and grades may be similar to other applicants, but your essay has the capacity to make you stand out from the crowd.


By telling a personal story about a meaningful experience in a carefully crafted, thoughtful essay. The exercises in this workshop will help guide you in the process.

College Essays Are Different From High School Essays

  • High school essays demonstrate knowledge while college essays demonstrate who you are.
  • College essays speak directly to the admissions committee in your own voice. The writing should sound like you, using a first person point of view.
  • College essays show the admissions committee your unique, individual personality and view of the world and help them understand you and what you will bring to campus.

Source: 5 Ways College Application Essays and High School Essays Are Different

College Essay Tips: How to Tell a Unique Story to Admissions

View the YouTube video, “How to Tell a Unique Story to Admissions”, for advice on how to tell your story in a memorable way!  

College Essay Tips | How to Tell a Unique Story to Admissions 

Next, reflect carefully and think critically about yourself:

  • What have you experienced that brought you out of your comfort zone and forced you to grow?
  • How did you navigate that path?
  • What were you thinking? Feeling?
  • What did you do?
  • How did it change you as a person?
  • What did you learn about yourself that you didn’t already know?

Then, write an essay to show (not tell) that story…

in a memorable way…by recounting your story…

from a first person perspective.

Brainstorming Essay Topics

First, use this brainstorming exercise to help you come up with possible essay topics. Jodi Walder-Biesanz of College Admission Coach, LLC has created the College Application Essay Brainstorming Worksheet. Use this worksheet to help you brainstorm essay ideas. 

Now, watch this video from Khan Academy, Brainstorming tips for your college essay (video) for more brainstorming tips! 

Use this Free Personality Test to get to know yourself.

(Note: Test results are informational only and you may get different results when retaking the test. Use the test only as a tool to get to know yourself a little better.)

For further inspiration, use the positive personality traits from this list of 638 Primary Personality Traits .

  • First, select the positive traits that you would use to describe yourself. 
  • Revisit your adjectives and choose three to five that best describe yourself. 
  • Now, begin telling stories about the time you displayed those character traits. 
  • Your stories should help you choose an essay topic that is “so you”.

As you begin writing your essay, remember to:

     ✔ Be yourself

     ✔ Be memorable

     ✔ Find your voice!

What does it mean to “Find your voice”?

In the end, after reading your essay, your family and friends should think,

“That’s so you!”  If they don’t, you might want to rethink it and find a better story to tell. 

For examples of voice, see Voice: Definitions and Examples

Some Tips Before You Begin Writing

  • Write about something that is important to you.
  • Describe your experience and what you learned from it.
  • Start early and write several drafts.
  • Do not contradict or repeat other parts of your application.
  • Be sure to answer the question being asked.
  • Have at least one other person edit your essay.
  • Triple check before submitting.

Other Helpful Essay Writing Resources 

✔  Story2 College, uses a step by step writing process to help you communicate your story.  It is free to use (in a limited capacity) and is a good tool for students who have trouble putting their thoughts into writing.

✔  The admissions committee at Johns Hopkins University shares  JHU Essays That Worked , meaning the essays successfully revealed the students’ character and values.  Reading the sample essays may help you understand the type of writing used in college essays.

Good luck brainstorming your college essay!

We value your feedback and ask you to complete our program survey. The survey can be found at www.ccplonline.org/survey


For Further Reading

CCPL has many resources to guide you in writing your college essay.  Below you will find a sample of these resources.  To find more options, go to Charles County Public Library – Engage, Discover & Learn  and search for “college essays”.

College Prep: Writing a Strong Essay with Leigh Ann Chow is a two hour online course that can be accessed through CCPL’s online learning resource,  Learning Library Account Login | Formerly Lynda Library.  It is presented by an experienced high school English teacher and includes many useful exercises to guide students through the essay-writing process. 

Click on the titles below to access the COSMOS Catalog and place the following items on hold for pickup at your local library branch. 

College Essay Essentials by Ethan Sawyer

So you’re a high school senior given the task of writing a 650-word personal statement for your college application. Do you tell the story of your life, or a story from your life? Do you choose a single moment? If so, which one? The options seem endless. Lucky for you, they’re not. College counselor Ethan Sawyer (aka The College Essay Guy) will show you that there are only four (really, four!) types of college admission essays

On Writing the College Application Essay by Harry Bauld

Offers tips on how to write meaningful essays for college admission applications. Includes sample essays.