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How to Write Your College Essay as Quickly as Possible

Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.

How to Write a Quick Essay

Need a to write a college essay fast? The key? The story. A successful essay tells a story about you that is unique and vivid. Pick a great story and then think about how that story explains who you are, or how you have learned something. Here is how to write your college essay quickly:

Step 1: Pick a Story to tell. Look at my list of questions below, or the chart of story ideas. Make a list of stories from your life that are vivid and interesting.

Step 2: Decide on the Meaning of Your Story. Your story needs to tell something about you. It should reveal something about your character. See my list of 50 character traits your story can reveal.

Step 3: Write. See below for the 6 steps to writing a good college essay.

How to Write a Good Essay

College admissions officers read stacks of essays. Lots of them sound the same. After reviewing books and websites by college admissions officers, I've come up with a simple list of what you need to do. What makes a good college essay? A good essay:

  • Tells a story from your life that is interesting to read.
  • Gives a specific story in vivid detail with lots of active verbs and adjectives.
  • Uses the story to explain who you are and what you care about.
  • Shows you as a likable person that would be an asset to the college.

What makes a bad essay? Avoid:

  • Trying to tell too many things about yourself. Stick to one main story.
  • Repeating anything which is on your application.
  • Trying to make yourself look like something you aren't.
  • Trying to sound too intellectual, or too controversial.

Show You Are Compassionate

Write about what you learned while volunteering.

Write about what you learned while volunteering.

PeopleYour ExperiencesPlaceObject


time you realized you were selfish

vacation spot

diary or journal

aunt or uncle

a time when you helped someone even when you didn't want to and learned something

special beach, mountain or lake

ball or piece of sports equipment

mother or father

a time you were hurt and were helped by others and learned the grace of receiving as well as giving

hiking trail

special piece of jewelry

brother or sister

a dream you had which you did not get and what you learned from that

spot where you saw a wild animal

something passed down in your family


when you learned what a friend is and/or what it is not

place something tragic occured

something that reminds you of a trip or vacation


a time you worked hard for something and perservered

place you always went with someone special

object from another country

homeless or poor person you met

a time you lost and the lessons you learned about losing

place you went to hide, think, or pray

something you lost

person from another country you met

a time you won and had to learn to be a gracious winner or help a friend who lost

secret place

something you wanted but didn't get

elderly friend who taught you something

when you lost a loved one and had to deal with that loss

place where you were thankful

common object that reminds you of a person

bullied person you helped, or person who bullied you

when you were bullied and had to learn what to do

place someone helped you

something you made, or someone made for you

special needs person who taught you something

a challenge you had to overcome

place you were afraid

something you found

person who overcame challenges that helped you

a moment of beauty in nature which gave you a different perspective on life

hospital, doctor's office

tree, plant, bench or other garden object

person you disagreed with

time you changed your mind about something

place where you felt helpless

something you gave up

teacher or other adult leader

an argument with someone

place where you had a dream

a gift

Show Your Broad Experience

Write an essay about how you learned things about yourself while traveling in a foreign country.

Write an essay about how you learned things about yourself while traveling in a foreign country.

Answer Questions

Still haven't found a topic? Another way to find a story is to answer questions. Here are some questions to answer in your head or on paper which can help you pick a good idea.

  1. Your passions. What do you really care about the most? What are you passionate about? These can be serious or silly. (make a list). Pick one or two of the things you listed and write: What made you care about that? What moment in your life made you think that way? Is there a story you can tell about how you came to care about that thing?
  2. People who have influenced you. Who are some people who have influenced you? (make a list) Was there a moment in time when that person changed you? Could you tell that story?
  3. Transforming experience. Was there a time when someone (or some experience) made you realize something about yourself you didn't know before? Can you share a story about that moment in time?
  4. Object or place analogy. Is there an object or place which really defines who you are? What is it? Could you use that object to tell a story about yourself?
  5. Repeated event. Is there a repeated event which you did by yourself, with your family or with a friend? Could you describe your memories of that event and use it to explain who you are?
  6. Overcoming Challenge. Have you faced something difficult in your life? How can you tell about that difficulty so that people understand how it has shaped you?

Demonstrate Your Perserverence

Write about what you learned from an summer job.

Write about what you learned from an summer job.

You've got some story ideas. Now, which one do you pick? On top of the fact that you need to tell a great story, you also need a story which has a point. That point needs to be how that story tells something about you. Your story can reveal:

  • Your character.
  • Your life circumstances and how that has shaped you.
  • How you've changed and grown.
  • Your passions and what drives you.
  • What you want to do with your life.
  • How you want to help others.

Pick the Story with the Best Meaning: Obviously, since you want to get into this college, the meaning of your story should be positive and your story should show you as someone who would be a good person to contribute to that University. The meaning of your story is that it either:

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  1. Shows a moment in time when you developed this character trait.
  2. Shows when you realized you needed this character trait (maybe did not have it and wanted to change)
  3. Is an example of when you exhibited this character trait.

Great Advice on College Essay Writing

Show You are Open Minded

Write about what you learned from a relationship with someone who is different from you in age, culture, race or socio-economic status.

Write about what you learned from a relationship with someone who is different from you in age, culture, race or socio-economic status.

50 Character Traits

Here are some ideas of character traits that colleges would like to see in their students. None of these is "best" since a college needs students who display all of these characteristics to make a well-rounded group. So choose the one which fits you and your story best:

  1. Compassionate: I care about others and like to help them.
  2. Honorable: I do what is right even when it isn't easy.
  3. Empathetic: I notice people who are hurting and try to comfort them.
  4. Noble: I sacrifice for others.
  5. Persistent: I don't give up.
  6. Cheerful: I keep up a good attitude no matter what happens.
  7. Humorous: I know how to laugh, even at myself, and not take myself too seriously.
  8. Appreciative: I understand that I can't do everything on my own and am thankful for the help and wisdom of other people.
  9. Humble: I know my strengths, but I also know my weaknesses and am not too proud to admit them.
  10. Giving: I realize that it is nice to receive, but I enjoy giving more.
  11. Thoughtful: I enjoy thinking about things and learning more about them.
  12. Listening: I know there is a lot to learn by listening and learning from other people.
  13. Diligent: I know that you can't get somewhere unless you work hard.
  14. Curious: I always like to learn new things.
  15. Diplomatic: I am good at helping keep the peace.
  16. Candid: I always like to tell the truth.
  17. Imaginative: I like to dream dreams and think of new ideas.
  18. Creative: I love beauty and making something new.
  19. Adventurous: I enjoy challenges and new experiences.
  20. Leader: I enjoy being the one in charge and helping others grow.
  21. Friendly: I like to get to know new people and help them feel comfortable.
  22. Loyal: I believe in being faithful to friends no matter what.
  23. Fair: I believe that it is important to make sure everyone is treated equally.
  24. Authentic: I believe in being true and honest about who you are.
  25. Easygoing: I like to get along with everyone and not worry too much.
  26. Initiator: I like to be the one who gets everyone together to get things going.
  27. Organized: I like to plan ahead and make sure I have a schedule for everything.
  28. Problem-Solver: I like to be the one to tackle the problem and figure out a way to solve it.
  29. Nurturing: I like to help little children and older people.
  30. Knowledgeable: I like to know a lot about something and really master that area.
  31. Skillful: I like to make or fix things and help other people with that skill.
  32. Responsible: I like to be the one to be in charge and make sure everything gets done.
  33. Spiritual: I believe strongly and take strength from my beliefs.
  34. Networker: I like to help people get together to solve a problem.
  35. Neat: I love for things to be clean and immaculate.
  36. Practical: I like to think about how we can get things done.
  37. Spontaneous: I like to do things and have fun on the spur of the moment.
  38. Versatile: I can do a lot of things and enjoy variety.
  39. Supportive: I like to help other people do a great job.
  40. Tactful: I know how to challenge other people with the truth in a tactful way.
  41. Proactive: I know how to take care of problems before they turn into big ones.
  42. Independent: I like to do things on my own and figure things out by myself.
  43. Resourceful: I know how to get the resources of people and things to get the job done.
  44. Hard Working: No matter what it takes, I will do it to get the job done.
  45. Logical: I like to take ideas apart and do them in a step by step approach.
  46. Open-Minded: I am willing to think about things in a new way.
  47. Manages Time Well: I know how to keep to a schedule and/or help other manage time to get the job done.
  48. Warm: I like to welcome new people and make them feel comfortable in my group.
  49. Zealous: No matter what I do, I do it with all my heart.
  50. Happy: I am happy-go-lucky and not upset about anything, and I like to help other people have a great time.

Got a topic? Got a meaning? Time to write. Here are the basic steps for writing an essay quickly:

Step 1: Free Write. Set a timer for ten minutes.

  • Write everything you can remember about the story you have chosen.
  • You can write phrases or whole sentences. Just try to get as much of the ideas of the memory on the page.

Step 2: Find your Thesis. Take what you have written and look for a hook.

  • What is the most interesting part of the story?
  • Where does the meaning come out.
  • What do you want the college admissions officer to know about you after reading this story? Write that in one sentence. That will be your main point, your thesis.
  • Write this out in a single sentence. Examples:

Although I was not happy to have my grandmother move in with us, I came to appreciate her more during that time and longed to imitate her cheerfulness in spite of the difficult circumstances of her life and the pain she faced every day.

Losing the top spot on the cheer leading squad was devastating, but I learned how to be a supportive team member without having to be the one in charge.

Failing my Biology class in Junior High School taught me that I had to be more organized and manage my time better.

Even though I was so busy making all the plans and taking care of what everyone needed to have much time for fun at the lake party, I realized afterwards that I was more satisfied with seeing everyone else have a great time than I would have been in just enjoying the event myself.

Step 3: Organize. You will need an introduction, body and conclusion.

  • Look at the charts for ways to introduce and conclude your essay. Pick what will work for your essay. Write these under introduction and conclusion.
  • What three main points do you want to put in the body? That can be three parts of the story, three things you learned, three ways this experience changed you, or three reasons you feel this is important. Write these out in a full sentence. These will be the topic sentences of your body paragraphs.

Step 4: Talk it Out. You will write a lot faster if you talk out your story before you try to write it down. Grab your parents or sibling, or face time a friend. Tell them you topic idea and then ask them to listen to you tell the story. Have them ask you questions. Find out what part of the story interested them the most. Get their ideas about the intro and conclusion.

Step 5: Write it Out. Now you are ready. If you are a super-organized person, you may want to type up an outline for yourself, or you can just use the notes you already made. This time, you will start from the beginning and just keep on writing until you finish the story. Take breaks if you need to, but keep on going until it is done. Get stuck? Take a break. Read the story aloud to yourself or someone else. Get a snack, then get back to work.

Step 5: Peer Edit. Get someone else to read your essay and make comments. Pick the best writer you know. You might also want to read the essay aloud to someone to see what they think.

Step 6: Revise. Give yourself a break before you do this final step. If you have time, wait a day or two before you do your final version. Be sure you:

  • Read the peer editing and make changes in content.
  • Check for spelling and grammar errors.
  • Read aloud to catch any other mistakes.


Tell story which answered questions

Answers-What you learned and how you grew through this experience

Frame Story: start in the middle of the story at the most dramatic point.

Flashback: go to the beginning and explain what happened

Finish the opening story and explain what you learned, how this experience changed you, or how this experience reveals who you are

Vivid description of person or place or object

Tell a story of something that happened at this place or with this person or object

Explain the meaning of this person, place or object in your life and how this has made you who you are

Expectations: what you thought about this person or event

How your expectations were overturned or unfulfilled

What you learned and how this changed your perspective

What most people think about something

The truth. Use your experience and story to prove this.

Why understanding this is important to you.

A conversation

The story about that conversation or person.

Finish the conversation, or tell what this means to you.

Quotes that a person you know always says.

Describe a story about you and this person.

What you learned from this person and how this person changed you.

Final Advice: Be Yourself

Write an essay that is really about you and your experiences. College admissions officers are looking for real people and they can tell if you are making something up. So be yourself and be honest. Finally, I wish you good luck on your journey of higher education. If my writing tips helped you, I'd love for you to tell me in the comments, and if you do get into college, be sure to come back and let me know!


anniebetty from Pennsylvania on April 24, 2013:

Nicely done!

Barry Wood from Scotland on January 21, 2013:

A very well presented Hub! I wrote one on the difference between reports and essays however you have given me a wee lesson in presentation. Thanks. Great Hub.

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