How To Write Successful US College Application Essays?

What does it take to be a part of the UCLA community or other US universities?
How to write the essay that will gain you admission to UCLA?

I have been asked to help proofread a few US college application essays.  I have a few things to say and would like to help spark your inspiration. 🙂 Of course, this is just my humble opinion. I am in no way a professional essay writer, a spy in the admissions office, or an expert psychologist who happens to know how the admission office thinks.  

These tips and opinions are based on my own experience in writing the application essays, and feedback I got from other people. In short, it’s just my own collective perspective about the US college application essay. I hope that after reading this post, you will have the inspiration to write a piece that is one-of-a-kind, and truly yours.

1.  It’s about you

I feel that an essay should first and foremost describe you as an individual. If you find yourself describing and explaining about another person (your family member, some professor you admire or some famous movie star) more than yourself, I suggest to take a step back and restructure your essay. After all, colleges want to admit you, not someone else. If a stranger can pick up your essay, and, after reading it, give a 5-minute introduction about you, then you know you’re good to go.

2.  Uniqueness

How do you write a non-cliché essay?  After reading your own essay, you should be like “is that really me? That’s kinda embarrassing/weird/etc, but it is undeniably me” kinda thing.  Don’t assume that everyone out there is the same as you. Many people have always regarded the things that they do as normal and hence feel reluctant to showcase themselves in their genuine form. It is the things that seem normal to you that might turn out to be the most interesting. For example, I may find that making bubbles in the bathroom to be normal. Of course, I would later find out that the movement of the the colors on the surface of the bubble is somehow connected to the weather patterns of other planets.

My point is, try to write about your normal daily life and don’t try too hard to portray what you want people to think about you. There are far too many essays like that, sculptured with hand-picked words to meticulously describe yourself as if you are an object.  After all, the essay is to provide the “human” factor in the application. Have fun with it and go with the flow.

3.  Honesty

Honesty is the best policy! Sometimes, really amazing essays comes from telling a secret. Something that you wouldn’t tell your best friends or even your parents. Some things like how whenever you tell your parents that you’re going to the gym but actually go bicycling in the back alleys of your neighborhood that your parents have explicitly told you not to.  And later on, you make friends the beggars of the streets, the 20-sen-tissue-sellers, the aluminium-tin-can-collector and how those people that taught you to appreciate yourself and the life you have. Or how you actually unconsciously critique people’s clothing choice and you secretly want to have your own clothing line because there’s just too many people out there who don’t know how to wear matching colors. Sometimes, plain brute honesty will bring out your personality in your most genuine form.

4.  The classic “show, don’t tell”

If you have a hard time following this, try to write an essay without using the adjectives you want to describe yourself. Let’s say you want to describe yourself as a hard working, determined and patient person. Do this by not writing those words in your essay. That way, you will somehow force yourself to show your characteristics through an incident. For example, if you want to portray curiosity and innovation. Don’t say that “I am curious and innovative because…”; instead, try to show it by writing an essay about drinking Chinese tea. And that when you stir the tea, you observe that the tea leaves swirl around the cup and will only stop in the middle of the cup. You then take this idea and observation to the next level and invent a water cleaner which uses the same concept. Well, you get the picture.

With all these things combined, you will ultimately end up with an essay that isn’t like any other on the planet. Who else in this world blow bubbles when they’re bathing, invents a water cleaner, critiques people’s fashion, and personally know the alleys of their neighborhood inside out? The answer is you, and only you can come up with an essay like that.

I hope this post will help all of you to write great essays.  Enjoy the application process: it’s a time of self-reflection, and a time to get to know yourself better. Take your time, question yourself and most of all, have fun!

Wishing all who are applying the best of luck and may the odds be ever in your favor. And don’t forget to proofread your essays!


A blogger at, Dylan Ler Hong Jing is a student in University of California, Los Angeles. You contact him at if you have any questions regarding US, UK applications or anything related to education and scholarship.


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