Although the entire college selection and application process is stressful for most students (and parents!), the admissions essays often prove to be the most overwhelming part of the process. While most of the application requires filling in blanks and boxes with short, straightforward, and easy-to-answer responses, the essay demands extended writing, reflection, and thought, with more gray area when it comes to prompt selections, content choices, and response development.

After decades of experience with student essay revisions and academic writing tutoring through the graduate, doctoral, and medical school levels, All About Writing’s owner, Christa Riddle, has created the checklist below to navigate students through the essay writing process, start to finish. Students have shared that staying focused and organized with the checklist’s strategies clarifies the process and desired outcome while alleviating stress along the way.

Application Essay Checklist: Start-to Finish Strategies

  1. Informally brainstorm ideas or personal experiences you would like to write about, ones that highlight you as a unique, reflective, and evolving young adult who has gained perspective from life lessons and challenges while continuing to learn and mature.
  2. Select your favorite topic, one that shows your passion and individuality, then align it with one of your prompts. If a college provides only one prompt choice, then choose the brainstormed idea that best fits that topic, or tailor your story accordingly. Be sure to answer the prompt!
  3. Make an outline of what you would like to focus on in each paragraph.
  4. Prewrite your draft, making sure you answer all parts of the prompt.
  5. Put your draft aside for a few days, then return to it for the rewriting and revising phase. Double check that your response includes reflection, learning, and future application with the wisdom you earned from this experience (how will it influence your future education and career choice, or you as a life-learner and adult?). Again, make sure you answered all parts of the prompt, and reduce the length of the essay to fit the required word/ character count limit.
  6. Put your revised draft aside for a few days, then return to it for another round of revisions. Upgrade word choices, use active verbs, and check your sentence structure, organization, grammar, and usage. Is your writing interesting? Does it flow?
  7. Have a trusted second set of eyes (or two!) read over your draft to offer suggestions for content and other revisions.
  8. Make essay revisions as you see fit, carefully considering the feedback you received during step 7 (ultimately, it is your essay and should reflect you, not the person who revised it for you). Heed advice, but also trust your gut!
  9. Put your revised draft aside for a few days, then re-read it for your final proofreading.
  10. Make sure you carefully and thoroughly check all writing requirements for each college to which you are applying; some have their own applications and essays, separate from The Common Application, and some have shorter, supplemental essays in addition to the main essay.

All About Writing’s in-person and remote application essay consultations deliver strategies based on decades of experience and expertise in academic writing and admissions essays. We have successfully provided essay assistance for a range of students, including undergraduate, doctoral, medical school, dental school, and fellowship candidates.

All About Writing is here to assist with the entire college application essay process, from brainstorming your ideas through proofreading your final copy. Visit our website’s “Academic Writing and College Application Essays” page for information on these specific services.

Learn more about All About Writing, Howell, NJ and owner Christa Riddle at Remember, with All About Writing, writing help is just a call or click away!

Call us today to make life a bit easier… for students and parents alike!


-by Christa Riddle


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