College Essay Writing Tips for High School Juniors


Guest Blogger

May 8, 2024

Content written by guest blogger, Andrea Scampini, College Counselor at Strive to Learn.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of writing your college application essays, you’re far from alone! Sure, it’s a very important part of the process, but you can do it! Just read through these tips to learn valuable tips on writing your college essays–then get ready for all those acceptance letters!

Meet the 3 Main Types of College Essays

Personal Statement

The personal statement is how you introduce yourself to prospective schools. It should be approached as creative nonfiction — sharing true details from your life but with the use of creative writing techniques. It is required for colleges using the Common App, Coalition App, Apply Texas, and some additional university-specific applications. See below for the fast facts about the Common App and Coalition App personal statement.

Common App

650 words max

Seven prompts from which to choose, but the writing process should not be prompt-driven.

Coalition App

500-550 words max (depending on the school)

Five prompts from which to choose, but also should not be prompt-driven.

UC Personal Insight Questions (PIQs)

The PIQs are used by the University of California application only, and the same essays and responses go to each UC campus. These essays should only be campus-specific if a student is applying to only one campus. A student can still use writing techniques to show craft, but these should generally be more prompt-driven and provide specific examples from life to support responses. Here’s a tip: Connect responses to the admissions factors used by UC campuses (a.k.a. The 13 Factor Comprehensive Review).


350 words max

Eight prompts from which to choose; must write responses to four of them.

Supplemental Essays

The supplemental essays offer additional prompts that may be required for specific college applications. These should be taken as seriously as the personal statement and PIQs — a good supplemental essay shows effort devoted to demonstrating specific interest in that school, unlike the personal statement that is submitted to multiple schools. A college may ask you why you want to attend their institution, or why a certain major speaks to you. More common prompts include discussing a valued extracurricular activity, divulging leadership experience, recalling personal contributions to create a diverse/inclusive community, what stimulates you intellectually, or what makes you different from other applicants.

Common Topics
  • Why Us/Why This College?
  • Why This Major?
  • Valued Extracurricular Activity
  • Leadership Experience
  • Contribution to Diverse/Inclusive Community
  • Intellectual Curiosity or Unique Interest/Identity
Unique Topics
  • Stanford Roommate Essay
  • Columbia “Lists”
  • U of Georgia Amusing Story

The Most Widely Read Essay Is the…Personal Statement

250-650 words & choose between seven prompts

  • An essay to show college admissions committees who you are and why you deserve to be admitted
  • An opportunity to build a human connection with the committee
  • A chance to set yourself apart among peers of same the academic profile
  • Gives you a voice to your name
  • Makes you more than a statistic
What are admissions officers looking for?
  • WHO is this person?
  • Vulnerability
  • Demonstrate growth & learning
  • Will this person contribute something of value to our campus?
  • Can this person write?

How to Start Writing Your Personal Statement

  • WHO AM I?
Be specific, use active voice, show- don’t tell

Instead of this…
  • I scanned the cafeteria, feeling left out and sad, and then found an empty table to sit at.
  • Going climbing with my grandpa, I was often afraid to fall, but I knew I could
    trust him to hold me tight.
  • This project was built with my own hands.
Write this…
  • As I scanned the cafeteria, I realized: “I am all alone in this crowd.“ A sense of loneliness engulfed me as I found a hidden spot in a corner on my own.
  • As my grandpa pulled me tight, I yelled many a time, “You got me?“, fear of falling pooling in a puddle at the bottom of my stomach, but I always knew he had me tight on the rope.
  • Blisters peeled from my palms as I surveyed what I’d built: I felt so proud of how my hard work had come together.

What NOT to Do in Your Personal Statement

Admissions officers have MANY essays to read, so make sure yours stands out and is well written!

DON’T write an activities list

They already have your resume, so instead dig deep with an experience that changed you, altered your perspective, or contributed to your worldview. An experience they otherwise wouldn’t know about.

DON’T retell your sports highlight reel

If you choose a common topic, then find an UNCOMMON way to tell the story that is unique to you by connecting unexpected values to your topic (avoid: sports taught me teamwork; embrace: sports are like my art).

DON’T use cliches

Avoid phrases like “every cloud has a silver lining” or being overly creative of going too outside of the box. Instead, stick with the format and writing about you and your own unique insights.

DON’T forget to spell- and grammar-check!

Colleges value good writing, so have someone else proofread your essay before submitting it. However, beware of too many cooks in the kitchen!

How to Use Your Summer for College Essay Writing

Summer Timeline
  • June-July: Write your personal statement
  • July-August: Write PIQs
  • August-September: Update your resume
  • September: Write supplemental essays
  • September-October: Fill out applications
Essay Writing Resources

For more essay writing support, visit the Strive to Learn website where you can listen to our Podcasts and various educational Articles.

Need Help?

Strive to Learn‘s college admissions counselors are available for individual essay revision sessions. Schedule a time to chat with one of their counselors for a free one hour consultation about essay topics and revisions as well as assistance with college applications and scholarships. Call/text 949.873.6807 to schedule a free consultation, or email [email protected].

About the Author: Andrea Scampini is an experienced college consultant who makes the college application process easy and fun because she loves mentoring her students. Andrea understands that each student has their own unique learning style, interests, and motivations, and her passion is finding that spark that the student may not even be aware of and fostering it to empower them to take the next step toward life after high school. Andrea also loves guiding her students to reflect on their experiences in unique ways, helping them write stand-out college essays.

Andrea lived in Boston for 20 years but grew up in Southern California, so she is familiar with schools across the country. In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with her son and daughter, running marathons, and playing with her dogs Boston and Cali. Most importantly, Andrea is a caregiver at heart and clearly cares for the outcome of each student and their families. Anyone who’d like to work with Andrea directly in their college application journey can reach out to her at [email protected] or (949) 873-6807.

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