What makes a "good" essay?

@compmom Hi, I am new to this website and I have seen you offer to help with essays, can you let me know how I would go about asking for help from you? Thank you

I will send you a private message, and then you can send it to me there.

  • An essay should have a single clear central idea. Each paragraph should have a clear main point or topic sentence.
  • Each paragraph should support or expand the central idea of the paper. The idea of each paragraph should be explained and illustrated through examples, details, and descriptions.
  • Every paragraph in an essay should be related to the main idea. Each paragraph should stick to its main point.
  • An essay or paper should be organized logically, flow smoothly, and “stick” together. In other words, everything in the writing should make sense to a reader.
  • A paper should be written in generally correct standard English, with complete sentences, and be relatively error-free.
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An essay or paper should be organized logically, flow smoothly, and “stick” together. In other words, everything in the writing should make sense to a reader. A paper should be written in generally correct standard English, with complete sentences, and be relatively error-free.
A strong contention, supported by ideas, arguments, and evidence.
The summary and analysis of other writers’ research and opinions.
A clear structure, including an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
Five Elements of Good Writing. Purpose, Audience, Clarity, Unity, Coherence, Students will gain facility with the first element and be able to write purpose statements.

It needs to be interesting! Think about how many essays they read and put yourself in their shoes. They can skim hundreds quickly for grammar etc but your job is to make them want to actually read your essay. It doesn’t need to be “cute” or too clever in a way that makes you seem like you are trying too hard. It’s human nature - the admissions officers are human. They have tons to read and if you can make it interesting enough for them to read instead of skim then you’ve succeeded!

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For ideas of what not to do, have a look at this thread: Avoid the trap of the “bad” essay

I’ve read many essays put out there by people who have been accepted, and all I can say, is that it’s a matter of taste. I would have written something completely different to my D, but I much preferred her essay to the supposed successful ones, so I guess it’s a matter of being willing to write something you might think is absurd and not to your taste, just to catch the attention of AOs. My D wasn’t, but fortunately has a school to go to.

Depends on the essay, depends on the school, and depends on the reader. Well written - Interesting - Grabs the reader in the first couple of sentences….the readers must be bored. What might be great to one reader, might seem boring and “BS” to another reader.

  • Answer the question the essay is asking….follow directions.

  • We watched videos posted by students who have viewed their admissions file…interesting comments on the essays. We found it to be of help.

As for me a good essay must be well-organized, thoughtful, and insightful. It should have a clear introduction, body paragraphs that develop a central idea, and a conclusion that ties everything together. In addition, a good essay will be free of grammar and spelling errors. It will also be engaging, using language that is both precise and interesting.

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Question I like to put to the group. How directly responsive do you think essays should be to the prompt? While some prompts can be very open-ended, others can be fairly specific.

I don’t think they need to directly respond to the prompts because one prompt is Topic of your choice.

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Depends on the prompt. If the prompt is “Why State U” then the student should definitely address specifics about State U and not just talk about how they always wanted to go to college in general.

There’s a separate thread on supplemental essays. Supplemental essay tips (plus the COVID question on the CA)

@BKSquared was talking about the personal statement I believe.

Actually all prompts, not just the CA.

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I have seen a lot of student essays in the last couple of years and one problem I see is an effort to be “creative” and “unique” in responding to every prompt, even those that are straightforward (like why College X?). I urge students to answer the prompt!

As a side note there is a trend toward using many adjectives, and I have been told teachers are encouraging students to do this in order to be more descriptive. Students use these to be creative. This overuse of adjectives often happens in responses to direct prompts as well. I always loved EB White’s advice to use words only when necessary to add meaning (paraphrasing here).


I agree and I discussed this in points 1, 2 and 3, here:

7 posts were split to a new thread: Essays just a way for colleges to manipulate

Hi, still kind of figuring this website out but I submitted an essay about how I was diagnosed with Celiac disease, and how that made me realize that I needed to take better care of myself and listen to my body more. Although I already submitted it ed, I could change it.
Does this sound like an okay topic? I started the essay with an anecdote about how I found out about my diagnosis while eating a bagel. Then it transitions to the fact that although the diagnosis wasn’t fun, I’m grateful for the realizations I came to because of it. I’ve had a few people read it over for me, and they all say my personality comes across.
One teacher said it “stood out for sure”. Hoping this was not a negative thing!

If you feel good about it and people say your personality comes through, it sounds like a good essay. :grinning:


I have been reading essays here on CC. If you want me to read it, I can. I will PM you so you can PM me. (My kid has celiac so I understand.)