Advice from College Students on Writing the College Application Essay

It's that time of the year again. I remember stressing about my college application essay, brainstorming countless of times, and writing 10 different drafts before settling with my final essay. It was one of the most challenging moments of applying abroad. I mean, how could you possibly tell your whole life story in 650 words? How could you stand out from the thousands of other applicants applying to the same schools as you? These are questions that we all think about when writing our essay.

That moment when I finally submitted my common app essay was a moment of fulfillment and happiness. And whenever I look back, and read through my common app essay, it still remains as one of the best essays I've ever written.

However, writing the college essay is easier said than done so I went ahead and asked current college students and College Admission Mentor for Peers (CAMP) Philippines mentors for advice on writing the dreaded college application essay.

"Start early." - Red Dimaano, Penn '18

"Be honest! If whatever you're writing about isn't actually the moment that changed your perspective and you're writing about it just because it sounds impressive or original, stop writing and start over. Oh and it's not only about what you write, it's also how you write it!" -Gabs Ilagan, Williams '18

"Be yourself and choose to write about something only YOU can write about" -Angela Teng, Brown University '17

"I'd say be yourself! College essays are really a way for universities to see if you're a good fit for the school, so even if you do manage to fool them and get in on an essay that's not genuine, you're likely to not get the most out of an education at a school that's not meant for you from the beginning!" - Gabby Dee, Brown '16

"Jackson Pollock, a famous pioneer of the Abstract Expressionist movement, once said--express rather than illustrate your feelings. In writing your essay, I can only advice the same thing. Let it be the expression of your story, what matters most to you, what defines who you are at this moment. The construction, the technicalities can come later. Just express first." -Joan Ongchoco, Yale-NUS '17

"Find a story that shows the real you. Don't just share something just to impress people. Instead, share something personal that will show the admissions officers that you're unique." -Myka Cue, NYU '18

"Be honest in writing about yourself. Be self-aware; Knowing what you are and what you aren't will also help a lot" -Michelle Abigan, Penn '18

"I think the most important thing about writing the college essay is to let your passion - for whatever it may be - bleed through and shine in your essay. I think it is important to let your best, real self show through the sincerity of your words." - Lara Montales, Penn '18

"It might be said again and again but write about something you really care about and the admissions officers will see it through. Be simple, passionate and true tor yourself." -Mika Reyes, Wesleyan '17

"For me, it would have to be writing with a voice and being able to come off the page no matter what you're writing about. I think essays work best when they sound like the writer is just sitting in front of the reader and speaking." -Matt Borja, Penn '16

"I think it's important to write about something that you're passionate about and know well, but at the same time, it must highlight one or two or your best aspects as a human being. Thus the essay requires both a deep knowledge/understanding of something, and also a deep understanding of the self." -Chris Dee, Yale '15

"Write about something personal and make sure it complements your entire application so that the application as a whole conveys a story." -Vincent Soriano, Yale '16

"I think it's important to introspect and become self-aware. It's so easy to write an essay that is based on other people's expectations of you or your background. But it's much harder to come up with an essay that if someone read it, they can hear your voice or really see that yeah - that's who you are as a person. I think by thinking about what makes you YOU or what you think defines who you are, you come up with a more engaging read that can still showcase your strengths, your passions and what you think is your life plan." - Tricia Peralta, Penn '16

"Be yourself" -Lance Katigbak, Harvard '16

While the college application essay is just one aspect of the whole process, it's a great chance to show the admissions officer something that isn't seen on your application or resume. It's an opportunity to tell a compelling story that only you can tell. At the end of the day, it's all about writing an essay that can tie everything together, and show the college admissions officer what makes you YOU.

If you have any questions about the college application process, or would like to get feedback on your essay, feel free to message me at


David Ongchoco is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in LIFE. An aspiring entrepreneur, David has been working on different side projects during his free time, while also blogging about all the inspiring people he's been meeting in his first semester of college in his person blog If you want to talk more about entrepreneurship, startups, education or any random topic, feel free to hit David up at