How to Interpret the College Admissions Prompt


Before you start writing your college admissions essay, you need to understand the essay prompt. As simple as it seems, this can be difficult if you can’t figure out exactly what the prompt is asking. Here are some points to consider after reading the prompt and before you begin writing:

What does the prompt ask about me?

  • Academic and Personal Goals – a typical question might be “How will attending X College help you achieve your goals?”

  • Academic History – for example, is there anything in your academic history that warrants further explanation?

  • Previous Learning Experiences – consider listing applicable research, projects, and work experience

  • Extracurricular Activities – discuss your involvement with extracurricular activities, clubs, or community programs (don’t include anything from before high school)

  • Financial Situation - this type of question is more common with scholarship essay prompts

What does the prompt ask about the school I’m applying to?

  • Program Fit – for example, what makes you a good fit for the MSW program at University X?

  • College Fit - why do you want to attend Y university?

Bored girl sitting at classroom desk staring off into the distance.

What key words does the prompt use?


  • Describe

  • Share

  • List

  • Analyze

  • Evaluate

For the most part, there’s little difference in the meaning of the example words listed above, but I still advise writers to carefully consider and do exactly what the prompt requires. This is especially important if you re-use essays or templates.

What official requirements does the prompt include?

  • Word Count or Page Length – don’t go over the limit and expect essay readers not to notice

  • Online Form vs. Email Submission – which does the application require?

  • Formatting – consider the requirements for font size, spacing, page margins, and headings

After carefully considering the prompt, it’s time to start writing. Choose a topic you like, avoid clichés, and keep the points I listed in mind.

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