By Daniella Emrani

First you’re stuck in traffic- driving to basketball games, karate lessons, and art classes, and before you know it, the whirlwind of college applications is looming over you. Whether your inbox is inundated with emails from college counselors or your Instagram feed starts suggesting the names of test prep companies for the SAT and ACT, this reality is inevitable. If you’re suddenly putting extra pressure on your child, tossing and turning at night because you feel responsible for their future, or scouring the internet to compare acceptance rates, you are NOT alone.

And then- it happens. You remember that beyond the grades, clubs, and extensive extracurriculars that you assumed would suffice, these schools will be judging a college essay. In mere moments, they will decide whether to continue reading or to throw the essay your child labored tirelessly over back into the applicant pile.

In 650 words or less, your son or daughter’s fate lies in the hands of an admissions officer.

After over a decade of supporting high school students and their families to navigate the overwhelming college essay process, I have outlined a few essential insights:

Guidelines for the Commonapp, UC essay, and supplementals (s)

For the Commonapp, ALL applicants are to submit a 650 word essay based on 7 prompts. For the UC schools, all 9 use one platform, requiring 4 essays of 350 words (7 prompts to choose from). This is outside of supplementals that some universities require.


  1. Pause and brainstorm. This can include applicant’s values, memories, achievements, challenges, periods of growth, realizations about life, culture, identity, etc.
  2. After brainstorming, write about something from the notes. It can be like a diary entry- informal & honest.
  3. Remind them to SHOW, not TELL. Colleges do not want sentences about how you got straight A’s and took all APs. They would rather you SHOW them what that means by telling them how you overcame a challenge in the classroom, how you felt in the moments where you struggled, and how you changed as a person.
  4. Don’t be a victim- MANY of my clients decide to answer the prompt about a hardship, but fail to explain WHY the obstacle was important to their journey. Explain HOW it shaped you, WHY it matters, HOW it impacts who you are today- showcase resilience and perseverance instead of convincing colleges that the student is a negative Nancy.
  5. When answering the prompt about your background or identity, do NOT write about politics OR controversial issues. Consider illustrating your traditions and childhood using sensory detail. If you were raised on the cusp of multiple cultures, share how you overcame pressure to assimilate and how you embraced your authenticity.
  6. Do NOT dwell on your role models and heroes- school want to learn about YOU and not someone else.
  7. Ask yourself, “Does this essay say enough about ME?”
  8. NO Quotes- AVOID idioms, sayings, and random quotes and cliches. Dialogue is okay. Something that someone said in a conversation is okay too. However, quoting movie lines and euphemisms should be avoided. Starting with “one must always remember his purpose in life,” or quoting a famous philosopher will bore the reader to tears.
  9. Supplemental essays- “WHY” our school essays- do NOT talk about the beautiful campus and how it is close to your home. Instead, opt for discussing how a class, achievement, involvement in a club, or interest your child is currently doing/ has done will be developed through that university’s program, research, organizations, etc.
  10. Focus: The purpose of the college essay is NOT to reiterate the transcript or resume. Instead, it is to remind the school about why your child is an asset because of their character, passions, and what they will bring to the university!

Final MUSTS:

  • Fewer chefs in the kitchen- in addition to you, (the parent) opt for advice from 2 other readers, ideally a teacher/counselor who knows your child well. Too much input is almost worse than no input.
  • Start SOONER. The summer before senior year is ideal because once school starts, students can focus on maintaining strong grades instead of flipping out about college essay deadlines.

You got this, mamma !

Daniella Emrani is a Los-Angeles based writer and college essay consultant who specializes in helping students develop their unique stories.

For inquiries, follow her @Makeastatementwritingservice, email her, or call (310) 923-5809.