General Education

8 Clever Hacks to Write a Better Personal Essay

8 Clever Hacks to Write a Better Personal Essay
Image from
Zachary Sniderman profile
Zachary Sniderman February 8, 2019

Explain your whole life in less than 500 words!? Never fear, there are 8 simple strategies you can use to write a better short essay and they're all right here.

Noodle Programs


Noodle Courses

Article continues here

Somewhere in a fantasy land, students must write witty, charming and concise responses to thought-provoking prompts in the span of 500 words or less. Can you imagine spilling out your life story in 250 words? Or telling your dream school why its your dream school in 100 measly words?

This faraway land isn’t so far after all—more and more applications beyond the realm of college apps require short answers to get in competitive programs or job opportunities, or just to get that 100 on your English essay. It can be arduous to write a whole essay on a philosopher you’ve never heard of before, but keep reading for my personal strategy and attack plan!

1. Develop Your Writing Style

...and let it permeate your essays. Allow your readers to distinguish your writing style as your own and create your own atmosphere and active voice. I always carry a lined notebook to jot down ideas, lines of poetry, images or lyrics that have left vivid traces. I like to look back on what I recorded for spurs of inspiration or for that perfect segue, idiom, or phrase. Figure out what inspires you!

2. Be Concise

If it takes you two sentences to convey that you went to the supermarket to buy milk, you may want to reconsider your choice of words.

3. Stay on Topic

Maybe you briefly mentioned your favorite sport and activity and feel tempted to further flesh it out and brag about that time you won a star sticker to put on your notebook. Stop! Know what you want to share with your potential employer, teacher, dream school, etc. and carefully discern which experiences or thoughts represent you, wholesome and genuine.

4. Take at Least Two Different Perspectives

Decide which to focus on and then stick with it but try to chose the one that resonates the most with you. In open ended prompts like “What defines a leader?" or “How has the media industry influenced you?", it is tempting to gab about each and every perspective you firmly hold. It is unrealistic to include all these viewpoints in a comprehensive essay without sounding like a grocery list.

5. Have Sound Reasoning and Strong Arguments

Use examples or memories or bits of prior knowledge and weave them into your response. This way, you have solid evidence and also you can show off your ability to connect ideas.

6. Understand Why They're Asking You This Question!

I always felt that an institution’s decision to ask you a certain type of question reflects the opinion or overall vibes of the asker. If the prompt in itself is a joke and asks you to respond with another good joke (this was seriously the prompt for University of Chicago!) then use it as an indicator of what they’re looking for in a candidate and see if you fall under their umbrella.

7. Stuck? Step Away from the Essay

Completely erase it from your mind and let the ideas of the prompt or program come back to you naturally. Unless you’re feeling very uninspired by the prompt, then I don’t recommend this because you just might miss the deadline. Otherwise, remember to let your own life and experiences inspire you!

8. Reread Your Essay in Different Moods and Settings

I find myself forgetting what I wrote even moments after I wrote my essays, and rereading the essays when I’m feeling particularly pensive or sad or worried allows me to see my essay in a different light. Your mileage may vary with this one, it’s a pretty strange quirk of mine but definitely something to try.

Most importantly, remember that the people combing through your applications are reading every bit and inch but will not spend any more time than they need to on your application. The admissions committees of colleges and programs alike have well over hundreds or thousands of applications to read, and placing your oh-so-subtle references or allusions may not be appreciated. However you may also use these tips to attack the essay prompts you receive in English class, which in that case this rule does not apply.

These are the methods I personally use to develop my essays and escape writing blocks. Do you use any of these tips as well? Or do you have your own special, secret formula of attacking essay assignments and applications? If so, share them below! Also feel free to ask me any questions you have about writing, I’d love to answer them!


Noodle Courses


Noodle Programs