A college essay should be concise, thoughtful, specific, polished and honest, and should reflect the character, aspirations and experiences of the writer. The first question in determining a topic should be "What does this essay show the school about me?" Then, the student can work towards supporting that controlling idea.
Instead of claiming to work hard on a sports team, the writer should illustrate the actions behind that statement so that the reader must conclude from the details that the student worked hard. That eliminates boring generalities and distinguishes the student's essay from others'.
Researching colleges conveys the student's interest in the programs offered and shows that the student has not been careless in her decision. If a prompt asks why the student wishes to attend the college, a student should have accurate information to support her reasons and should avoid praising the college excessively. This question seeks to understand why the student would be a good fit, so if the essay focuses too much on the college and says nothing about the student, it does not answer that question. A student should show how her personal skill set and experience would benefit from and contribute to the specific program she is applying to.
After getting some feedback from a teacher, friend or family member, the writer should revise her essay for content to make sure it answers all parts of the question, showcases her intended qualities, does not go off topic, does not sound boastful or self-deprecating and conforms to the length requirements. Then, she should review the essay for coherence and flow and add transitions between ideas as necessary. Finally, the writer should edit for grammar, punctuation and spelling, and eliminate all unnecessary words.