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“I wanted to say thank you for your help because I was just accepted to Columbia University!  The regional admissions officers sent all of the admitted students a typed letter and wrote a personal note at the bottom, and he talked about what a great essay topic I had. Without your help, I don’t know what I would have done.”       Andrew Losa, Columbia University (2015)

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Everything You Need to Know About the Four Most Common Applications
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Common Application Essays

Find help on choosing from the five prompts for The Common Application, and crafting a “slice-of-life” essay that helps you stand out.

University of California Essays

University of California Essays

Brainstorm ideas and craft short essays for the eight new essay prompts for the University of California application.

Coalition for Access...Essays

This is a brand new application system: Find strategies for all five of the prompts to write the required personal statement essay.

ApplyTexas Essays (Most Texas Schools!)

Learn about the all-new prompts for the ApplyTexas application, and tips and advice on writing essays for Topic A, B and C.

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The Essay Hell Blog

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UC Shares Videos on Personal Insight Questions


As you probably know, the University of California changed its required essay prompts for 2016-17.

Instead of writing two longer personal statement essays, you now chose from eight prompts (which they call Personal Insight Questions) and write four short essays, each under 350 words. (For incoming freshmen; transfer students have similar, yet slightly different requirement.)

The University of California recently shared several videos intended to help students understand what is expected from these new Personal Insight Questions prompts. read more…

Essay Writing Cheat Sheet for Stuck Students


I’m always trying to find ways to help students quickly come up with topic ideas and a path to cranking out their college application essays.

Typically, I advise them to start with their defining qualities or characteristics, and then find real-life stories or moments to illustrate one of these, and go from there.

(Use How to Write Your Common Application Essay in 3 Steps for that approach. It’s also spelled out in greater detail in my popular writing guide, Escape Essay Hell!, available on Amazon.) read more…

Are You a Hillary with your College Application Essay?


As I’ve been watching the Democratic national convention this past week, I realized how much election speeches are like college application essays.

Both are sales pitches. Both candidates and college applicants want something—badly!

Candidates want votes. You want to get admitted. read more…

Start Your UC Personal Insight Question Essays for 2016-17 Now!


Want to Go To College In California?
Get Your Application in ASAP!!


This year marks my 30th year living in California.

I love this state! I moved here from across the country to join my future husband in 1986, and never looked back.

The people are welcoming and forward-minded (for the most part), the dramatic natural beauty of ocean, mountains and dessert is everywhere, and the weather is near-perfect.

Also, California’s public educational system is unsurpassed, from the network of community colleges to the Cal States to its world-class research and learning universities, like Berkeley and UCLA.
read more…

Defining Qualities Rock College Application Essays!

defining qualities

Some of my tutoring students skim through a college application essay prompt (such as the five options for The Common Application essay requirement), and in a flash, find one that speaks to them.

Others come armed with a long list of topic ideas they have been toying with for weeks.

But most, I would say more than 80 percent, have no clue where to start.

And it’s a terrible feeling. read more…

Don’t Write Sucky Supplemental Essays!

supplemental essays

No doubt about it.

Supplemental essays are the nasty little vexation of the college application process. (And you thought the Common App essay was a pain!)

I suggest students first tackle writing their core essay for The Common Application, or other applications that require a longer, personal-statement type of essay.

Get that out of the way first. It’s the hardest and most important.

But it’s never too early to start knocking off those pesky shorter essays, known as supplemental essays. read more…

Random Questions (and Answers) About College Application Essays


Got a Burning Question
About Your College Application Essay?

(Leave it in the Comments!)

After working with students like you for nearly a decade now, I’ve heard a lot of questions about these cursed essays.

And you are so smart to ask them.

How else can you figure out what is expected of you and how to write them?

Here’s a list of some of the most common ones I’ve heard over the years, and my answers. read more…

Strategies for the New UC Transfer Essays 2016-17



Students Must Write Four, All-New Short Transfer Essays
to Apply to University of California

If you want to transfer to any of the University of California schools, you need to write four short essays.

The UC changed the required essays this year (2016-17), and calls the new prompts “Personal Insight Questions.”

All but one of the four short essay prompts are almost the same as required for incoming freshmen: You have seven prompts to choose from to write three of your essays.

The fourth essay is a required prompt and specifically addresses your reasons for transferring. read more…

How to Find a Killer Topic



The first step to writing a winning college application essay is to find that perfect topic.

This is the most important step, and often the hardest.

Once you land on one, you are ready to roll.

Things fall in place. read more…

Best College Application Essays Have Touch of Gray


Learn How to Avoid Black-and-White Thinking
to Add Depth to Your Essays


It’s exciting to see that word is getting out to collegebound students, and those who support their admissions quests, that real-life stories power the most effective college application essays.

If you are new to this concept, read up on the narrative (storytelling) writing method that I promote all over this blog.

(If you are just starting learning about college application essays, I recommend first reading How to Write a College Application Essay in 3 Steps. This post you are reading here is intended for students who have a topic and have started writing their first draft.)

Here’s the essence of my writing approach: You use your real-life stories to illustrate or demonstrate one of your defining qualities, characteristics or core values in your college application essay or personal statement.  read more…

Timeless Life Advice from 2016 Commencement Speakers

commencement speakers

I arrived home to California yesterday from St. Louis, Missouri, after attending my son’s graduation from Washington University in chemical engineering. (Woot Woot!)

As part of graduating from college (as well as high school), my son and other students are bombarded with life advice.

For college graduates, the idea is that you are now moving out of the structured, sheltered world of academia and into the “real world.” read more…

How Brittany Stinson Wrote Her Costco Essay

brittany pic

A Q&A With The Author of the Viral Costco Essay

Last month, Brittany Stinson learned she got into five Ivy League colleges, as well as Stanford and many other top schools.

When a newspaper reporter asked her to share her college application essay, Brittany didn’t think twice.

Within hours, her essay went viral. read more…

Coalition for Access Essay 4: Teenager Advice

coalition prompt 4


Coalition Prompt 4: What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?

When I first read through the five prompts students have to choose from to write their one personal statement essay for the new Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success application, this one popped out at me.

I bet it did the same for you.


Of the five prompts, Coalition prompt 4 tries to be more creative and relevant to a high school student. read more…

Coalition for Access Prompt 3: A Belief Challenged

coalition prompt 3

You Believe That?

Coalition for Access Essay Prompt 3: Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?

So you need to write your core essay for the new Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success application.

I assume you’ve already scanned the five Coalition for Access prompts you have to choose from to write your personal statement (an essay about yourself).

For some reason this one jumped out at you. read more…

Strategies for Each of 8 New University of California Essays 2016-17

new uc essays

Quickly Find Ideas for Each of the
8 New Personal Insight Questions


I hope everyone applying to any of the University of California schools this fall got the big news: They have all new essay prompts for 2016-17!

Instead of writing two longer essays, incoming freshmen now are required to write four shorter essays—and have eight new prompts, called Personal Insight Questions, to choose from.

Since the big announcement this spring, I’ve written eight new posts on each of the new UC essays.

I’ve listed them all together here (below) in this post so you can find them easily. read more…

Coalition for Access Essay Prompt 1: Tell a Story

coalition essay


Tips and Ideas for Coalition for Access
Essay Prompts: The First and Last


If you are using the new Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success to apply to college for 2016-17, you first need to check if the college or university you want to attend requires essays.

Some will require you to write the main general essay, and others might only require you write their shorter, additional essays specifically for individual schools, which are called supplemental essays. A few might not want any essays.

It’s up to you to figure out what each school wants from you, something you can find out on the Coalition for Access web site.

If they require you write the main Coalition essay, there’s good news!

You can write a personal statement on any topic you want. read more…

UC Essay Prompt 7: Volunteer Your Best Story

uc essay prompt 7

University of California Personal Insight Question 7:

Time to Talk About One of Those Volunteer Experiences

UC essay prompt 7: What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

The minute I read UC essay prompt 7, I thought most students would jump at this question because most have spent endless hours volunteering during high school.

Now it’s time to recall some of your most interesting or meaningful “times” or experiences.

You could write a strong essay about giving back, but you have to be careful to avoid the cliche trap.The trick is to think of something unusual or unexpected that happened during one of those experiences.

read more…

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