If you’ve been looking for help with your college application essay, I assume you have discovered the mountains of information (some helpful; a lot no so much) out there on the Web. One of my favorite resources for students is The Prospect, which is an organization centered on college admissions and high school/college life.

The main reason I love The Prospect so much is that it is all about helping students survive high school and get into the college of their dreams–but it’s also run by students like you! Their talented staff offered to share some of their best essay-writing tips here on Essay Hell. I think you will find their foodie-approach fun, inspiring and useful!

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Why You Chose Your Major: A Love Story

If you want to transfer into any of the University of California schools (UCLA, Berkeley, UCI, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, etc.), you need to write two college application essays. One is the same prompt that all students are required to write—which basically asks for a personal statement style essay. It’s known as Prompt 2, and I wrote “Personal Quality, Talent, Achievement…”  as a guide on how to write this essay in a narrative style.

Now I want to offer some ideas on how to answer the second prompt required for transfer students:

Transfer Student Prompt 1: What is your intended major? Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had in the field — such as volunteer work, internships and employment, participation in student organizations and activities — and what you have gained from your involvement. 

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I confess: I love anecdotes. These are basically when a writer shares a mini-story about a real-life moment or experience. Usually, they are plucked out of the past, and presented without much introduction. Their power is that they draw you into a story, or college application essay, by starting with a punch of drama. Anecdotes make awesome introductions.

The key is to get as close to the action as possible. I’ve written tips and advice on how to write anecdotes, but thought I would try to model an example. They seem so simple when you read them, but they are harder than you might think to craft. The trick is to practice, and study how other anecdotes are put together. The most common place to find them is at the start of longer newspaper pieces or magazine stories, or of course, personal (narrative) essays.

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Oops. Not again! We are talking about supplements for college application essays. Not vitamin supplements. Geez!

Even though supplemental essays usually are short—usually a paragraph or two—many students are stumped on how to structure them. Or on just how to start or end them.

In general, since they are so short, you don’t have to get fancy. Jump right into your points or answers. Be direct, but include details and specific examples.

Here are a couple ideas to help you get going. These are for the most common supp: “Why you at our college?” or “What will you contribute to our college?” or “Why do you want to go to our college?” My last post, 10 Tips to Power Your Supplemental Essays, can help you find great information to include in these short essays.

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Oops. Wrong SUP. We are talking college application essay supplements here. Haha.

I just gave a workshop on how to write college supplement essays to a group of college-bound students yesterday, and wanted to share some of the advice and tips on how to make them stand out. We talked mainly about the most common supplement prompt you will find this year: Why you at our college?

On applications, this prompt is stated in a variety of ways, from asking you to tell them why you are a fit, or what you will bring or contribute to their school, or just why you want to go there.

This prompt, though tiresome, is worth spending time on, especially for your top pick schools.

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The middle of August is when I first notice a dramatic spike in visitors to Essay Hell. A few students get that early start on their college application essays at the beginning of summer, but the majority seem to wait until now through fall.

I thought I would try to offer some encouragement to any student just diving into the process by extending a hot deal on my guide books. I’m offering all three of my ebook guides for $9.99. Usually they would cost more than double that. (Sorry, this deal doesn’t apply to paperback copies, which only are available on Amazon.)

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Parke Muth, a veteran college admissions counselor and writer from Virginia, interviewed me recently about my opinions and advice regarding college application essays. I thought I would share the interview, which he featured on his own highly informative blog

It’s long, but I think it’s packed with a lot of great advice–if I don’t say so myself. Muth, who is a former Associate Dean of Admissions for the University of Virginia, knows the in and outs of the admissions game, and as a creative writing expert also understands more about college app essays than almost anyone else in the industry. In other words, he tossed me great questions, and even lobbed a few provocative ones!

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When you write a college application essay, you want to “grab” the attention of your reader from the start. My favorite writing technique to hook readers is to engage them with an anecdote, which is a real-life moment or incident.

You might have already written your essay, and not noticed that you have one of these magical anecdotes down low. Chances are you started your essay telling about yourself in your essay, and missed the opportunity to reach out and grab your reader with a real-life anecdote that illustrates your point.

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I watched this inspiring trailer video today about students from Stockton, California, who are learning to tell their stories using both poetry and investigative journalism (digging up facts.)

Since the economic downfall starting in 2008, their city turned into a virtual ghost town, leaving most teens with few resources and little hope. But with the help of some poets and investigative journalists, they found a lot to say and we all need to hear it.

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For more than five years now, I’ve encouraged students to write their college application essays using a narrative style. Sharing true-life stories to reveal your personality, character, interests, dreams and goals is the best way to tell about yourself in a personal essay.

Until recently, many “college experts” directed students to write more formal, academic essays. But now many  also are championing slice-of-life essays—which is great!

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