My friend, Lynn O’Shaughnessy, who is a national expert on helping families afford higher education, interviewed me recently about how to write standout college application essays. If you are struggling to figure out how to pay for your college or university, Lynn has the best insider information and resources, including her best-selling book and popular online courses.

I believe one thing that many students and parents don’t realize is that a strong essay not only can help you get into a competitive school, but it can also help you score merit scholarship money. This isn’t true for all schools, especially large universities, but many liberal arts colleges use the essays to determine who they want at their school and then work to help them afford it—including offering money.

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This hilarious video is making the rounds on the Internet (my niece’s husband shared it with me on Facebook) just in time for many college application essay deadlines. It’s funny because the outrageous statements made by students are painfully true.

A couple of my favorite lines: “I’m trying to hide the fact that I’m a privileged white person.” and “If this wasn’t a college essay, it would be considered way over-sharing.”

Another favorite was: “I’m using words I literally just learned a minute ago on Thesaurus.com.”

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If you are working on your two college application essays for the University of California freshman application, I’ve put together a short list of my most helpful posts.

Prompt 1: Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations. 

How to Describe the World You Come From

Sample College App Essay for UC Prompt 1

Brainstorm the World You Come From

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Download “Escape Essay Hell” Free on Sunday, November 16!

 

This is the final countdown for college deadlines for most major colleges and universities. If you are already done and have turned in your applications, congratulations and please pat yourself on the back. For those of you still struggling to write your college application essays, good news for you, too!

I’m offering my popular writing ebook guide Escape Essay Hell!: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Narrative College Application Essays for free on one day through Amazon.

Mark your calendars: Sunday, November 16.

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 How to Focus Your

College Application Essay!

I love all the comments students make about my posts. The most common ones ask about topics for the Common App or other core college application essays, including the University of California prompts. Students want to know what I think of their topic ideas.

I noticed the main problem with many of their ideas is that their topics are way to broad. WAY TOO BROAD! I think many ask my opinion because they suspect their topics are too general, but they don’t know how to focus them. And they are absolutely correct to worry about this. Essays about general topics are almost always dull and ineffective. (What good is an essay if no one wants to read it?)

I have written a lot about how to find topics that are not broad, and instead are engaging, meaningful and memorable. My best advice for students who worry that their topic is too broad would be to keep reading my blog posts! They all carry the same message—find a topic that is specific, zero in on real-life moments (anecdotes), brainstorm topics that are mundane (everyday) as opposed to impressive, pick one quality or characteristic to write about (as opposed to trying to cram in all the great things about yourself.) These are all ways to focus—or narrow down—your topics.

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College Admission Essay

Photo by Janine Robinson

 

Feeling a Bit Underwater
About Your College Application Essay?

 

It’s that time of year. Most “early decision” deadlines are counting down by the day, and other major deadlines aren’t far behind. Stay calm. Read my blog. Target your essay writing needs by using the indexed listing called “Help By Topic” in the right sidebar.

My last post was about an article that a USA Today reporter wrote sharing my advice on these essays, as well as tips from other college experts. When we first spoke, the reporter asked me to put together a list of my best tips. In her article, she wove in some of the tips I sent her, but I thought students might find the entire list I sent her even more helpful. So here it is:

 Essay Hell’s Top 10 Tips
For Writing Standout
College Application Essays

  

1.   Don’t try to impress. Instead, look for topics that are “mundane,” or everyday. (Scooping ice cream; singing karaoke; riding public busses; having big feet, etc.) It’s counter-intuitive, but those lead to the most memorable essays.

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By iStock

 Photo via USA Today and iStock

My Essay Advice in USA Today Article!

A young reporter from USA Today interviewed me the other day to collect some of my tips on writing college application essays. She included advice from other top college experts as well. If you’ve read my blog, you’ve probably heard most of it before, but thought you might find the article helpful anyway:

9 essay writing tips to ‘wow’ college admissions officers

By: 
October 23, 2014

You’ve taken the tests, requested the recommendations, completed the common app, and now it’s finally time to refocus on what you’ve been putting off: the essay.

While most students spend days, sometimes weeks, perfecting their personal statements, admissions officers only spend about three to five minutes actually reading them, according to Jim Rawlins, director of admissions at the University of Oregon.

High school seniors are faced with the challenge of summarizing the last 17 years into 600 words, all while showcasing their “unique” personality against thousands of other candidates.

“It’s hard to find a balance between sounding professional and smart without using all of those long words,” says Lily Klass, a senior at Milford High School in Milford, Mass. “I’m having trouble reflect myself without sounding arrogant or rude or anything like that.”

The following tips will help applicants make the leap from ‘average’ to ‘accepted’:

1. Open with an anecdote.

Since the admissions officers only spend a brief amount of time reviewing stories, it’s pivotal that you engage them from the very beginning.

“Instead of trying to come up with gimmicky, catchy first lines, start by sharing a moment,” says Janine Robinson, writing coach and founder of Essay Hell. “These mini stories naturally grab the reader … it’s the best way to really involve them in the story.”

Let the moment you choose be revealing of your personality and character. Describe how it shaped who you are today and who you will be tomorrow.

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college application essay

I’ve been meaning to write about the hubbub around the high school student who got accepted into all eight Ivy League schools last April. It was an amazing and well-deserved accomplishment for Kwasi Enin, a 17-year-old from Long Island, New York.

Because of his feat, the media and some college experts have held up his college application essay as one of the main reasons he was accepted. And it has been championed now as an example of a great essay.

I do not agree with this at all. I thought his essay was mediocre at best. (Read Kwasi’s essay and see for yourself.)

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Looking for your World to answer the University of California Prompt 1?

 

A high school English teacher contacted me this week asking if I had any sample essays for the University of California college application Prompt 1.

She was using my guides and Essay Hell blog posts to help teach her students how to write their college application essays. (Those are some lucky students!)

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If you are struggling with your college application essay right about now, you might be cursing the entire process. And I don’t blame you. You are supposed to think up some fascinating topic that will grab the attention of those bored-to-tears admissions officers and help your application stand out among the thousands of other students vying for the same spot at your dream college.

All the experts tell you “Just be yourself!” or “Tell a story.” While they are right, it’s totally normal that you don’t have much confidence in how to do that in 650 words or less. Most high school students have not been taught how to write a narrative (story-telling style) personal essay. And to write good ones takes a lot of practice. 

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