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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college application essays

 

To help kick off the college admissions “Season,” I’m offering my new collection of inspiring college application essays–Heavenly Essays–for under a buck. Yup, you can download an ebook copy from this blog, and start reading right now, for just 99 cents.

Just enter the Discount Code: 99EssayCollection before you hit “Buy Now.” (Limited offer good through Wed., June 18.)

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Over the years, I’ve heard almost every imaginable complaint and concern about writing college application essays. Like most common fears, they are almost all in your head.

That doesn’t mean they don’t feel real. But if you can realize that a lot of your success will depend on not psyching yourself out, and staying calm and focused, you can then get to work.

Find a great topic. Map out a writing plan. Pound out a rough draft. Before you know it, you will have a knock-out essay!

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Meet Jessica Peyton Roberts, who is a talented and enthusiastic private college admissions consultant from Tacoma, Washington. Roberts, of Aim High Writing College Consulting, recently wrote a comprehensive guide for students and parents called Navigating the College Application Process.

In her ebook, she has a chapter on writing the college application essay, and graciously allowed me to share part of her sage advice.

I talk a lot in this blog and my guide books about how to find and share your personal stories, usually in the form of an anecdote, to bring your narrative-style essays to life and reveal part of who you are.

When my two kids were finishing their junior years of high school, they each received the assignment from their English teacher to write a college application essay. It sure sounded good—they could get a jump on these dreaded essays and receive professional direction on how to find great topics and write them in an engaging, memorable style.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

From what I could tell, this task of teaching how to write college admissions essays was dumped on these teachers, and they had to cram in a last-minute writing section at the very end of the year (and compete with the AP test crunch time, other end-of-year deadlines/pressures and spring fever.).

Also, as far as I could tell, no one really taught the teachers how to write college admissions essays and students had had very little practice writing in a narrative style. 

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college application essays

 

I thought you might like to read one of the 50 sample college application essays featured in my new book, Heavenly Essays. This is the first one in the book. Like most of the essays in this collection, it was written by a former tutoring student of mine. I will share a few others in the next couple weeks.

Like I say in the book, I believe reading examples of essays written by other students is one of the best ways to learn how to write your own. Not only can these essays give you ideas for your own topics, but you can get a feel for the style that works best—narrative (storytelling) writing.

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I thought it might be helpful to type up an explanation of why I write my blog, the source of my intentions, and what I think about the dreaded college application essay. You might find it boring, but I wanted to get it out and all in one place. It will be one of the tabs on my blog, under Manifesto. Here’s what I have so far:

 

Help with College Admissions Essays at EssayHell.com

The Essay Hell Manifesto

I believe college application essays can be fundamentally unfair. Most students have not been taught how to write personal statements, or other types of narrative-style essays. Some can afford outside help; most cannot.

At the same time, these essays have become one of the most important pieces of the college application process in deciding who gets into which schools, especially the most competitive ones. Some colleges also use them to help decide who deserves scholarship money.

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