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On this site, you will learn tips, advice and strategies to write your dreaded college application essays—and escape the misery of Essay Hell.
Read the helpful posts (click the flames and icons!) and learn to navigate the complicated admissions process, discover powerful writing tools and techniques, and craft standout essays to land in your dream school.
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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)
“Funnily enough, I actually used this website to help guide a lot of my application essays, including this one. So I guess this would be the perfect opportunity to say thank you! I feel like my essays definitely strengthened my entire application.” Brittany Stinson, (2016) accepted to all 8 ivies and Stanford (wrote famous “Costco essay”) Read more testimonials!
“Thanks to your skills and desire to truly help me improve, I was admited to all of my top schools…With your help I was able to receive a full four-year ROTC scholarship to UCLA, USC, and UCI, along with my appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Thank you!” Andrew Aldaz, West Point (2016) (See one of Andrew’s essays)
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FAQ | College Application Essays
A new company that wants to help students ace their college applications set out to find the most commonly asked questions related to college application essays.
They also recruited me and several other essay experts to answer them.
I’m sharing below 20 of the most common questions about college application essays that I answered, along with links to longer explanations and related helpful information: read more…
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…
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…
Most of you landed here in Essay Hell looking for advice on how to write your college application essays.
And you are definitely at the right place!
This post, however, I’m skipping the essay talk and offering something equally valuable:
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…
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.
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…
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…
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…
It’s been a big year for changes in the college admissions scene.
About the same time this was published, yet another college application system entered the admissions picture. It’s call the Cappex Application, and you can learn about it in this article. It’s supposed to “launch” in September. read more…
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…
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…
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…
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…
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 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…
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…
If you’re using the new Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success to apply to one or more colleges for 2016-17, you need to write a core essay that responds to one of their five prompts.
First, I encourage you to read through the five prompts and see if one appeals to you or sparks any ideas.
If so, give that one a go. read more…
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…
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…