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college application essay  

If you are a Letterman fan, you know that I am supposed to list these college application essay tips backwards, and end with No. 1. But I prefer chronological order. You can watch the YouTube video, where he has the young man, Kwasi Enin, who was accepted to all eight ivies this year, count them down on his show. Some media have tried to pin Kwasi’s success on his essay—but that is pure conjecture (Kwasi is amazing on many levels). Anyway, if you are college bound, you might get a kick out of watching the whole thing.

If you are shy on time, I wrote out Letterman’s list here. And then I wrote my own list below. His may be funny; but mine works!

David Letterman’s Top 10 Ways to Make Your College Application Essay Stand Out

1. In the part where it says, “Office Use Only,” write: “Accept.”

2. Personally give to dean at home in the middle of the night.

3. If you’ve been to space, mention that you’ve been to space.

college application essay

4. Instead of ink, use delicious butterscotch.

5. Include a moist toilette.

6. Lots of glitter

7. Mention your love of sleeping in bunk beds.

8. Include very well-lit photo of your brain.

college application essay

9. Every fifth word: Heretofore

10. Address the envelope to “The very handsome dean of admission.”

Okay, pretty funny. Now here’s my list. And in case you can’t tell, mine are serious.

Essay Hell’s Top 10 Ways to Make Your College App Essay Stand Out

1. Start with an anecdote. (Grabs the readers every time; isn’t gimmicky; shows the reader instead of tells them; something happens)

2. Include a title–but only if it’s a good one. Otherwise, leave it out.

3. Give your essay a twist.

4. Write like you talk (stick with a more casual style of writing and your natural voice will shine through.)

5. Include descriptive, colorful and specific details. Name the dog!

6. Take a risk.

7. No Tuxedo Talk! Don’t use words like heretofore, nevertheless, furthermore, thereby, etc. If you wouldn’t use a word when you talk, don’t use it in your essay. Big turn off.

8. Open up about yourself. Honesty is a great way to engage a reader. So is humility. Don’t be afraid to share your flaws.

9. Be idealistic. Especially at the end of the essay, when you share what you care about, believe in and have learned. Hope and dreams are contagious.

10. If you’ve been to space, mention you’ve been to space. Haha. See, I haven’t totally lost my sense of humor. Actually, it’s a good point. If you have something unique and amazing to write about in your essay, go for it. But most students haven’t been to space or had off-the-chart, incredible experiences. In that case, just stick to sharing a mundane (everyday) experience that challenged you on some level, and wow the reader with how you handled it. Chances are your college application essay will be way more compelling than the space story. Well, maybe.