Work First, Surf Second: A Lesson in Mundane Topics

A student who I will call Ryan arrived for his tutoring session yesterday, and showed me what he had written for his English class.

His essay started with how he worked with Habit for Humanity and a trip he took to work with Native Americans.

Oh no.

Not the old mission trip essay.

Way too overdone. Usually dull as dirt.

So I suggested we start fresh.

Example of One of My Tutoring Sessions

 

I asked Ryan to jot down some of his defining qualities.

He wrote down conscientious, reliable, consistent and relaxed.

I noticed that several of his qualities overlapped, so I asked him about his sense of responsibility—fishing for his interesting stories, moments or small experiences that could “show” how or why he is “a responsible guy” in his essay. (more…)

Congratulations to the First Essay Jumpstart Experts!

essay-jumpstart-expert

College Admissions Consultants Learn Essay Coaching

A group of nine college admissions consultants from the San Diego area helped me kick off my College Application Essay Writing Bootcamp this week.

After participating in my two-hour workshop at the beautiful home of one of the counselors in Rancho Santa Fe, the nine women are now official “Essay Jumpstart Experts,” and can sport this digital “badge” (above) on their own professional web sites. (more…)

6 College Application Essay Tips for First-Gen Students

 Advice for Students Who Are Underrepresented
for Whatever Reason:
Tell Your Personal Story

In my previous post, I shared my experience working with teachers and students from the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas, where I’m giving a series of workshops on how to write college application essays.

It was my first time working with a large number of students who were mainly from underrepresented backgrounds. Most of the students were Hispanic and would be the first to attend college in their families.

I wanted to share some insights, tips and advice on what I learned, in case this helps other similar students struggling with their essays.

Here are 6 Essay Writing Tips for Students
from Underprivileged or Underrepresented Backgrounds

ONE: Students who come from underprivileged backgrounds can be more reluctant to open up and reveal their tribulations, pain and vulnerability. Many believe they need to show only their strengths and victories. They are rightfully proud and don’t want to appear weak, deficient or complaining.

However, colleges are eager to hear about the obstacles students have faced, and their real-life stories of hardship, and these essays are the perfect place to share them. The best college application essays are almost always highly personal. (more…)

Jumpstart Your Personal Statement! All You Need is a Juicy Problem!

College Admissions Essays:

How to Start Your Core College Application Essay

 

If you are writing a college admissions essay that responds to a prompt that asks you to tell about yourself, or about “a time,” or describe a quality, background, interest, identity, talent, characteristic, experience or accomplishment (such as The Common App prompts or Prompt #2 for the UC app.), then your essay is also known as a personal statement.

The most effective personal statements are written as narrative essays, meaning they relate an experience using a story-telling style.

To share an incident or moment from your past, you only need two components to make a story: a character and a conflict.

So one magic way to create a personal narrative is to search your recent past for a conflict. (You are the “character.”)

Thinking back to English class, remember that conflicts can come from many different places—from within yourself (internal: you have a personal issue or hang-up that caused you pain or trouble) to outside yourself (external: something happened to you.)

To put it simply, a conflict is a problem.

Problems come in all shapes and sizes.

They do not need to be traumas or a crises, although those can work, too.

(HINT: Basic, everyday problems work best! Check out this post about “mundane” topics.)

Here are other words for a conflict or problem: challenge, failure, obstacle, mistake, hang-up, issue, a change, dilemma, fears, obsessions, etc.

Examples of conflicts or problems: you are shy, competitive, stubborn, were bullied, are obsessed with Twilight, didn’t make the team, got injured, have big feet, frizzy red hair, smile too much, someone quit at your work, don’t have own car, can’t spell, adhd, ocd, don’t eat meat, perfectionist, slob, lazy, drunk driving, have a mean grandparent, no money, etc…

Man, there are a lot of problems out there! But for the purposes of writing these dreaded essays, that’s a good thing for once!

Once you remember a juicy problem, follow these steps:

1. Describe the time you had a problem or describe a strong example of your problem.

(Include what happened and how it made you feel. Try to start at the moment it hit, or happened for the best impact!  Include the 5Ws—who, what, when, where and why! Stick to one or two paragraphs.)

These mini-stories are also called anecdotes, and you can learn more by reading my post on how to write an anecdote.

RELATED: My Video Tutorial on How to Write an Anecdote: Part One

(more…)

Want to Go To University of Texas? Get This Book!

ticket to forty acres

The Ultimate Insider’s Guide

to UT Admissions

Get it FREE Now on Amazon!

My friend, Kevin Martin, just published this guide, Your Ticket to the Forty Acres: The Unofficial Guide for UT Undergraduate Admissions, on Amazon (Kindle) to help students quickly figure out what they need to do to game the admissions scene at the University of Texas, especially its Austin campus.

What I love about this book is that Kevin was a first-gen student who graduated top of his class, and then went on to to work for their admissions department as a counselor.

So he has experienced both sides of the process. (more…)

Cultural Backgrounds Fuel Standout College App Essays

international students

 

Everyone Has a Cultural Background

Yours Could Make an Awesome
College App Essay Topic!

I love working with students from all over the world.

I’m always surprised, however, how many of these students overlook their rich backgrounds when brainstorming topics for their college application essays.

There have been several reasons for this.

Many international students seem to believe that colleges wouldn’t be interested in their country of birth, and the related customs, food, traditions, etc.

These same students also believe they need to appear “Americanized” in order to be attractive to their target schools in the U.S.

They are wrong and wrong. (more…)

How To Give College Admissions Officials Essays They Want

Colleges Love Your Stories
Especially Those That Seem Almost Ordinary!

 

I’ve read several news articles in recent weeks featuring college admissions officials sharing what they liked about college application essays they read over the last year.

This feedback can be invaluable for students just starting to think about their essays and brainstorming topic ideas.

The admissions staffers at some of the best schools in the nation talked about the types of topics they enjoyed, and why they found them effective in learning more about the student applicants, and connecting with them (and admitting them!).

What the articles didn’t include, however, were ideas on exactly how you can find your own unique topics, and craft them into engaging and meaningful essays.

But don’t despair! (more…)

3 Fixes for Cliche College Application Essay Topics

Should You Write About a Cliche Topic
for Your College Application Essay?

If you are just starting brainstorming ideas for your college application essays, one of the first pieces of advice you might stumble upon is to avoid “cliche” topics.

I always warn my students about these often over-used topics, which can include:

Death of loved ones

Sports (especially injuries and victories/losses)

Band

Mission trips (volunteering)

Tutoring (especially special needs kids)

Travel (family trips)

RELATED: College Application Essay Topics to Avoid

The main reason to avoid them is that droves of other students have already written about these topics, so they aren’t as effective at helping you differentiate yourself from other applicants.

HOWEVER… (more…)

Should You Gamble on Your College Application Essay?

college application essay

Can a Risky College Application Essay
Get You Into the Ivies?

Maybe…

 

This time of year, a flurry of stories hit the national media about students who get into all the Ivy League schools (plus Stanford).

The stories always include scrutiny and speculation about their college application essays.

I have to admit that I’m kind of a sucker for these articles.

There’s such unpredictability with who gets into what schools.

Everyone is looking for clues as to what works and what doesn’t–especially with the essays. (more…)

Common Application Prompt 6: Be Warned!

common application prompt 6

 

Big Red Flag on this New
Common Application Prompt 6!

The Common Application added two new prompts for 2017-18.

Now students can choose from seven prompts (instead of five) to inspire their personal statement “Common App” essay.

The seventh new Common Application prompt basically allows you to write about anything you want, and you can learn more about it and the new prompts in New Common Application Prompts for 2017-18.

The other prompt, the new Common Application Prompt 6, essentially asks you to write about one of your intellectual passions. (more…)