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.
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…)
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…)
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…)
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
If you are just starting to write your four short UC essays (called Personal Insight Questions), here are ten simple tips that can help you crank them out.
I’ve written longer posts on how to brainstorm and map out answers for each of these questions for the University of California application, if you have the time and inclination. Find them here.
Too busy to read all those posts? No worries. (more…)
Don’t Even Think About Writing About the Eclipse
And What to Write About Instead
When I was invited to give one of my college application essay writing workshops to students at Colorado Academy in Denver, Colorado, I had no idea it would be on the day of the big eclipse.
As Monday, August 21, neared, we all realized the sky would darken just about lunchtime during my daylong workshop.
Even though I knew it would be hard to compete with a full-on solar eclipse, I was excited because Denver was more in line with the action than my home in Southern California. (more…)
Confused on How to Format Your
Common Application Essay?
Here are 9 Hot Tips
The 2017-18 Common Application opened for business earlier this week (August. 1). Chances are you will soon need to know how to format your common application essay.
If you are on the ball, you might be ready to apply to specific colleges and universities and need to submit your core Common Application essay, as well as other shorter essays required by certain schools (often called Supplemental Essays).
Or you are still getting ready or working on writing them, but will need to know how to format your common application essay(s) in upcoming weeks or months.
The first step is to get an account with The Common Application. (more…)
Students Stress Over College App Essays
Because for the First Time They Want to Write
But Realize They Don’t Know How
The New York Times ran an article yesterday called “Why Kids Can’t Write.”
Great piece, but I didn’t agree with the title.
They can write. (Click bait.)
However, as the article chronicled at length, most students have not been taught how to write. The writing experts debated if the problem was at the mechanics end (lack of instruction on writing rules) or the other end with creative writing (lack of opportunity for personal expression through writing.)
I don’t think it’s an either-or issue. (more…)
Who Writes Better College Application Essays:
Boys or Girls?
When I gave one of my summer college application essay writing boot camps this last weekend in my hometown of Laguna Beach, I had 11 boys and one girl.
As the students showed up, I casually mentioned this gender imbalance to the group and one of the boys quipped: “Because boys can’t write.”
I like to think of myself as someone who is gender neutral, and this comment caught me off guard.
My first thought was: That’s hogwash. (more…)
Helicopter Parents Aren’t All Bad
(They Just Need to Know When to Drop In)
I received an email from a mom recently inquiring about my tutoring services for her college-bound daughter.
In her email, she included a story about their family history that she thought might make a good topic for an essay. It was mainly about the grandfather’s immigration “coming to America” experiences and the Holocaust.
While it sounded interesting, it didn’t seem that relevant or exciting to me–at least for the purposes of an essay that’s supposed to focus mainly on the student.
At the end of her story, the mom ended with this line: “My daughter’s response: ‘I read that if your parents think it is a good idea…it probably isn’t!’ LOL!” (more…)