How to Background an Anecdote
(Includes 5 writing examples at the bottom!)
If you’ve done your homework on how to write an effective college application essay, you probably know the place to start is with your real-life stories.
The idea is to find moments, incidents and experiences from your past that illustrate a larger point you want to make about yourself in your essay.
Often, the best place to share an engaging mini-story (also called an anecdote) is at the very start of your piece.
The anecdote (mini-story) serves to “hook” or grab your reader’s interest at the start—something you always want in a standout application essay.
However, once you share that little moment, incident or mini-story (anecdote) that you have plucked out of time with little to no introduction, where do you go after that first paragraph or two? read more…
Who Are You?
Tips and Resources to Think About Yourself
If you are working on your personal statement for The Common Application or other college applications, the first step is to start to think about yourself.
Sounds easy enough.
Who am I?
What am I like?
How did I get this way?
What do I care about?
How do I learn?
Why do I matter?
For some students, reflecting on and analyzing their backgrounds can be a snap.
They enjoy that type of introspective, heady thinking.
For others, it can feel intimidating and baffling.
No matter how you feel about this process, you need to know who you are—or at least have some opinions about this—in order to write a meaningful college application essay about yourself. read more…
Okay, so this is a bit of hyperbole on my part.
All students have plenty to write about for their college application essays.
However, from what I’ve seen working with college-bound students for the last decade, many of our most talented, driven and intelligent teenagers are living such parallel, over-achieving lives that they struggle to find an effective essay topic.
These are the same kids, many targeting Ivy League educations, who will need bull’s-eye essays to have even a shot of getting in.
It’s sad, unfair and ironic: The hardest working students have no time for a life. read more…
Find Your Problems
and You Will Find
Your Best Stories
Every year, I write a post for all you students who are ready to start your college application essay.
All you need is to find that one magic topic idea.
There are many ways to brainstorm ideas for college application essay topics.
This time, I’m going for the essay jugular and offering a brainstorm guide to start your college application essay by honing in on your best problems.
If you are new to this process of writing a narrative-style college application essay, let me clue you in to why problems are your golden ticket. read more…
What You Can Learn From
Michael Brown’s College Application Essay
I must have watched the viral video of Michael Brown learning he got into Stanford at least three times in a row.
Such a feat and well-deserved accomplishment for what seems like an all-around great kid!
Not only was Michael accepted to 20 of our top learning institutions—including Harvard, Stanford and Yale—but he got a full ride to each of them. As well as more than a quarter million dollars in scholarships. read more…
Let Lynda Barry Help You Find and Tell Your Best Stories!
Try One of Her Awesome Brainstorming Exercises
If you’re starting to brainstorm that perfect topic to craft your dreaded college application essay, I have a new writing technique you might find helpful.
I’m big on tapping mundane topics to inspire essays.
That means writing about everyday or ordinary experiences as opposed to those that try to impress or wow readers (aka college admissions folks).
Mundane topic example: My obsession with karaoke.
Trying-to-impress topic example: The time I played the star role in the school musical.
See the difference?
Which would you rather read about?
So when I discovered the brilliant writer and cartoonist Lynda Barry recently, and saw she also taps the mundane in life to help her students discover their personal stories, I couldn’t wait to share her ideas with those of you on the prowl for college application essay topics. read more…
Learn How You Can Stand Up for Your Rights
Join the Parkland Students and Rally Your Own High School!
For the last decade, I’ve worked with hundreds of high school students every year on the notorious college application essay.
Once these teenagers start thinking and talking about who they are and what they care about, almost all of them reveal themselves as highly moral kids with idealistic goals and passions.
Above all, they know what’s right.
So it didn’t surprise me that the friends and classmates of the 14 high school students and three teachers slaughtered in Parkland, Florida last week have jumped into action.
Their simple and urgent message: Do something! read more…
Don’t Despair over College Rejection
Sometimes You Discover a Better Path
It’s the time of year when high school seniors are learning where they got accepted to colleges or universities.
Yay! Good for you! Time to celebrate!
Many are also opening those dejecting rejection letters.
If they didn’t get into their dream school, that can be a bummer.
If they didn’t get into any of their schools, it can be a time of utter panic.
So I wanted to share a timely story about a young woman who recently sought my help after experiencing the wildly unpredictable and emotionally charged quest for the right school–and brutal college rejection. read more…
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. read 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. read more…