Essay Hell Writing Tips Make the Tabloids!

college application essay
A friendly reporter from the popular daily tabloid newspaper, Metro, contacted me a couple weeks ago. She was writing a piece for the New York edition on college admissions, and wanted to feature some of my college application essay writing tips. (It’s actually a legit newspaper that boasts 18 million daily readers internationally!)
I love getting out the word about my writing advice. So I shared what I thought were four of my most helpful ideas and tips with her.

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Warning: 5 Ways to Blow Your College Application Essay

application essay

 

How to Avoid College Application Essay
Booby Traps

No matter where you are with writing your college application essay, you should double check that you are on the right track.

It’s way too easy to inadvertently torpedo your chances of writing an essay that gives you an edge in the admissions game. (more…)

Essay Hell’s Top 10 Tips

Essay Hell’s Top 10 Tips

College Admission Essay

Photo by Janine Robinson

 

Feeling a Bit Underwater
About Your College Application Essay?

 

It’s that time of year. Most “early decision” deadlines are counting down by the day, and other major deadlines aren’t far behind. Stay calm. Read my blog. Target your essay writing needs by using the indexed listing called “Help By Topic” in the right sidebar.

My last post was about an article that a USA Today reporter wrote sharing my advice on these essays, as well as tips from other college experts. When we first spoke, the reporter asked me to put together a list of my best tips. In her article, she wove in some of the tips I sent her, but I thought students might find the entire list I sent her even more helpful. So here it is:

 Essay Hell’s Top 10 Tips
For Writing Standout
College Application Essays

  

1.   Don’t try to impress. Instead, look for topics that are “mundane,” or everyday. (Scooping ice cream; singing karaoke; riding public busses; having big feet, etc.) It’s counter-intuitive, but those lead to the most memorable essays. (more…)

What Do Admissions Officers Really Really Want?

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College Application Essays

Hot Writing Tips from The Other Side!

 

If you haven’t noticed, I have a lot of opinions about what makes a great college application essay.

But who am I?

I’ve never been an admissions officer, so how do I know what they like and want?

I thought it was time to ask a real live, breathing admissions officer who reads thousands of these essays–and uses them to decide who’s in or who’s out.

To find a great source, I went back to when I started tutoring students on these essays, and my very first client–my daughter.

When Cassidy was an incoming high school senior during the summer of 2008, I helped with her essays.

We had read the guide on finding terrific small liberal arts schools that are off the radar, called 40 Colleges That Change Lives, and she ended up going to one from that book, called Hendrix College in Arkansas.

Cassidy just graduated this spring, and her small college was every bit as wonderful both academically and socially as the book described (Five years in a row Hendrix has been on the “Most Up and Coming Schools” list for U.S. News & World Report).

I decided to ask their admissions officers how they select students using these essays. (more…)

5 Top Tips on Finding Topics for College Admissions Essays

 

College Admissions Essays: Five Tips for the Perfect Topic

Still looking for a college application essay topic
that will set you apart from the pack?

 

Here are my Top Five Tips on finding compelling and memorable topics:

 

1. Start with a defining quality (curious, self-disciplined, creative), and then look for “times” or examples of when you either demonstrated this quality, had this quality challenged or developed this quality.

Click HERE to find my Jumpstart Guide to help you with that approach.

Don’t know your defining qualities? Click HERE to find them.

2. Try to find something “unexpected” to write about, either something that happened to you that no one would expect to happen to someone like you (you love knot-tying but got stuck in a tree because you used the wrong knot); or something you love or pursue that no one would ever expect of you (a football player who loves to bake cakes.); or some personal trait or characteristic that no one would guess has affected you (you are not even 5-feet-tall but wear a size 9 shoe.)

Click HERE and HERE to read more about that.

3. Troll your past for “mundane” or everyday topics as opposed to ones you think might be impressive. Examples: The Day I Washed Dishes at My Dad’s Restaurant; People Think I’m Mean Because I Weigh 300 Pounds; How I Grew to Love Public Busses; I’m a Formal Guy Even Though I Live in Surf City.

Click HERE for more posts on the power of mundane topics.

4. Read sample essays. If you are stuck, it’s so worth the little bit of time to get your hands on a cheap collection and skim through them. First, you will see the range of topics that other students have used, and chances are it will trigger your own ideas.

Secondly, you will get a feel for the looser, narrative style and structure of these essays, which will help you write yours. Click HERE for books of sample essays. And HERE is a post with online sample essays.

5. Go down memory lane and try to remember “times” when you faced a problem. If you can find a problem, you will find a story. (Problems come in many different shapes and sizes: challenges, change, mistakes, obstacles, phobias, fears, bad luck, physical traits, etc.)

If you have a little story (also called an anecdote), chances are you can write an engaging essay. Click HERE to learn more about how this works.

Are you a visual learner? You might find How to Answer Common Application Prompt 4, a free video tutorial, a huge help!

 

The Top Student=Bad Essay Paradox

College Application Essays

How to Stay On Top of the Heap

For some reason, “top students”–aka high achievers, go-getters, A-types, test-takers, straight-A students, you know who you are!–often have the hardest time writing these essays. At least really good ones.

Don’t get me wrong. These students are the ones who know to start early on their essays, and put a lot of effort into them. Their writing is usually technically “clean” of errors, and they probably would get an “A” from their English teachers. The problem is many of their essays are either on the dull side, or come across as trying too hard to impress or make them sound a bit full of themselves. This is not good!

Here are some of the reasons for this top student=bad essay paradox:

1. “Top” students often have a hard time trusting that a casual, narrative style produces an engaging, powerful essay. Instead, they stick to a formal, academic style (like the 5-paragraph essay); use too many long words; downshift into the passive voice; write overly long, descriptive sentences; cram in the adverbs. Many students (not just these “top” ones) often break into the dreaded English-ese (See my attempt at a definition below.). Take a writing Chill Pill to strike a more conversational tone and find your true writing voice.

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