Welcome to Essay Hell’s
College Application Essay Guide

When you apply to a college or university, you first need to figure out what application system they use. The fastest way to figure this out is to visit their web site and search their admissions page. Or you can check out the different application systems’ web sites and see what colleges use them (find links to main college application systems on right.)

The good news is that there are several application systems now that consolidate the process. So instead of having to write long essays for each college your apply to, you typically only write one core essay (personal statement), which goes out to your target schools.

The main system is call The Common Application. There are a handful of others, including the Universal, Coalition and Cappex applications. Also, the University of California, and state Texas universities and colleges use their own application systems to consolidate the process for their schools.

Here Are The Main Application Systems
Used by Colleges and Universities

The Common Application (use this one if possible)

The Coalition for Access (skip if possible; must use if applying to U. of Washington, U. of Florida and U. of Maryland)

Cappex Application (starting September 2017)

The Universal College Application (not many schools use this one)

The University of California (for all UCs, such as Berkeley, UCLA, Santa Cruz, David, etc.)

ApplyTexas (all public universities and some colleges in Texas; including U. of Texas at Austin)

Once you figure out what application(s) you need to use, find the required essays and prompts—as well as specific writing strategies, tips and ideas on how to answer them—below. Or RETURN to Home page.

Everything You Need to Know About the Four Most Common Applications (Click Icons for Essay Prompts and Writing Strategies!)

Common Application Essays

Find help on choosing from the five prompts for The Common Application, and crafting a “slice-of-life” essay that helps you stand out.

University of California Essays

University of California Essays

Brainstorm ideas and craft short essays for the eight new essay prompts for the University of California application.

Coalition for Access...Essays

This is a brand new application system: Find strategies for all five of the prompts to write the required personal statement essay.

ApplyTexas Essays (Most Texas Schools!)

Learn about the all-new prompts for the ApplyTexas application, and tips and advice on writing essays for Topic A, B and C.

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10 Quickie Tips to Nail Your UC Essays

uc essays

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…

The Big Eclipse: A Lesson in College Application Topic Ideas

 

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…

How to Format Your Common Application Essay

format your common application essay

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. read more…

Why Kids CAN Write–If You Teach Them How

kids can write

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. read more…

The Trouble with Boys and College Application Essays

college application essay

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. read more…

Do Parents Help or Hurt College Application Essays?

college essay

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!” read more…

New Essay Requirements for ApplyTexas and University of Texas for Fall 2018

applytexas prompts

UT Austin Essays Just Got Easier!

If you are applying to be an incoming freshmen to the University of Texas at Austin for Fall 2018, I believe this is a piece of good news for you.

The application essays you need to write have changed from writing three longer essays (Topics A, B, and C) to one long essay (Topic A) and three supplements, which they call “short answers.”

To address Topic A, you need to write one personal statement type of essay about your background for the prompt they call Topic A. There is no stated word length, but a good range is around 500 words. read 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. read 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. read 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! read 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… read 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. read more…

College Application Essay Workshops in Laguna Beach this Summer!

Weekend Essay Writing Boot Camps
in Laguna Beach

I will be offering three, two-part essay workshops this summer in my hometown of Laguna Beach on how to write awesome college application essays.

The workshops, which will be 90 minutes each on Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon, will be held at our coastal town’s wonderful community center, on Third Street, called the Suzi Q, located in the heart of our downtown.

The boot camps will include everything from understanding what makes an effective essay to how to brainstorm unique topics to editing and polishing drafts.

The essay workshops will teach students how to craft personal statement essays that will be perfect for the Common Application and other core essays, as well as writing admissions essays for the University of California and other colleges and universities. read more…

Start Your Personal Statement the Right Way

personal statement

 

Ready to write your personal statement essay?

It can be for your Common Application essay, or other university or college prompts, or transfers, or medical or law school, or even scholarship applications.

To start, always read the prompt.

If it asks you to write something fundamental about yourself (such as all seven of the Common App prompts), then they want a personal statement essay from you.

The next step is to start brainstorming. read more…

Hot Tips for new Common Application Prompt 6

new common application prompt 6

3 HOT TIPS
for
Common App Prompt 6

 

In a previous post, I warned about the possible pitfalls of writing about the new Common Application prompt 6.

My main concern was that in writing about one of your passions — a “topic, idea or concept — you will need to make sure to craft a personal essay that is mainly about YOU!

As opposed to one that is only about the “topic, idea or concept” that you pick to write about.

Read about how to write an essay about the new Common Application prompt 6 that is engaging and personal, instead of academic and dull, in this post:  Common Application Prompt 6: Be Warned.

Then come back to learn three other hot tips on how to write about this tricky prompt. read 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. read more…

Launching My New Essay Guide with Amazon Giveaway!

GET IT FOR FREE FOR LIMITED TIME!

I’m introducing my hot-off-the-press writing guide, “Essay Hell’s 50 Most Commonly Asked Questions about College Application Essays” by giving it away for the next 5 days on Amazon.

Starting tomorrow, February 13, just go to its sales page on Amazon and you can download the Kindle version for free.(Click HERE to get free Kindle app for your computer, phone or table.)

I designed this guide for students, parents, teachers and counselors who want quick and easy answers to the questions I have fielded the most during my decade working with these dreaded college application essays.

Not only do I include simple answers for each of the 50 questions, I also include clickable links to related posts from this blog to provide even more in depth explanations, advice and tips. read more…

New Common Application Prompts for 2017-18

new common application prompts

New Common Application Prompts for 2017-18:

TOPIC OF CHOICE IS BACK!!

 

Great news for you college-bound juniors who are just starting to think about your college application essays.

If you need to write your personal statement essay for The Common Application, they just made it a lot easier.

Instead of having to pick one topic from their list of suggested 5 prompts, you can now write about ANYTHING YOU WANT.

read more…

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.

read more…

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