How to Find Your Required Essays
The first step to writing your college application essay is to figure out what applications you will use. Then you learn what essays they require and the prompts (essay questions) you need to write about.
To start, check out Essay Hell’s College Application Essay Guide that explains the main application systems (including The Common Application, University of California application, ApplyTexas application (all Texas universities and many colleges), the Coalition App, etc.
The College Application Essay Guide also has super helpful links to each application’s required essay prompts, as well as awesome writing tips, strategies and techniques on how to craft killer essays for them.
Click HERE if you are looking for my essay help (private tutoring or editing services).
Read this short-and-sweet guide to learn how to craft a narrative-style personal statement essay. Quickly find a topic, learn to tell your real-life stories, discover the power of anecdotes, map out your essay, pound out rough draft, and polish it to perfection!
Learn how to write a killer college app essay in less than an hour! In this on-demand course, How to Write a College Application Essay, watch short instructional videos on your own timeframe, use related handouts and digital copies of my writing guides, to learn how to write your essays.
CLICK IMAGES FOR DETAILS
ON HOW TO GET MORE HELP!
As the founder of Essay Hell, I offer private hourlong Jumpstart sessions to help you brainstorm unique topics and map out a writing plan to launch your narrative-style essays. We work either in person or online.
Find a Hot Topic
Ready to find that unique topic that will set your essay apart from the pack?
Scroll through the blog posts below or start with some of the most popular posts
to the right. Once you land on a hot topic, you are off to an awesome start!
Need more help? Check out my tutoring services.
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…
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…
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…
In One Word: Focus!
I’ve been reading college application essays for the last decade.
I’m probably into the thousands by now.
Looking back, I have identified the most common flaw in many of them.
They are too general.
Which make them borrrrrrringggggg.
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)
Mission trips (volunteering)
Tutoring (especially special needs kids)
Travel (family trips)
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…
Can a Risky College Application Essay
Get You Into the Ivies?
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…
As I’ve been watching the Democratic national convention this past week, I realized how much election speeches are like college application essays.
Both are sales pitches. Both candidates and college applicants want something—badly!
Candidates want votes. You want to get admitted. read more…
Some of my tutoring students skim through a college application essay prompt (such as the five options for The Common Application essay requirement), and in a flash, find one that speaks to them.
Others come armed with a long list of topic ideas they have been toying with for weeks.
But most, I would say more than 80 percent, have no clue where to start.
And it’s a terrible feeling. read more…
The first step to writing a winning college application essay is to find that perfect topic.
This is the most important step, and often the hardest.
Once you land on one, you are ready to roll.
Things fall in place. read more…
After working with thousands of students from all over the world on writing the dreaded college application essay for the last eight years, I’ve finally been able to boil down the process to three simple steps.
Yes, just three steps.
If you follow these steps, I believe you will be able to craft a college application essay that will give you an edge in the admissions game.
Each step makes sure that you share information about yourself that will make your essay effective and help you stand out from the competition. read more…
Last week, a new student came to my home for help on his college application essays.
I asked this eager senior about his target schools. He told me Stanford was his top pick, but he was applying to most of the ivies, along with a couple UCs (Cal and UCLA).
Then he handed me a printout of his essay. It was one he had written for his English teacher at our local high school.
It was about a mission trip. To a South American country. And he wrote how he loved working with the kids, and how he realized how privileged he was, and how he hoped to make a difference in the world.
I tried not to let my reaction show. read more…
The 2015-16 Common Application is officially out. If you’re applying to college, you will be making a lot of decisions in upcoming months. Important ones.
What schools should you apply to?
What should you write your college application essay about so you get accepted?
Once you get in, what do you think you will want to study or do in college?
Even though I mainly try to help students figure out great topics for their essays, I think all these big decisions have one thing in common: You can help yourself immensely if you take a little time to identify what matters most to you in your life. read more…
Colleges Encourage Students to Write About $ and Work
in College Application Essays
The New York Times today published the seven college application essays it liked the best for its contest about writing on the topic of money.
Most of the winners wrote about their experiences facing various types of financial hardship and challenges.
Not many images are more daunting than a blank page. The horror! But starting next month (March), I’m launching a weekly Webinar series to assist more students and families with starting their college application essays.
I write this blog, peddle my three guide books and tutor privately to get out my advice, tips and inspiration to make this process less miserable. I actually believe writing these essays can be an enlightening and productive experience, and dare I say, fun, if you have some direction and support. It can also be a total drag.
But I think you have a choice on how it goes. A lot of the stress of the college admissions process is caused by the unknown. Once you know what to do, you will see that it’s not that impossible.
I’m hoping that my Webinars can help students, and parents and others who work with students, get a jump on what they need to do. read more…
How to Focus Your
College Application Essay!
I love all the comments students make about my posts. The most common ones ask about topics for the Common App or other core college application essays, including the University of California prompts. Students want to know what I think of their topic ideas.
I noticed the main problem with many of their ideas is that their topics are way to broad. WAY TOO BROAD! I think many ask my opinion because they suspect their topics are too general, but they don’t know how to focus them. And they are absolutely correct to worry about this. Essays about general topics are almost always dull and ineffective. (What good is an essay if no one wants to read it?)
I have written a lot about how to find topics that are not broad, and instead are engaging, meaningful and memorable. My best advice for students who worry that their topic is too broad would be to keep reading my blog posts! They all carry the same message—find a topic that is specific, zero in on real-life moments (anecdotes), brainstorm topics that are mundane (everyday) as opposed to impressive, pick one quality or characteristic to write about (as opposed to trying to cram in all the great things about yourself.) These are all ways to focus—or narrow down—your topics. read more…
If you’ve been looking for help with your college application essay, I assume you have discovered the mountains of information (some helpful; a lot no so much) out there on the Web. One of my favorite resources for students is The Prospect, which is an organization centered on college admissions and high school/college life.
The main reason I love The Prospect so much is that it is all about helping students survive high school and get into the college of their dreams–but it’s also run by students like you! Their talented staff offered to share some of their best essay-writing tips here on Essay Hell. I think you will find their foodie-approach fun, inspiring and useful! read more…
If you are a Letterman fan, you know that I am supposed to list these college application essay tips backwards, and end with No. 1. But I prefer chronological order. You can watch the YouTube video, where he has the young man, Kwasi Enin, who was accepted to all eight ivies this year, count them down on his show. Some media have tried to pin Kwasi’s success on his essay—but that is pure conjecture (Kwasi is amazing on many levels). Anyway, if you are college bound, you might get a kick out of watching the whole thing.
If you are shy on time, I wrote out Letterman’s list here. And then I wrote my own list below. His may be funny; but mine works!
David Letterman’s Top 10 Ways to Make Your College Application Essay Stand Out
2. Personally give to dean at home in the middle of the night.
3. If you’ve been to space, mention that you’ve been to space. read more…
The Common Application folks announced a couple weeks ago that they will be keeping the same essay prompts for this college application season. If you use the Common App to apply to colleges this fall, you will have five prompts (or questions) to respond to with your college admissions essay. Before last year, students also had the option to simply pick any topic they wanted–but that was dropped last year. And it caused a big controversy in college app circles.
I was among those who thought the option to write about any topic should have been kept. But many people in the college admissions industry (mainly counselors from high schools and private admissions consultants) ultimately weighed in on the debate as a non-issue, since the five prompts are broad enough to allow almost any topic anyway. read more…
Tips for Writing Essays
College Admissions Folks Want to Read
While trying to think of topics for college essays, students often try to guess what the admissions officers are looking for, or what they want to read. It often feels like such a mystery.
But in a recent news article, three top admissions officers shared exactly what they like to read, and how students can find topics they love.
For those of you still doubting the value of a simple, true-life story or sharing a mundane moment to power your college application essay,
I hope this will help convince you about their effectiveness.
Read the entire article, From the Pros: Best College Essays Hint at Who You Are, by Ellen Ishkanian of the Boston Globe. Or check out some of the following highlights. read more…
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. read more…