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…
Prove You Deserve to Win in Your Scholarship Essays
Scholarship essays are critical if you want to go to college, but can’t afford it. To win them, you usually need to write powerful and personal scholarship essays.
(Yes, QuestBridge applicants, this includes you!)
Scholarship essays are similar to the personal essays you write for college applications. They need to give schools (or sponsors) a sense of who you are, what makes you tick and what you value.
Scholarship essays, however, usually need to go one step further. Applicants need to also show and explain why they deserve to win the scholarship. read more…
You Don’t Need Tragedy to Write
a Standout College Admissions Essay!
This is the time of year that the frenzy surrounding college admissions starts to grow.
Early decision deadlines are just weeks away.
Students who put off writing their college application essays are running out of excuses—and time.
Those who finally sat down to figure out the Common Application are shocked at the number of additional supplemental essays they need to pound out.
Compounding the looming sense of doom are some of the myths about these essays. read more…
How to Find the
in College Application Essays
I received an email from a student named Hannah who told me she was homeschooled, and that she had been advised to write about that for her college application essay.
Hannah said she was having “trouble thinking of anything unique or super meaningful” from her homeschooling experience.
I gave this some thought, and here’s what I would advise:
Homeschooling is something unique and special in itself.
And that’s a good thing.
But as an essay topic, it’s way too broad and most likely written about by a lot by other homeschooled students, so it risks being overdone already. (More than 3 percent of school age kids are home-schools; more than 1.5 million.) 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.
I get a lot of students with my college application essay tutoring who fall into the “math/science” end of the learning spectrum.
In general, that means that classes such as Algebra II and Chemistry come relatively easy to them, and English and other humanities not so much.
Many think they are not strong writers and are mortified that their college application essay could pull so much weight in where they get into college.
This just doesn’t seem fair, especially when many of these students have off the charts test scores.
If it helps, I like to think that colleges understand this discrepancy and take the larger picture into consideration when deciding who to accept.
If nothing else, you math/science students should view your essay as a chance to set yourself apart from the pack, and also showcase your balanced personality at the same time.
(I don’t mean to stereotype, but math/science whiz kids sometimes get pegged as not as social or well-rounded as other students. You know, it’s that annoying nerd or geek thing.) read more…
I gave away 100 copies of my ebook guide last week. (If you missed the giveaway, I’m planning on doing another in October.) Even though I’ve always had visitors from all over the world, I was overwhelmed by the enthusiastic students from so many countries. And they all shared one thing in common–they wanted out of Essay Hell!
I haven’t crunched the numbers, but I would guess only about 30 percent were from the United States. Some were from large public schools in New York, California, Virginia, Ohia, Utah, Connecticut, Wisconsin, etc. Others were from parochial schools and specialty (charter, magnet, Montessori, all girls, etc.) schools. Two were home schooled.
I was so impressed by the variety of countries. My favorite part was hearing all their unusual, distinguished names and home countries. Here’s just a sampling:
Bernice from Ghana.
Aawaz from Nepal.
Innocent from Kenya.
Ahn from Vietnam. read more…
College Application Essays
Underprivileged or Underrepresented Students: This Means You!
Why You Must Share Stories That Show Your Grit
As a writing coach, I work mainly with students I consider “privileged.”
This means they can find support writing college application essays through an extensive network of tutors (like me), test prep programs, private college admissions counselors, services in their affluent schools, and most importantly, from well-educated, connected parents who will do almost anything to help them.
But I know there are thousands of bright, eager and deserving students out there who have none of this support.
In fact, at almost every turn, many are bombarded with obstacles that are not their fault. read more…
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.)
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.)
Are you a visual learner? You might find How to Answer Common Application Prompt 4, a free video tutorial, a huge help!
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
College Admissions Essays
A Step-By-Step Guide to Telling Your Story
Step 1: Write down 3-5 “defining qualities” about yourself.
Think of how one of your parents would sum you up to a stranger.
My Julie, why, she’s creative, ambitious, caring and has a mean stubborn streak. (You can use short phrases, too. “always tries hard,” “takes risks,” “is a fast study.”)
Step 2: Take one of those qualities and try to think of a time–it doesn’t have to be earth-shaking and probably only lasted about 5 minutes or so–when that quality was challenged, or formed, or tested, proven, or affected/changed.
HUGE HINT: Think about a problem, or an obstacle, conflict, challenge or some type of trouble, that involved you and that quality.
Step 3: If you can find an interesting moment, incident, experience or story to convey about a time when things went wrong for you, BINGO, you could have found a great topic!
ANOTHER HUGE HINT: The incident does not have to be when you fell off a cliff or were hit by a car.
Problems can take many forms, including a personal idiosyncrasy, or phobia, a challenge, or something (big or little, real or in your mind) that tried to stop you from doing something you wanted.
I will stop here. But in a nutshell, you can now relay the problem (in story form, called an “anecdote”) and then explain what you learned, and why, by dealing with it.