Best College Application Essays Have Touch of Gray

gray-point-background

Learn How to Avoid Black-and-White Thinking
to Add Depth to Your Essays

 

It’s exciting to see that word is getting out to collegebound students, and those who support their admissions quests, that real-life stories power the most effective college application essays.

If you are new to this concept, read up on the narrative (storytelling) writing method that I promote all over this blog.

(If you are just starting learning about college application essays, I recommend first reading How to Write a College Application Essay in 3 Steps. This post you are reading here is intended for students who have a topic and have started writing their first draft.)

Here’s the essence of my writing approach: You use your real-life stories to illustrate or demonstrate one of your defining qualities, characteristics or core values in your college application essay or personal statement.  read more…

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. read more…

Dig Deep: Show Intellectual Vitality in Your College App Essay

shovel

Go Deep to Reveal Your Intellectual Vitality!

 

When writing narrative-style college application essays, I advise students to start by sharing a real-life story that illustrates one of their defining qualities or characteristics.

Once a student shares a real-life story with a problem (either big or small), they can go on to explain how they handled it.

Then comes the most important part: What they learned in the process.

This analysis, reflection or questioning is the most important part of an effective college application essay.

Why? read more…

Dig Deep: How to Add Depth to Your College App Essays

 

Hand Drawn Lightbulb

Go Deep
in Your College Application Essay!

 

When writing narrative-style college application essays, I advise students to start by sharing a real-life story that illustrates one of their defining qualities or characteristics.

All stories contain some type of problem. It’s just the universal nature of all stories—there’s a conflict of some type. I call these problems.

Once a student shares a real-life story with a problem (either big or small), they are poised to explain how they dealt with it.

Then comes the most important part: What they learned in the process.

This analysis, reflection or questioning is the most important part of an effective college application essay. Why? Because this is where a student can show colleges how they think, what they care about and what they value.

It’s called “intellectual vitality.” read more…

How to Write Anecdotes: The Story Behind My New Video Tutorial

The Best Way to “Show”
in Your College App Essay

 

When I started as a young reporter at my first newspaper job in Illinois, I was assigned to cover a half dozen small farm towns.

I didn’t think much would happen out there.

But after about a month, there was a gruesome double murder in one of the towns on my beat. read more…

Want to Take My New College App Writing Course for FREE?

udemy-graphic

I’m Giving It Away to 50 Lucky Students!

 

UPDATE 5-30-2015: This offer is over. Sorry!

 

I’m offering my new mini online course, How to Write a College Application Essay, to the first 50 students who send me a request via email.

I will send you a link, which will bring you to the host site, Udemy. And you take it from there.

The course only takes about an hour to go through the 11 short tutorials and related handouts, and walks you step-by-step through the brainstorming, writing and editing process.

It’s the exact approach I take with my private tutoring students and use during my workshops—so I know it works! read more…

Do You Undermine Yourself with Words?

college application essay

Photo Via Goop

 

This might seem random, but I found some powerful writing advice on the blog of Gwyneth Paltrow that I believe is relevant to students writing their college application essays, and others, especially women.

The woman Paltrow recently featured in her blog, Goop, had some opinions about how women have unconscious habits in their speech and writing that cause them to come across as less confident and competent.

And they hit me hard.

When I thought about it, I was surprised how my lingering insecurities and self-esteem issues still creep into my writing, and even how I talk.

So I thought you might would find them interesting, too. read more…

6 Ways to “Make Me Care” in Your College Application Essay

college application essay

Storytelling “Clues” from a Master
for your College Application Essay

If anyone knows how to spin a great story, it’s this guy: Andrew Stanton. Ok, I hadn’t heard of him before either, but I certainly know about his films: All the Toy Story movies, Monsters, A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo, WALL-E, and a ton more. If you are working on your college application essay, you grew up with all these popular animated films.

Stanton is an American filmmaker with Pixar studios, and he recently gave a TED talk about what makes a story powerful. His greatest storytelling commandment? “Make me care,” he says. read more…

“If you want to ‘show’ something, ask, ‘Can you prove it with an example?'”

Read more

Excerpt from New Writing Survival Kit: Show AND Tell

 

 One of the Hot Writing Tips
for College Application Essays

I’m excited to share one of the 50-plus writing tips, techniques and ideas from my just-published guide: Essay Hell’s Writing Survival Kit, now available as a Kindle ebook on Amazon. This one is from Chapter Three, called Show the Way.

In many of the writing tips and advice, I draw helpful examples from the sample college application essays written by students at the back of the book. In the digital Kindle version, there are live links (but they won’t work in this excerpt, sorry!). read more…

Comic Relief for College App Essay Writing

 

This hilarious video is making the rounds on the Internet (my niece’s husband shared it with me on Facebook) just in time for many college application essay deadlines.

It’s funny because the outrageous statements made by students are painfully true.

A couple of my favorite lines: “I’m trying to hide the fact that I’m a privileged white person.” and “If this wasn’t a college essay, it would be considered way over-sharing.”

Another favorite was: “I’m using words I literally just learned a minute ago on Thesaurus.com.” read more…

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. read more…

The Prospect Cooks Up Delicious Essay Recipes!

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…

How to Turn a Real-Life Moment into an Anecdote

 

I confess: I love anecdotes.

These are basically when a writer shares a mini-story about a real-life moment or experience.

Usually, they are plucked out of the past, and presented without much introduction.

Their power is that they draw you into a story, or college application essay, by starting with a punch of drama.

Anecdotes make awesome introductions.

The key is to get as close to the action as possible.

I’ve written tips and advice on how to write anecdotes, but thought I would try to model an example.

They seem so simple when you read them, but they are harder than you might think to craft.

The trick is to practice, and study how other anecdotes are put together.

The most common place to find them is at the start of longer newspaper pieces or magazine stories, or of course, personal (narrative) essays. read more…

College Application Essay Grabber Trick: Show First!

 

When you write a college application essay, you want to “grab” the attention of your reader from the start.

My favorite writing technique to hook readers is to engage them with an anecdote, which is a real-life moment or incident.

You might have already written your essay, and not noticed that you have one of these magical anecdotes down low.

Chances are you started your essay telling about yourself in your essay, and missed the opportunity to reach out and grab your reader with a real-life anecdote that illustrates your point. read more…

Aim High With Your College Application Essay!

18810_359038627535059_2112096999_n

 

Meet Jessica Peyton Roberts, who is a talented and enthusiastic private college admissions consultant from Tacoma, Washington. Roberts, of Aim High Writing College Consulting, recently wrote a comprehensive guide for students and parents called Navigating the College Application Process.

In her ebook, she has a chapter on writing the college application essay, and graciously allowed me to share part of her sage advice.

I talk a lot in this blog and my guide books about how to find and share your personal stories, usually in the form of an anecdote, to bring your narrative-style essays to life and reveal part of who you are.

What Makes a College Application Essay “Great”?

Are you starting to think about writing your college application essay?

If so, you need to know what makes a great essay to know how to start brainstorming and writing your own.

You can often recognize a “great one” when you read or hear it—but it’s more difficult to explain what exactly made it that way.

Here’s my attempt to list the features that comprise a great college application essay.

Unlike other essays, these have a very specific goal that you must always factor in when you write a great one: To help your college application land in the “Yes!” pile.

Many of the elements of an effective college admissions essay further that goal.

A GRRRREATTT college application essay:

1. “Grabs” the readers at the start. I believe one of the best ways to do this is to start with an anecdote (real-life incident). Something happens.

2. Usually is written in a narrative (story-telling/memoir-like/slice-of-life) style drawing off real-life experiences.

3. Reveals a specific core or “defining” quality (creative, resourceful, fierce, resilient, driven, etc.) about the writer, rather than trying to describe many qualities. This is how to focus the essay. read more…

It’s Official: Out with the Big Words!

 

Big changes in the new SAT test announced recently caused quite a stir, especially that they were dropping the essay component. I was most excited, however, that they also were going to stop emphasizing “obscure” vocabulary words.

Not only do I think it’s ridiculous to force students to memorize lists of long words no one uses, but I think it’s a huge waste of precious class and homework time.

After years of working with students on their college application essays, I have seen how the emphasis in English classes on these obscure words oozed into students’ writing–and made it pedantic (look it up. haha.) and dull. Most think they sounded smarter when they use words like “deleterious” and “cacophony” in their essays. read more…

Hot College App Essay Tips from a Harvard Sophomore

I recently received an email from a student named Daniel Ryu, who is a sophomore at Harvard University. Daniel said he was stressed out his senior year of high school during the application process and had found my blog helpful. He offered to share what worked for him. No matter where you are aiming to get in, I would listen closely to what Daniel has to say. Obviously, it worked!

Here’s Daniel’s guest post:

4 Tips for the College Essay

So you’re a high school senior or maybe even a junior; the thought of applying to college has been on your mind for some time. It seems that every moment of your high school career has been building up to this point. Your GPA is mostly set and you are already involved in all the clubs and extracurriculars that you will ever join, at least in high school. There is now one thing that stands in your way. The college essay. read more…

Dumpster Words for College Application Essays


 

A couple weeks ago, I shared on LinkedIn a New York Times column about “annoying, overused and abused” words from 2013, and asked a group of college admissions experts for the most common offenders they found in college application essays.

The idea is that when you are editing a draft of your essay that you can try to spot words that don’t work, whether they were over-used, inaccurate, unnecessary, redundant or even not a word. And improve your essay.

When you first sit down to pound out your first draft, however, don’t even worry about what words you use. Just get it all out. This list is mainly for the process of self-editing, when you re-read your work and make changes to improve the clarity, flow and meaning. read more…

How to Find Your Essay Voice

 

Many students have trouble finding their “voice” while writing college application essays.

One of the biggest problems I see is that students want to sound smart and impressive, and they often lose their natural story-telling voice by forcing in big words and long, formal sentences.

Most students understand the narrative voice when they read it, but have a hard time capturing their own.

I always advise students to “write like they talk,” but this can be hard to do.

Here’s a technique I use to help them capture their natural language to use in their essays.

This is hard to do alone, but if you can rope someone else into helping you—a friend, teacher, college counselor, tutor, parent, etc.—it can be so helpful.  read more…

Click logo to visit Home Page!

popular posts

Need More Help?

college application essay

As a professional writing coach, I help students, parents, counselors, teachers and others from around the world on these dreaded essays!
Learn about my in-person and online tutoring, editing, workshops, books, and online courses, ... READ MORE....

Online Course

Learn to Write Your Essay in One Hour!

Udemy

My on-demand, fast-and-easy online e-course: How to Write a College App Essay (Click lightbulb for details.)

Perfect for The Common App, UCs, grad school, transfer and scholarship essays!

Buy Course for $99 and Start Now!

Buy Now

Find Helpful Posts!

Bestselling Writing Guide!

Bestselling Writing Guide!

Click book image to learn about all four of my popular writing guides!