Beware Covid and the College Application Essay

A Great Essay Topic? Anything But the Coronavirus!

When counseling students on finding great topics for their college application essays, I often direct them to explore problems they have faced in their lives.

Problems provide the perfect springboard for writing a compelling personal statement. (Problems = challenge, obstacle, mistake, flaw, phobia, conflict, change, etc.) If you faced a problem, big or small, it means that:

1. Something interesting and personal happened

2. You had to deal with it

3. You learned something

This simple framework can help you share your personal stories in your essay, and then also examine, explore and share how they shaped you and what you care about (your values).

And voila! A college application essay that is engaging, meaningful and memorable.

RELATED: Use this post to learn how to write about a problem for your personal statement essay.

So if this simple approach works, and all you need is a juicy problem to spin into an effective essay, wouldn’t you want to write about the biggest problem the world is facing right now?

A global pandemic that has literally shut down life as we know it, killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people, snuffed out jobs, forced families to hide in their homes and has no clear end in sight?

Isn’t that the perfect topic?

Well, no. (more…)

FREE College Application Essay Webinars!

FREE Summer Essay Writing Webinars!

First one: Wednesday, July 8!

I know this is a hard time for many students and families. To do my small part to try to ease the financial strain due to the current pandemic, I will be offering FREE webinars this summer to help students get a head start on their college application essays. The first one will be Wednesday, July 8, at 3 p.m. via Zoom meetings. 

During our sessions, I will walk you through the basics of what makes a great essay, and then help you brainstorm topic ideas. Time allowing, I will also share other advice and tips on structuring and editing essays to make them focused and meaningful. Students will learn the step-by-step process that I have taught thousands of students over the last decade. We will end with a Q&A session, so bring your questions (eg. topic ideas you have that you would like feedback on…).

The vibe will be very informal, friendly and encouraging and ideally leave you eager to get cranking on your college application essays! I will focus on advice and ideas on how write the most common essay–the personal statement. This is the first-person essay that you write about yourself, and is required for The Common Application, The Coalition Application and other applications, such as for scholarships, etc. The tips and instruction you get in this session should also help you with other college application essays, such as for the University of California, common supplemental essays, etc. It’s all about learning how to pick topics and write about yourself, and what you care about and why.

Participants Can Get My Companion Online Essay Writing Bootcamp Course for Only $20! (Normally almost $100!)

BONUS! Also, any students who would like access to my popular online essay writing course (that I sell for $99)–which includes my best-selling writing guides (eg Escape Essay Hell and Heavenly Essays), short instructional videos and other helpful resources–can get it by simply donating a minimum of $20 to any non-profit organization working to support the underprivileged in our country (just email copy of receipt). Any students who can’t afford this donation for whatever reason can get it for free by asking.

HOW TO SIGN UP: For a link to my first webinar on Wednesday, July 8, please send me, Janine Robinson, an email at: EssayHell@gmail.com. Depending on demand, I will be giving weekly webinars through the month of July and into August. Send me an email for future dates and/or watch this page. Tell your friends!

Here are a couple awesome organizations that could use your support (click name of organization to learn more about these groups and how to donate). Or pick one you like:

Campaign Zero
The Marshall Project
NAACP Legal Defense Fund
ACLU
National Immigration Center
Border Angels

The Main Point of Your College App Essay

main point

Know the Main Point You Want to Make
About Yourself In Your Essay!
Or else…

 

I don’t know why I haven’t written about this before. It’s soooooo important to writing a college application essay that will give you that edge in landing your dream school acceptance.

To start off, if you don’t know the Main Point of your college application essay, you are pretty much sunk right off the bat.

In my popular writing guide, Escape Essay Hell, I’m pretty sure I mentioned this somewhere in my step-by-step process. But I probably should have hammered this topic more.

If you are writing a personal statement style essay for say, The Common Application, or other college applications, the piece needs to be all about you.

So, as in all good writing, you can’t really begin until you have a clear idea of what you want to say. In this case, what you want to say about yourself.

Finding THE MAIN POINT YOU ARE GOING TO SAY ABOUT YOURSELF in your college application essay is similar, actually almost identical, to making a thesis statement.

Ugh. I know. I never liked having to deal with those. They make you think, and also make some hard decisions.

Why? Because you have to boil down your message to its essence. And that ain’t easy.

When you write a personal statement essay, you need to DECIDE what the main thing is you want to say. About yourself.

Trouble is, you can’t say everything. That would take a book.

So you must pick. Narrow it down. Frame it up. Decide on ONE main thing you want to tell these schools about yourself. ONE!

No, you can’t just say how great you are. Or, pick me, pick me, I’m super smart, and a hard worker and also play a mean sax. And did I mention I have 40,000 hours of community service?

Instead, you want to find ONE thing about yourself that you can write about that will help your target colleges and universities:

  1. Differentiate you from the other applicants
  2. Find you likable
  3. See that you are interesting
  4. Get a sense of your “intellectual vitality,” which mainly means you enjoy learning and thinking
  5. Remember you when they are making their cuts

This is where you want to start the brainstorming process to try to identify topics that you can use to show this ONE MAIN POINT about yourself to these schools.

Here are some topics students wrote about in the sample essays in my collection, Heavenly Essays: An obsession with junk collecting. Messing up while waiting tables. Coming from an in vitro egg. Road trip in Winnebago with parents. Getting stuck in a tree. Swallowing a goldfish. Having three older bossy sisters. Smiling too much.

Great topics! However, before these students could write about these ideas, they had to first know…you got it…THE MAIN POINT THEY WANTED TO MAKE ABOUT THEMSELVES in their essays.

Because these essays were not about these topics. They were about these students. And your essay needs to be about you.

main point

When working one-on-one with students, I usually start by having them identify a short list of their defining qualities or characteristics. Then we pick one, and we use that to decide the ONE MAIN POINT they will write about themselves in their essay.

RELATED: How to Find Your Defining Qualities

I don’t know where you are at in the brainstorming or writing process. But see if this helps you identify your MAIN POINT:

Can you write: “I am the type of girl or guy who is _______________________ and it matters because ______________________.” ?

Try to fill in that first blank with one specific description of yourself, such as a defining quality or characteristic. The second blank will help you identify what you value and/or what you learned.

This is how you pick or decide what part of you you are going to showcase in your essay. This will give it focus and allow you to write about yourself without needing an entire book.

Remember, you are going to write about only one part of yourself.

main point

Once you have a clear idea of your MAIN POINT, everything you have to say in your essay will relate, somehow, to this point. Everything you say will support this point, offer examples (little stories of you in action) of this point, explore and explain this point.

Check out this post, How to Write a College Application Essay in 3 Steps, to learn how to put together a narrative style personal statement essay that will cover all these goals. And of course, include your main point. You might not need to overtly state your main point, as with a thesis statement, but it will be in there somewhere.

If you want more help, my book, Escape Essay Hell, lays this all out step by step in more detail.

Remember, the MAIN POINT of these college application essays is to help you stand out among the competition. And you can’t stand out unless you first know the MAIN POINT about yourself that will help you do this best.

Good luck!

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for College Application Essays to Publish!

***Looking for help starting your essays? Check out my affordable Jumpstart Webinars! Adding more for July. Only $30. FREE if you can’t afford them.

College Application Essays

My Sample Essay Collection

Have a College Admissions Essay You Love? Send It In!

It been a little over five years since I published my best-selling collection of sample college application essays, called Heavenly Essays.

Most of the essays were written by former students, although I also included a handful by other students who submitted their pieces to me.

Now, I would love to add about a dozen new essays to this collection to keep it fresh and timely. (Mainly personal statement essays used for the Common App, Coalition App, Questbridge App and others core essays.)

Anyone is welcome to send in essays. Of course, I especially love hearing from former clients, but I know many other students have written excellent essays as well.

In Heavenly Essays, I included the essay, along with the student’s name, city/state/country, and school attended. At the end of each essay, I have written a short analysis where I shared my thoughts on what worked well and why, and what writing devices, ideas or techniques the writer used effectively. My goal is for students who read these essays, and my analyses, to learn how to craft their own narrative essays.

I believe one of the best ways students can learn how to write engaging and meaningful personal statement essays for their college applications is to read what others have written.

Not only can they get a sense of how these story-telling style essays are structured, and notice the more casual style and authentic voices, but students can also find inspiration for their own topic ideas.

Who knew you could write a killer essay about collecting trash, or messing up a food order while waiting tables, or coming from a family with big hips?

Those of you who have worked with students on their essays–college admissions counselors, English teachers and even parents–are all welcome to submit essays for my collection. Of course, you need to get the student’s permission.

You can either copy and paste them in an email, or attach them as Word or Google docs, and send them to my email: EssayHell@gmail.com

Please feel free to ask me any questions, too.

In my opinion, I think this is a great opportunity not only to share students’ work and inspire others, but publishing a personal piece of writing is a nice accomplishment.

I’m also happy to send a free copy of my collection of Heavenly Essays to anyone who wants to submit essays for these additions. Again, just send me an email.

My Step-by-Step Guide

(I also have a long-standing offer to anyone who buys any of my writing guides on Amazon, either digital or paperback version—Escape Essay Hell, Heavenly Essays or The Writing Survival Kit–and leaves a short star-rating and comments on its Amazon sales page, is welcome to a free digital copy of any of my guides. Just let me know if you left a review and what book you would like.)

Best Essay Writing Tips and Advice!

Thanks for your support!

Janine Robinson

How to Ignore College Application Essay Hype

Need Help Starting Your Essays? 
I have a Jumpstart Webinar THIS Saturday morning, June 22!
Only $30, includes my online essay writing course, too!

Webinar Details Click Here!

Macro Photography of Black Sunglasses on Sand

Keep Your Summer Chill!

Many of you are already out for summer, or at the finishing line. Yippee!!

If you’re now officially an incoming high school senior, or soon to be, it’s time to get cranking on your college application essay.

I’m sure you have heard that summer is the ideal time to start the brainstorming and writing process. If you can get them all done before the start of your senior year, all the better.

You most likely have heard these essays can be critical to your college acceptance chances.

Yes, it’s true they can matter, and sometimes tip the scales in your favor. No doubt it’s worth putting in significant time and effort on them.

But I believe it’s important not to fall for all the hype and madness around this application process.

I know when I’m stressed or anxious, my creative juices quickly shrivel up.

Stress Handwritten Text on White Printer Paper

Once you start reading about college application essays on the Web, you most likely will find advice that uses intimidating words, such as “transformational” and “differentiating.” So-called experts like to say things like how it’s critical to “Be yourself”  in your essay, and how these are your “Chance to shine.”

They aren’t wrong, necessarily. But all the ballyhoo isn’t very helpful if all you want to know is how and where to start, and what topic to write about, and how to craft it into an effective essay.

When you hear that a killer essay is one that shows you “transforming yourself,” that’s quite a directive. It means you had some type of dramatic change in your life, whether it was physical, emotional or even spiritual.

If you had that type of experience, good for you. And it could make a solid topic.

Most of us, however, by age 16 or 17 or even later, have not experienced that type of radical metamorphosis. So can you still write a great essay?

Absolutely!

What I have found working with students on these essays and the search for the holy grail topic, is that the simple, everyday “mundane” ones usually work best. Same goes for life changes. They don’t need to be profound to be interesting and meaningful.

For instance, if you are rooting around for an interesting topic, and reflecting on ways you have changed in recent years, look for the smaller changes. Look for shifts, adjustments, alterations, smaller movements in your life. I believe the most interesting shifts come in your thinking, especially if you learned something new or unexpected, or saw something in a different light or context.

The idea is that your essay topic doesn’t need to be about a momentous change in your life. Instead, recall moments, incidents or experiences that happened in your recent past (high school years are best), and see if anything changed or shifted in your thinking (about yourself, about others or about the world) in the process of dealing with whatever went down.

That takes off the pressure to have had a radical life experience where you were one person, and then something happened, and suddenly you were an entirely different person. That rarely happens. Instead, brainstorm those everyday moments or “times,” and explore how your thinking changed. Even better, think about how what you cared about changed. Hint: those are called your values.

White Board on Beige Surface

Colleges love to not only get a sense of your unique personalities in these essays, but they value seeing how you think, feel and behave, and what you value and learn, in these essays. You can write a “transformational” essay without having changed from a bad person to a good person, or a shy person to an outgoing person, etc.

You are changing all the time, and it can be hard to notice at the moment. Take a little time to think of things that have happened to you, and more time to examine how you responded to them. Another hint: best place to find interesting moments are those that involved problems.

Even if you are following me so far, you most likely are wondering what you do once you think of some of these personal changes or shifts, and how to spin them into a piece of writing.

I have written posts all over my Essay Hell blog on exactly what to do, and I also spell it out in my popular writing guide, Escape Essay Hell, and in my online writing bootcamp. I’m also walking students through this process in my Jumpstart webinars, which started this month. The next one is this Saturday, at 10 a.m., West Coast time, and I will have several more this month.

So many ways to get started on these essays. Pick one and get going!

I hope you are hearing my main point in this post: Don’t get freaked out by all the hype about what these essays are all about.

Like all the millions of students who have gone into Essay Hell before you, you will also find a topic and write a killer essay! Just buckle down at some point this summer, read up on what they are all about, pick what resources you think will help you the best, and you will find they aren’t that freaky after all.

Orange Flames Wallpaper

Here are some of my best posts to get you launched:

What Makes a College Application Essay Great?

The Secret to a Killer College Application Essay

#Selfie: 5 Ways It’s Like Your College Application Essay

Land in the Yes Pile

Use The Unexpected

Essay Topics That Worked

How to Show Your Grit

How to Write Your College App Essay in 3 Steps

GOOD LUCK!! You got this!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Record Scratch Your College App Essay Stories

                     

How to Background an Anecdote

(Includes 5 writing examples at the bottom!)

If you’ve done your homework on how to write an effective college application essay, you probably know the place to start is with your real-life stories.

The idea is to find moments, incidents and experiences from your past that illustrate a larger point you want to make about yourself in your essay.

Often, the best place to share an engaging mini-story (also called an anecdote) is at the very start of your piece.

The anecdote (mini-story) serves to “hook” or grab your reader’s interest at the start—something you always want in a standout application essay.

However, once you share that little moment, incident or mini-story (anecdote) that you have plucked out of time with little to no introduction, where do you go after that first paragraph or two? (more…)

Perfect Students Have Nothing to Write About: An Education Tragedy

Okay, so this is a bit of hyperbole on my part.

All students have plenty to write about for their college application essays.

However, from what I’ve seen working with college-bound students for the last decade, many of our most talented, driven and intelligent teenagers are living such parallel, over-achieving lives that they struggle to find an effective essay topic.

These are the same kids, many targeting Ivy League educations, who will need bull’s-eye essays to have even a shot of getting in.

It’s sad, unfair and ironic: The hardest working students have no time for a life. (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. (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. (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. (more…)