When people visit my Essay Hell web site, I can see where they come from on my Google analytics page. (I know, kind of creepy, but that’s just how it works now.) I noticed a recent spike of visitors from a blog written by an English teacher in Southern California.

Turns out, this teachers uses my blog to help teach her unit on writing college application essays. I’m so honored and would love to thank her publicly, but I’m not sure she would appreciate that I’ve been reading her class blog, which is intended for her¬†students. This teacher assigned her seniors to read at least two posts and share what they learned from them on her blog. Great idea!

This was like a dream come true for me: A group of smart, motivated students who have no choice but to read my helpful advice and tips and be forced to say something nice about them. As you can imagine, I read every word they wrote, and swooned and laughed, and even shed a tear here and there. It made me feel so great–even though they had no choice but to write all those kind words!

(My favorite comment was the student who asked why the devil on my blog wears Converse sneakers. I have no idea. I guess he’s supposed to be a hip devil. Another student was annoyed by my shameless plugging of my book. Did I mention you can buy it for $9.98? Haha. And about half the students thought I was a man. Do I really sound like a guy?)

From their comments, however, I could tell that these students were going to turn out some amazing essays. They totally got most of my best advice, everything from picking mundane topics to using anecdotes to showing their grit. And unlike a lot of English teachers, their teacher clearly understands what makes up a compelling, narrative essay. They don’t know how lucky they are!

Tufts University

This teacher is so smart that I borrowed a fantastic video she shares with her students to help them get an idea of what admissions officers are looking for in these essays. The video with admissions officers from Tufts University is so worth the five minutes it takes to watch. If you don’t want to watch it, I’ve summarized some of their best advice:

First lesson: These admissions officers are young! I’m almost 53, and I keep thinking admissions officers are around my age (still young, right?). Wrong!! They are really young, having graduated in the 2000s instead of the 1980s. Even with the big age gap, however, I believe what they want isn’t that different from what their older peers would want:

In the video, they were asked: What are you looking for?

One said, “To unpack the story inside.” Another said, “To admit the kid.”

When asked what they wanted to know, they said:

“I want to know who you are. Not what you are doing, but the why and how of who you are. I can see clearly what you are doing (in rest of college app)…just I can’t jump in your mind…I want to feel like I just stepped out of your life.”

Another guy said, “Is this the kind of kid who gets really excited about ideas?” In the essay, he said he wanted the student to “be able to take a stand and express something.”

When it came to word counts, one admissions officer said she doesn’t pay a lot of attention to them, and never counts the words, but advised students stick with the limits.

Do they check students’ Facebook pages? They all laughed and said no way.

Final advice? One said, …”to be empowered to think of the things I was doing were cool.”

If I were you, I would just watch the video. It will give you a feel for who’s at the other end of this application process, and I think it will make you feel better in general. These are real people, not that much older than you, who want you to succeed and figure out if their school is where you would be the best fit.

Even after watching a video like this, however, I know some students will still come away confused. Yes, they understand now what admissions officers want–to know the real you–but how exactly do you write an essay that shows them this? Well, you have some more reading to do–this entire blog is packed with advice on how to do that. Start with my Jumpstart Guide, and go from there. And of course, you can always buy my book! ; )


Here’s the link to the video from Tufts University:¬†