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!



College Essays: As Told Through Cooking!

(From the Staff at The Prospect)

For those of us who are beginning senior year, the college application essay is one of the biggest components to be considered in these upcoming months. The choices are wide-open: start right away or wait until it’s too late and you have to write it? Write a truthful story about who you really are or cook together a delicious pot of lies?

Luckily, The Prospect is here to help! The college admissions essay can be tackled with the help of just three tasty core ideas:

FIND the recipe

ADD your own spice

TASTE test it, then try again!

(It’s just as easy as cooking!)

Finding the recipe is the first step, and really goes into organization and planning. Here’s some tips and advice from The Prospect’s own graduating seniors and college students:

Know your deadlines, keep reminders, apply about a week early – I applied to around 20 universities, so I depended on my counselor to keep a track of all the dates. Big mistake. I got to know of the U of Florida deadlines literally the day before it, and since it was my first application, I was at my wit’s end about the transcripts and what to write what. And this was a school that was in my top 3!” –Niharika

Give yourself a lot of time to write your essays… Starting right now, keep a Word document or a notebook of random sentences and ideas you think of.  This will help you when you write your essays later, because you never know when inspiration will strike. After you’ve written a draft of an essay, leave it for a few days and then read it out loud to yourself.  This will help you figure out which parts of your essay need the most revision.” –Heather

Start drafting essays early! I literally did not start writing my essays for schools using the common app until mid December. My first draft was so incredibly formal that it made me want to puke. After I wrote my first draft, I sent it to 3 people and asked them to basically shred it to pieces. I basically came up with 10 drafts in 7 days but I took about a 5 day break so my mind could be fresh when I did my final draft. If I were to compare my final with my first, the changes are so so so dramatic and different. Honestly starting out early (it doesn’t have to be summer early but start in October or so) makes all the difference.” –Ameera

The next step is to add yourself— pour in some sugar, sprinkle some spice, do whatever you need to do to showcase your personal pizzazz. Try out these tips to make it work:

Don’t be afraid to write on a cliche topic. Note: I say don’t be afraid, not don’t let it your first and only topic of choice. It’s not about what the story is but rather how you tell your story. I tried so hard to steer away from any topic that made me seem like a pity party (religion, race, etc) but no matter what, I would always go back to writing about my hijab. For me, wearing the hijab plays such a huge role in my life that I didn’t want a college to base who I am simply on my statistic and grades–I wanted to prove that my hijab is me and I am more than a number. Though I did discuss my hijab, I injected my personality EVERYWHERE and made the essay mine.” –Ameera

“Try to sound natural and conversational.  Don’t be pretentious, and don’t use big words for the sake of using big words.  If you do use a big word, make sure you’re using it correctly.  The words “plethora,” “myriad,” “arcane,” “cacophony,” and “ironic” are overused (in my opinion, based on essays I’ve read) and often seem out of place, so think carefully before you use one of them.  In general, avoid overusing adjectives.” –Heather

“My college essay writing advice is simple: be yourself, be honest, and let your personality shine through. For the college I will be attending this fall, one of the essays asked what made you choose the major you had put on the application. While it could have been easy to give some complete BS, inspirational answer, I outright told them that the TV show The West Wing made me want to go into Political Communications. It may be a rather silly reason, but it was the truth.” –Annie

So you’ve finished, it’s all done, you’re never looking at that sorry essay ever again… And then comes in step 3: taste test it, then try again and again until the seasoning and the presentation is as perfect as possible. You really only have this one opportunity to showcase YOU– make it good! Try it again with these three tips:

“Don’t be afraid to start all over again. The essay that ultimately became my CA/QB essay was my third attempt. Before I had written it I had written two completely different essays, neither of which really worked. I feel like people are so afraid to completely trash an essay and they shouldn’t be. Often it takes a couple tries to find your voice and you shouldn’t be afraid to start over because your next essay might be a thousand times better.” –Samantha

“Always get people to read your essay and drafts. You don’t have to ask EVERYONE EVERYWHERE you go. In fact you don’t need 15 drafts to make an essay perfect. Just understand that if someone is criticizing your essay, you  better be able to defend what you’ve written or else you really do need to change it. This goes for grammar, spelling, and topic of the essay.“ –Ameera

“When I wrote my college essays, I really didn’t spend enough time thinking about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. I made my college essays too narrow instead of expanding on a bigger idea. For example, I wrote about being “shy” and how I learned to raise my voice, but I didn’t really include examples of how I had raised my voice. Instead, I just included what I learned but not what I learned it from and how I truly applied it; it’s important to incorporate not just what you learned, but also how it changed you and inspired you and motivated you. I had planned on doing this, but the word limit stopped me. If I would’ve started thinking about my essays sooner, I would’ve been able to include what I wanted to include despite the word limit. I rewrote my essays several times, but I could’ve written them more. Sometimes figuring out how to explain who you are takes lots of time, and that’s okay. But you have to allot yourself that time or you’ll end up with a halfhearted essay despite your intentions.” –Paige

 The results are in: Work work work on your college admissions essay! It could make the difference between being accepted to your dream school and being rejected from it. If you don’t think you have a good topic, try doing something new this summer to make one! Plan your own expedition, volunteer at a cool charity, do something awesome. Best case scenario, you’ll find the perfect topic for the perfect essay. Worst case scenario? You’ll have great stories to tell come school time. If you wrote it once and you already think it’s perfect, try sending it to your English teacher and see what you can change.

The time has come, seniors. Head to the college admissions kitchen and get cookin’ on your delectable college application essay!