Why Bad Writers
Write the Best
College Application Essays

If you think you can’t write, and you need to write a college application essay, this is your lucky day. There’s a higher-than-average chance you will write an awesome essay.

(If you think you can write, there’s still hope for you, too. But you might have more work to do.)

Let me start by asking you why you’re so sure that you can’t write, at least not well.

Is it because you got average to low grades in English class? Or even flunked out.

Or that your teacher never liked what you did write about, or ask to share it with the class or give you any positive comments?

Or when you did have to write something for any class, you hated it?

Here’s the deal. Your problem is not that you can’t write, it’s that you don’t write. At least not very often, and rarely about anything that you care about.

So of course you can’t write.


There are far better indicators of your writing ability and potential than high school grades: 
  • Do you like to read? Not just novels, but magazines, or blogs about sports or gadgets or topics you care about?
  • Do you love good movies, or T.V. dramas (The Wire, Girls, Breaking Bad, etc.)?
  • When something interesting happens to you, do you like to tell your friends about it?
  • Do you like to blast out selfies on FB and arty Instagram shots and those little Snapchat movies for your friends?
  • Are you funny?
  • Do you tend to get stuck in your head, overthink things?
  • Are you depressed sometimes?

Lots of yes answers? This means you love a good story, enjoy expressing yourself, making personal connections and are a thinker. Watch out then…you are starting to sound like a future writer.

Back to these college application essays.

What most people don’t know is they are the one level playing field in the college admissions game. And you bad writers most likely have the advantage.

Why? Because hardly anyone in high school can write well. (I sure couldn’t and this writer couldn’t and tons of other professional writers couldn’t.)

The main reason is that they haven’t done it very much, just like you.

And for many students, even those with the high grades and shiny red As, what they have written wasn’t very good, or even outright stunk.

They just learned quicker how to write in a way that pleased their teachers.

And sadly, even tragically, that type of writing is often terrible.

Especially when it comes to the specific type of writing you need for your college application essay: narrative, personal and strategic writing skills.

writing photo

Photo by Damian Gadal

To keep your bad-writer edge, you need a plan, and to watch your back.

Here’s how it works:

The AP English students, and those with the great test scores and grades, will write essays that are well-organized, make their case using logic and some fancy words for effect, and will be sparkling-clean when it comes to errors, such as typos, grammar mistakes and spelling gaffes.

And that’s good.

But behind those descriptive sentences and ordered, logical points often lurks a boring essay, or an essay about a cliche topic (mission trips, acl injury, sport victories, etc.), or one that tries too hard to impress the reader with a dazzling list of achievements and talents.

That’s bad.

Your essay, since you can’t write, could be about your summer job mowing lawns, or your alcoholic dad, or how you accidentally broke your brother’s arm, or that you have a mustache (and are a girl), or get up before dawn to pick grapes in a field before you go to school, or you take three busses to get to school, or your fear of kittens, or how you helped raise your sister’s baby, or any type of random, interesting problem you have dealt with in your life.

That’s good.

No, it’s awesome!!

But your essay might be more scattered, and riddled with run-on sentences and spelling errors and lots of typos.

Oops. Not so good.

But guess what matters more when it comes to a great college application essay: style or substance?


You need a good story, first and foremost, and then something original and meaningful to say about it.

Related: You already get it and just want to start writing your essay? Start by watching this: How to Answer Common Application Prompt 4: What’s Your Problem?)

So do you see my point? This is your opening! As a bad writer, you got this.


It’s a lot easier to fix style than substance. It’s a lot easier to fix basic grammatical and spelling errors than it is to fix a dull topic.

Use your underdog advantage with these essays!

If you think you can’t write (because you haven’t been a stellar student so far), or you have an underprivileged or underrepresented background (ie you’re family has money problems, have a single mom, are a minority, etc.) and your school wasn’t considered great or even good, or you have a disability, or English is not your first language—you actually may be a step ahead of the privileged A-types out there.

How do I know this? I have seen for myself who writes the best essays. (And I’ve read literally thousands from all types of students.)

Yup, it’s those bad writers out there who nailed them every time.

At least those who put some effort into understanding what makes a great college application essay topic, and then brainstormed and pounded out their own.

After that, their essays rocked.

Often, it seemed almost effortless.

I think it’s because they didn’t take themselves too seriously, and that they had already failed in the writing world of high school and didn’t think they had anything to lose.

So they just went for it, said what they thought, wrote like they talked, and covered something they actually cared about.

They took a risk. And showed their grit. And got into colleges, even the most competitive ones.

Watch your back 

Here’s main pitfall you bad writers need to watch out for: sloppy proofreading.

Most people, including college admissions officers, have trouble looking past mistakes. The little typos and grammar errors and misspelled words blind them to your terrific story.

So after you pound out your story, make sure to work on it more. Edit it. At least twice.

Force yourself to care about the organization, and the grammar and spelling.

If you can’t do this, reach out to someone who is good at proofreading (teachers, friends, parents, etc.—you just need to find one!) and get their help.

This is where bad writers who actually write awesome essays can fall short.

(For all you “good writers” out there, don’t despair! Read between the lines here and spend time making sure you have powerful topics, since that is where you’re more likely to blow it with your essays. I know a lot of you are struggling with your own issues and challenges, too, but there’s still time to unlearn a lot of that awful English class writing style. Loosen up a bit!)

Also, you bad writers found this blog. That shows me right there that you have the determination to find outside resources to help you. This alone puts you way ahead of the game!

It can be frustrating to watch other students who seem to have it all—the easy smarts, the teacher’s-pet appeal, the supportive (rich) parents and the tutors—but here’s another little secret. A lot of them have issues, too.

They just hide them better. And many end up dropping the ball—especially now, when it matters.

Yes, some of them get to hire private college admissions counselors, or expensive writing coaches, like me.

Again, don’t let this get your down. First, most admissions counselors aren’t accomplished writers, either. It’s just not their background or training, even though they can be helpful with essays and on many other fronts.

As far as me, I can totally help a student write a great essay.

But everything I share with my private students on how to write these essays, I share on this blog.


Here’s the single best thing I have to offer if you are ready to get started: my video tutorial called How to Answer Common Application Prompt 4: What’s Your Problem?

You have no excuses: it’s FREE. And it’s under ten minutes.

So it’s back to you. You can’t write. Great. Congratulations!

But chances are you won’t have this secret advantage for long. Because once your write a killer college application essay, you might surprise yourself and see that in fact, you can write.

Last thing: I LOVE comments! If you have a second, let me know your thoughts or questions. Thanks!