The Best Way to Learn to Write Your Own
In my writing guide, The Writing Survival Kit, I share some excellent sample essays for college applications. In this post and future ones, I’m sharing some of them with you.
Whether you are just starting to brainstorm a topic for your own essay, or already are working on a draft, reading what other students have written can spark ideas and provide inspiration for your own pieces.
Here’s one of my favorites:
Voorhess, New Jersey
Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
It was only my second day on the job. Decked out in my generic khakis and white polo shirt, oversized apron, visor, and bulky headset, I leaned out the window of the drive-through.
“Thank you. Have a nice day,” I said for probably the hundredth time that day; it was only 7 a.m.
The line at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Atco, New Jersey, continued endlessly out the door; and the drive-through line, even longer. The aroma of sugary donuts and hearty breakfast sandwiches engulfed me as I navigated through the obstacle course of employees, display cases, coffee machines, and ovens. The never-ending line of hungry, impatient customers was starting to fluster me, and I could feel a growing sense of irritation at my poor cash register skills.
Suddenly, in walked my biggest nightmare: a middle-aged man; tall and brooding, his shirt drenched with coffee.
“My coffee lid broke!” shrieked the man, angrily. “You gave me a broken cup! Look what you did!”
I managed to stutter, “I’m sorry,” a few times, but I knew that would not cut it. I grabbed a wad of napkins as well as a new cup of coffee, apologizing profusely. A moment later, another customer started to voice her irritation for getting a Boston Creme Donut instead of a Bavarian Creme Donut.
If anyone should know the difference between those two donuts, it should be me. Looking back, donuts have dominated my life for as long as I can remember. But I had no idea that this business was so complicated—and about more than just people indulging in these fried doughballs.
My dad worked his way through engineering school at Dunkin Donuts, eventually switching careers to invest in the Dunkin Donuts’ franchise. I cannot even begin to count the number of times I have brought in donuts to school for my birthday instead of bringing cake, like everybody else. What other family has discussions about the new seasonal, “Brownie Batter” donut, or “Arnold Palmer” Coolata? By the time I was in ninth grade, it was already decided where my first real job would be.
As days went by, I worked tirelessly to get the hang of the job. I could not help but think what was wrong with me; taking simple coffee and donut orders could not be this hard. But eventually, it became routine. I would greet the regulars as they walked through the door asking about their weeks while preparing the order I had memorized.
“Good morning Mr. Edwards, how’s your summer going? Medium Coffee, cream and sugar today?”
I grew accustomed to the fast-paced environment. I started to recognize instances where throwing in a few extra munchkins to make the customer happy was appropriate. I began to hear the snarky comment from customers, “Oh, you must be new,” less and less. The satisfaction from finally being able to complete seemingly trivial tasks was just as great as any sense of accomplishment I had felt before.
I came to the realization that angry customers were not a sign of poor job performance but a part of human nature that I would have to accept and manage. There would always be a mother who got mad when her daughter’s donut was missing sprinkles; but such things would always be out of my control. I learned not to be ashamed of making mistakes. Even though I still confused the Bavarian Creme and Boston Creme Donut, I continued to work the counter until I got it right.
I finally understood why my dad had poured his heart and soul into this business. It wasn’t just about providing the best food or making the largest profits; it was about providing an experience, taking part in a community, and putting yourself out there. I may never work at a Dunkin Donuts again, but I now understand how it makes people happy—and why that matters.
BACKGROUND ABOUT THIS
SAMPLE COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY
Last year, I wrote my fourth guide on writing college application essays, called The Writing Survival Kit.
This guide is a little different from my most popular essay-writing guide, Escape Essay Hell, which walks students through 10 steps toward writing their essays using a narrative (story-telling) style.
The Writing Survival Kit also guides them through this process, but it teaches students through a series of creative writing tips and techniques. (It’s great for students who are serious about improving their writing chops.)
It also include some excellent sample college application essays at the end.
In my next few posts, I’m sharing some of these sample essays, and believe they will help you understand the type of narrative-style essay that you need to write to engage your readers, and showcase who you are, how you learn and what you care most about.
Here’s an excerpt from The Writing Survival Kit from the last chapter on Sample Essays, which introduces the sample essays (including the one above about donuts) that follow:
Here are sample narrative-style college application essays from some of my former tutoring students. Most were written in response to one of The Common Application essay prompts. All are personal statements written in a narrative style.
I believe reading what others have written is one of the best ways to understand the style of narrative essays, as well as to find topic ideas.
See if you can see when the writer uses an “anecdote” or real-life story from his or her own experience. Notice what writing techniques they used to craft their anecdote, to engage your interest and get you to care about what they had to say.
Do they set the scene with a few simple phrases that help you see where it took place? Are there any “sensory details” that shape the scene they are describing: What you would see, hear, smell, taste or feel? Check out how they used a little dialogue to bring the moment to life.
Also, go through these essays and try to spot when the writer is showing with an anecdote, concrete details, specific examples, and when they are telling with analysis, reflection or explanation.
Pay attention to those moments in reading these college application essays when you start to feel something, either a flash of recognition or a moment you really get what they are trying to say. Re-read those parts and try to figure out what exactly caused your reaction.
Did they share something unexpected or something vulnerable about themselves? Did one short sentence help move you through the piece? Was there a kicker at the end that left you satisfied with the essay?
Copy those techniques in your own college application essay!
If you can tell when the writer is using a certain writing technique, you will be that much closer to learning how to use it yourself.
END OF EXCERPT
In upcoming days, I will be sharing
other sample college application essays
in future posts.
If you are inspired by sample essays and ready to start you own essay, check out my Jumpstart Guide.
Find more Sample Essays by going to the Find Help By Topic listing on the right sidebar.