college application essay
A friendly reporter from the popular daily tabloid newspaper, Metro, contacted me a couple weeks ago. She was writing a piece for the New York edition on college admissions, and wanted to feature some of my college application essay writing tips. (It’s actually a legit newspaper that boasts 18 million daily readers internationally!)
I love getting out the word about my writing advice. So I shared what I thought were four of my most helpful ideas and tips with her.

I don’t know if you have ever been interviewed and then had your comments published, but it’s always somewhat of a shock when you read them in print.
Did I really say that?
I don’t remember using those words?
That’s totally out of context and not what I meant at all!
Those are the types of typical reactions.
You would think as a former journalist, I wouldn’t find my own words in print shocking.
But maybe I’m even worse than most sources. Pickier, perhaps?
I spent at least 15 years working as a reporter for major newspapers, both on staff and freelancing. Like most reporters, I did my best to capture as accurately and fairly as possible what my sources told me and what I chose to quote.
And I have to admit, I had little patience when they came back and complained. Don’t they get that I had a word limit and was on deadline?
Nothing like being on the other side of the fence. Haha.
Anyway, this Metro writer, Lakshmi Gandhi, did a fine job.
Yes, I would change some of my points, if I could, and tweak a few others. But overall, this is what I told her over the phone.
To me, it’s just another lesson in the power of language.
How each word matters. And why it’s critical to proofread like mad.
Now, more than ever, truth matters.
Same goes for your college application essays.
If you are still working on essays for 2017 applications, I hope you find my tips helpful.
I was tempted to share the article here and add my little two-cents and qualifying comments, to get it exactly how I wanted it.
But I’m trying to resist my inner perfectionist and let it stand as is.
The tips are solid. Lakshmi did an impressive job of packing in a lot of my best advice in a short piece. And I bet she was on a deadline.
Here it is, uncensored by me:

4 tips for writing a college application essay that really shines


Essay Hell founder Janine Robinson knows how to make your application stand out.

There’s a reason Janine Robinson named her site devoted to guiding students through the college essay application process Essay Hell.

“It’s the most dreaded piece of writing people do in their lifetimes,” says Robinson, a former journalist and English teacher who now coaches students. “There’s so much riding on it, but no one has taught students how to write this kind of essay.”

We asked Robinson for her advice on creating an essay that shines.

  1. Get a little personal

It may surprise people, but Robinson says the best students often write the worst college essays. “Students might not understand that these essays are supposed to be personal, and not the formal essays they are used to,” Robinson explains. “You should ditch that five-paragraph formula and avoid using words like ‘nevertheless’ and ‘furthermore.’”

Instead, students should think of how they want to introduce themselves to admissions officers. “The voice should be familiar,” Robinson says.

2. Tell a good story

Many students Robinson works with worry that their lives aren’t interesting enough to write about. “They think they need to impress the reader by having a topic that’s about something like how they climbed Mount Whitney,” she says. “But the best essays I’ve read have been about mundane topics. Students really do have a lot to talk about.”

For example, have you been babysitting since you were in middle school? Are you a huge music fan? Those are perfectly good topics to write about in your essay. “I tell students to just think about what they do on a Saturday,” Robinson explains.

3. Show some personality

A common mistake students make is writing essays that are too general and devoid of any personality. “Being boring is like death to an effective college essay,” says Robinson. “Pick one quality or descriptor that you want to highlight in your essay. Then your essay will have a sharp focus because you are showcasing that quality.

4. Highlight a conflict

We don’t mean you have to write about a family tragedy or a catastrophic event in your life. “One trick is to find something that has happened to you and think about how it included a problem you had to solve,” says Robinson. The problem could be as simple as you overcoming a personal phobia, like a fear of heights, or getting a driver’s license after lots of practice. “I had one student who wrote about how he dealt with his excessive body hair,” she recalls. “It was a killer essay.”

Read the entire story, 4 Tips for Writing A College Application Essay, on the Metro web page.