by j9robinson | May 31, 2016
Learn How to Avoid Black-and-White Thinking
to Add Depth to Your Essays
It’s exciting to see that word is getting out to collegebound students, and those who support their admissions quests, that real-life stories power the most effective college application essays.
If you are new to this concept, read up on the narrative (storytelling) writing method that I promote all over this blog.
(If you are just starting learning about college application essays, I recommend first reading How to Write a College Application Essay in 3 Steps. This post you are reading here is intended for students who have a topic and have started writing their first draft.)
Here’s the essence of my writing approach: You use your real-life stories to illustrate or demonstrate one of your defining qualities, characteristics or core values in your college application essay or personal statement. (more…)
by j9robinson | Feb 19, 2016
After working with thousands of students from all over the world on writing the dreaded college application essay for the last eight years, I’ve finally been able to boil down the process to three simple steps.
Yes, just three steps.
If you follow these steps, I believe you will be able to craft a college application essay that will give you an edge in the admissions game.
Each step makes sure that you share information about yourself that will make your essay effective and help you stand out from the competition. (more…)
by j9robinson | Jul 25, 2015
The Best (and Worst)
College Application Essay Topics
Are Not What You Think!
When I first started working with students on how to write college applications essays about eight years ago now, I put together a list of Do’s and Don’ts about picking topics.
It was based on the idea that college admissions officers were seeing many of the same topics, or sensational or ill-suited topics that were not handled well.
And that those were the topics you should avoid at all cost.
But over the years, I realized there was no such thing as a bad topic. (more…)
by j9robinson | Nov 18, 2014
This hilarious video is making the rounds on the Internet (my niece’s husband shared it with me on Facebook) just in time for many college application essay deadlines.
It’s funny because the outrageous statements made by students are painfully true.
A couple of my favorite lines: “I’m trying to hide the fact that I’m a privileged white person.” and “If this wasn’t a college essay, it would be considered way over-sharing.”
Another favorite was: “I’m using words I literally just learned a minute ago on Thesaurus.com.” (more…)
by j9robinson | Aug 21, 2014
The University of California
CHANGED its prompts
for transfer students
this year (2106)!
Read Strategies for the New University of California
Transfer Essays for the updated information on the new prompts.
CLICK HERE FOR UPDATED POST
ON NEW UC TRANSFER ESSAYS!
(OUTDATED!!) Why You Chose Your Major: A Love Story
If you want to transfer into any of the University of California schools (UCLA, Berkeley, UCI, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, etc.), you need to write two college application essays. One is the same prompt that all students are required to write—which basically asks for a personal statement style essay. It’s known as Prompt 2, and I wrote “Personal Quality, Talent, Achievement…” as a guide on how to write this essay in a narrative style.
Now I want to offer some ideas on how to answer the second prompt required for transfer students:
Transfer Student Prompt 1: What is your intended major? Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had in the field — such as volunteer work, internships and employment, participation in student organizations and activities — and what you have gained from your involvement. (more…)
by j9robinson | Jun 9, 2014
Over the years, I’ve heard almost every imaginable complaint and concern about writing college application essays.
Like most common fears, they are almost all in your head.
That doesn’t mean they don’t feel real.
But if you can realize that a lot of your success will depend on not psyching yourself out, and staying calm and focused, you can then get to work.
Find a great topic.
Map out a writing plan.
Pound out a rough draft.
Before you know it, you will have a knock-out essay! (more…)
by j9robinson | May 27, 2014
When my two kids were finishing their junior years of high school, they each received the assignment from their English teacher to write a college application essay.
It sure sounded good—they could get a jump on these dreaded essays and receive professional direction on how to find great topics and write them in an engaging, memorable style.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
From what I could tell, this task of teaching how to write college admissions essays was dumped on these teachers, and they had to cram in a last-minute writing section at the very end of the year (and compete with the AP test crunch time, other end-of-year deadlines/pressures and spring fever.).
Also, as far as I could tell, no one really taught the teachers how to write college admissions essays and students had had very little practice writing in a narrative style. (more…)
by j9robinson | May 22, 2013
College Admissions Essays:
The Common App. Prompt #1
Out of the seven prompts you can chose from to write your application essay for The Common Application, I like the first one a lot. (UPDATE: As of 2017, you can now write about any topic you want. See new prompt #7.)
Prompt No. 1 is trying to “prompt” you to find and share a story that will reveal an important part of what makes you unique and special.
These are called personal essays, and they are what my entire blog is trying to help you learn to write!
In a nutshell, you write these types of essays in the first-person (I, me, you…point of view) and use a “write-like-you-talk” casual style.
Narrative-style (storytelling) essays are natural “grabbers” because you use mini-stories from real life, also called anecdotes, for your introduction to illustrate a larger point.
Related: How to Write an Anecdote: Part One
The structure can be as elaborate as you want, but in general, you “show” the reader your point with an anecdote at the beginning, and then “tell” or explain what it means in the second part. (Here’s a quickie guide to help you Write a College Application Essay in 3 Steps.)
(Those stiff, 5-paragraph essays from high school English class are history!)
Narrative, slice-of-life essays are ideal for almost any type of admissions essay. But some college application essay prompts are trickier than others to figure out how to answer the question by telling a story.
Others, however, are easier and actually ask for a story. Like Prompt No. 1. (and No. 2 and 4). (more…)
by j9robinson | Oct 27, 2012
College Admissions Essays: Five Tips for the Perfect Topic
Still looking for a college application essay topic
that will set you apart from the pack?
Here are my Top Five Tips on finding compelling and memorable topics:
1. Start with a defining quality (curious, self-disciplined, creative), and then look for “times” or examples of when you either demonstrated this quality, had this quality challenged or developed this quality.
Click HERE to find my Jumpstart Guide to help you with that approach.
Don’t know your defining qualities? Click HERE to find them.
2. Try to find something “unexpected” to write about, either something that happened to you that no one would expect to happen to someone like you (you love knot-tying but got stuck in a tree because you used the wrong knot); or something you love or pursue that no one would ever expect of you (a football player who loves to bake cakes.); or some personal trait or characteristic that no one would guess has affected you (you are not even 5-feet-tall but wear a size 9 shoe.)
Click HERE and HERE to read more about that.
3. Troll your past for “mundane” or everyday topics as opposed to ones you think might be impressive. Examples: The Day I Washed Dishes at My Dad’s Restaurant; People Think I’m Mean Because I Weigh 300 Pounds; How I Grew to Love Public Busses; I’m a Formal Guy Even Though I Live in Surf City.
Click HERE for more posts on the power of mundane topics.
4. Read sample essays. If you are stuck, it’s so worth the little bit of time to get your hands on a cheap collection and skim through them. First, you will see the range of topics that other students have used, and chances are it will trigger your own ideas.
Secondly, you will get a feel for the looser, narrative style and structure of these essays, which will help you write yours. Click HERE for books of sample essays. And HERE is a post with online sample essays.
5. Go down memory lane and try to remember “times” when you faced a problem. If you can find a problem, you will find a story. (Problems come in many different shapes and sizes: challenges, change, mistakes, obstacles, phobias, fears, bad luck, physical traits, etc.)
If you have a little story (also called an anecdote), chances are you can write an engaging essay. Click HERE to learn more about how this works.
Are you a visual learner? You might find How to Answer Common Application Prompt 4, a free video tutorial, a huge help!
by j9robinson | Sep 22, 2012
College Application Essays
Five Places to Start
After helping students discover their own unique topics over the last five or so years, I can spot a great topic the minute a student mentions one.
And I suspect it’s no different for the college admissions people who read zillions of these.
Like most written pieces, you know after the first sentence or two if it’s going to be engaging or a drag (boring, trying to hard to impress, too general).
I can almost hear their conversations as they decide which essay to neatly stack in the “Yes” pile and those to toss over into the growing “No” pile:
“What do you think about the kid who got stuck in the tree?”
“How about the guy who went to Italy and took a class over summer studying architecture.”
“Lucky him. But I didn’t really get any feel about what he’s all about. Pass.”