To welcome in spring, I’m offering my inspiring collection of sample college application essays free to all teachers now through the end of this month (April).
In recent years, I’ve had English teachers from all over the country contact me about my blog and writing resources. Apparently, many Language Arts programs now teach units on how to write these essays, either in the spring for high school juniors or during fall for seniors. (more…)
My friend, Lynn O’Shaughnessy, who is a national expert on helping families afford higher education, interviewed me recently about how to write standout college application essays. If you are struggling to figure out how to pay for your college or university, Lynn has the best insider information and resources, including her best-selling book and popular online courses.
I believe one thing that many students and parents don’t realize is that a strong essay not only can help you get into a competitive school, but it can also help you score merit scholarship money. This isn’t true for all schools, especially large universities, but many liberal arts colleges use the essays to determine who they want at their school and then work to help them afford it—including offering money. (more…)
Oops. Not again! We are talking about supplements for college application essays. Not vitamin supplements. Geez!
Even though supplemental essays usually are short—usually a paragraph or two—many students are stumped on how to structure them. Or on just how to start or end them.
In general, since they are so short, you don’t have to get fancy. Jump right into your points or answers. Be direct, but include details and specific examples.
Here are a couple ideas to help you get going. These are for the most common supp: “Why you at our college?” or “What will you contribute to our college?” or “Why do you want to go to our college?” My last post, 10 Tips to Power Your Supplemental Essays, can help you find great information to include in these short essays. (more…)
Parke Muth, a veteran college admissions counselor and writer from Virginia, interviewed me recently about my opinions and advice regarding college application essays. I thought I would share the interview, which he featured on his own highly informative blog.
It’s long, but I think it’s packed with a lot of great advice–if I don’t say so myself. Muth, who is a former Associate Dean of Admissions for the University of Virginia, knows the in and outs of the admissions game, and as a creative writing expert also understands more about college app essays than almost anyone else in the industry. In other words, he tossed me great questions, and even lobbed a few provocative ones! (more…)
UPDATE: The University of California announced NEW essay prompts for 2016-17. Read about how to answer them HERE.
The following content in this post is no longer relevant and is outdated!
About three years ago, I wrote a post to try to help students applying to the University of California find topics to answer Prompt 1 for their college application essay: Describe the World You Come From. Since I shared my advice in my Describe the World You Come From post, I have received more than a 100 comments from students. Most have specific questions, mainly trying to see if their idea of a “world” would make a great essay.
Since then, I tried to answer most of their questions. This year, I am so swamped with tutoring students, however, that I’m not able to answer all the questions right now. But I have noticed that many cover the same ground—even though the topics range from someone’s world of books, to playing tennis, to making cookies, to an ill family member, etc. So I pulled some of the questions that I thought are more common, along with my answers, in hopes they might answer questions still lingering out there. See below. (more…)
College Admissions Essays: Samples
Samples of College Admissions Essays and Personal Statements–
and Why They Can Help You Write Yours!!
I always tell my students that one of the best ways to find great topic ideas is to read the essays of other students.
One great idea often triggers another! Reading other student’s essays also can give you an idea of the narrative style or voice of these essays, which is looser and more conversational than your typical academic essay.
I recommend several book collections of sample essays in this post, but if you can’t get your hands on those, here are a few I found online:
- My favorite online collection is on John Hopkins’ web site. Most use a narrative style and write in a direct, natural voice. And they even have a short analysis from the admissions folks about what they liked and why. This is invaluable info for you guys! Click HERE to read them.
- Click Here to see some that Connecticut College shares on their web site, describing them as “Essays That Worked.” Some are a bit stiff, in my opinion. Trust your own reaction. If you like an essay, borrow ideas from that one. (At the top of the page is a drop down menu with all the essays, titled “Choose an Essay.”)
- Click HERE and HERE to read some of the inspiring narrative sample essays from my collection, Heavenly Essays.
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!
I have mentioned these titles before, but these are my three favorites:
There are a jillion of these how-to books on the market, and all have helpful things to say. However, the advice in these books is spot-on, and they include helpful sample essays and are inspiring to read. Both are available at Amazon.com and are inexpensive.
Reading sample essays is one of the best ways for students to get ideas for topics for their own essays, as well as get a feel for the more casual style and tone of these pieces. I also believe both authors do a good job of taking some of the pressure off these dreaded assignments. The Harvard collection also includes wonderful analyses at the end of each sample essay.
Mark Twain, one of the best prose stylists ever ever ever, wrote, “As to the Adjective: when in doubt, strike it out.” When we are writing narratives and striving for “descriptive” prose, many of us reach for those juicy adjectives. I’m trying to kick my adjective habit. I now understand that if I need two words to describe something, especially when I use a long adjective and a noun, I probably haven’t found the best noun yet.
In a letter to a friend, written in 1880, Twain said, “I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English–it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it: don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them–then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”
I recently stumbled across a sample college admissions essay that was actually recommended by Connecticut College from their sample “Essays That Worked.” Check out the first paragraph and see an adjective overdose for yourself. I don’t mean to pick on the writer, but adjective restraint is something we all can work on. By the second paragraph, she shifts into a much more direct style of writing and the rest of her essay rocks! See how many adjectives (and adverbs!) you would take out:
Olivia Rabbitt ’16
Bishop Feehan High School, Attleboro, MA
The bright blue eyes that alight with unfettered curiosity on the burgeoning bulletin board are not only my own. Nor are the ears that listen raptly to the hum of student life and the gentle sing-song of our tour guide’s voice. Almost in tandem, my companion and I tear ourselves from the vivid vignette of college life and return with unmatched strides to the vast expanses of the campus. As the tour continues, I am neither surprised by the eager questions my companion poses – “Where’s the baseball field?” – nor by the heightened interest painted so clearly across his face. Wandering amongst the tall stone buildings, I appreciate for the first time how much this visit means to my constant companion, my father.
Click HERE to read entire essay.
If you need more help getting started with your college admissions essay, check out my Jumpstart Guide.
If any of these tips and advice helped you with your college essay,
please take a few seconds and use bottons below to share this post and my helpful blog!
Know the Main Point You Want to Make
About Yourself In Your Essay!
I don’t know why I haven’t written about this before. It’s soooooo important to writing a college application essay that will give you that edge in landing your dream school acceptance.
To start off, if you don’t know the Main Point of your college application essay, you are pretty much sunk right off the bat.
In my popular writing guide, Escape Essay Hell, I’m pretty sure I mentioned this somewhere in my step-by-step process. But I probably should have hammered this topic more.
If you are writing a personal statement style essay for say, The Common Application, or other college applications, the piece needs to be all about you.
So, as in all good writing, you can’t really begin until you have a clear idea of what you want to say. In this case, what you want to say about yourself.
Finding THE MAIN POINT YOU ARE GOING TO SAY ABOUT YOURSELF in your college application essay is similar, actually almost identical, to making a thesis statement.
Ugh. I know. I never liked having to deal with those. They make you think, and also make some hard decisions.
Why? Because you have to boil down your message to its essence. And that ain’t easy.
When you write a personal statement essay, you need to DECIDE what the main thing is you want to say. About yourself.
Trouble is, you can’t say everything. That would take a book.
So you must pick. Narrow it down. Frame it up. Decide on ONE main thing you want to tell these schools about yourself. ONE!
No, you can’t just say how great you are. Or, pick me, pick me, I’m super smart, and a hard worker and also play a mean sax. And did I mention I have 40,000 hours of community service?
Instead, you want to find ONE thing about yourself that you can write about that will help your target colleges and universities:
- Differentiate you from the other applicants
- Find you likable
- See that you are interesting
- Get a sense of your “intellectual vitality,” which mainly means you enjoy learning and thinking
- Remember you when they are making their cuts
This is where you want to start the brainstorming process to try to identify topics that you can use to show this ONE MAIN POINT about yourself to these schools.
Here are some topics students wrote about in the sample essays in my collection, Heavenly Essays: An obsession with junk collecting. Messing up while waiting tables. Coming from an in vitro egg. Road trip in Winnebago with parents. Getting stuck in a tree. Swallowing a goldfish. Having three older bossy sisters. Smiling too much.
Great topics! However, before these students could write about these ideas, they had to first know…you got it…THE MAIN POINT THEY WANTED TO MAKE ABOUT THEMSELVES in their essays.
Because these essays were not about these topics. They were about these students. And your essay needs to be about you.
When working one-on-one with students, I usually start by having them identify a short list of their defining qualities or characteristics. Then we pick one, and we use that to decide the ONE MAIN POINT they will write about themselves in their essay.
RELATED: How to Find Your Defining Qualities
I don’t know where you are at in the brainstorming or writing process. But see if this helps you identify your MAIN POINT:
Can you write: “I am the type of girl or guy who is _______________________ and it matters because ______________________.” ?
Try to fill in that first blank with one specific description of yourself, such as a defining quality or characteristic. The second blank will help you identify what you value and/or what you learned.
This is how you pick or decide what part of you you are going to showcase in your essay. This will give it focus and allow you to write about yourself without needing an entire book.
Remember, you are going to write about only one part of yourself.
Once you have a clear idea of your MAIN POINT, everything you have to say in your essay will relate, somehow, to this point. Everything you say will support this point, offer examples (little stories of you in action) of this point, explore and explain this point.
Check out this post, How to Write a College Application Essay in 3 Steps, to learn how to put together a narrative style personal statement essay that will cover all these goals. And of course, include your main point. You might not need to overtly state your main point, as with a thesis statement, but it will be in there somewhere.
If you want more help, my book, Escape Essay Hell, lays this all out step by step in more detail.
Remember, the MAIN POINT of these college application essays is to help you stand out among the competition. And you can’t stand out unless you first know the MAIN POINT about yourself that will help you do this best.