by j9robinson | Sep 17, 2013
A student who I will call Ryan arrived for his tutoring session yesterday, and showed me what he had written for his English class.
His essay started with how he worked with Habit for Humanity and a trip he took to work with Native Americans.
Not the old mission trip essay.
Way too overdone. Usually dull as dirt.
So I suggested we start fresh.
Example of One of My Tutoring Sessions
I asked Ryan to jot down some of his defining qualities.
He wrote down conscientious, reliable, consistent and relaxed.
I noticed that several of his qualities overlapped, so I asked him about his sense of responsibility—fishing for his interesting stories, moments or small experiences that could “show” how or why he is “a responsible guy” in his essay. (more…)
by j9robinson | Mar 25, 2018
Let Lynda Barry Help You Find and Tell Your Best Stories!
Try One of Her Awesome Brainstorming Exercises
If you’re starting to brainstorm that perfect topic to craft your dreaded college application essay, I have a new writing technique you might find helpful.
I’m big on tapping mundane topics to inspire essays.
That means writing about everyday or ordinary experiences as opposed to those that try to impress or wow readers (aka college admissions folks).
Mundane topic example: My obsession with karaoke.
Trying-to-impress topic example: The time I played the star role in the school musical.
See the difference?
Which would you rather read about?
So when I discovered the brilliant writer and cartoonist Lynda Barry recently, and saw she also taps the mundane in life to help her students discover their personal stories, I couldn’t wait to share her ideas with those of you on the prowl for college application essay topics. (more…)
by j9robinson | Sep 15, 2017
Don’t Even Think About Writing About the Eclipse
And What to Write About Instead
When I was invited to give one of my college application essay writing workshops to students at Colorado Academy in Denver, Colorado, I had no idea it would be on the day of the big eclipse.
As Monday, August 21, neared, we all realized the sky would darken just about lunchtime during my daylong workshop.
Even though I knew it would be hard to compete with a full-on solar eclipse, I was excited because Denver was more in line with the action than my home in Southern California. (more…)
by j9robinson | Jun 7, 2016
The first step to writing a winning college application essay is to find that perfect topic.
This is the most important step, and often the hardest.
Once you land on one, you are ready to roll.
Things fall in place. (more…)
by j9robinson | Apr 15, 2016How to Find Your Required Essays The first step to writing your college application essay is to figure out what applications you will use. Then you learn what essays they require and the prompts (essay questions) you need to write about. To start, check out...
by j9robinson | Sep 20, 2015
How to Find the
in College Application Essays
I received an email from a student named Hannah who told me she was homeschooled, and that she had been advised to write about that for her college application essay.
Hannah said she was having “trouble thinking of anything unique or super meaningful” from her homeschooling experience.
I gave this some thought, and here’s what I would advise:
Homeschooling is something unique and special in itself.
And that’s a good thing.
But as an essay topic, it’s way too broad and most likely written about by a lot by other homeschooled students, so it risks being overdone already. (More than 3 percent of school age kids are home-schools; more than 1.5 million.) (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 8, 2014
How to Focus Your
College Application Essay!
I love all the comments students make about my posts. The most common ones ask about topics for the Common App or other core college application essays, including the University of California prompts. Students want to know what I think of their topic ideas.
I noticed the main problem with many of their ideas is that their topics are way to broad. WAY TOO BROAD! I think many ask my opinion because they suspect their topics are too general, but they don’t know how to focus them. And they are absolutely correct to worry about this. Essays about general topics are almost always dull and ineffective. (What good is an essay if no one wants to read it?)
I have written a lot about how to find topics that are not broad, and instead are engaging, meaningful and memorable. My best advice for students who worry that their topic is too broad would be to keep reading my blog posts! They all carry the same message—find a topic that is specific, zero in on real-life moments (anecdotes), brainstorm topics that are mundane (everyday) as opposed to impressive, pick one quality or characteristic to write about (as opposed to trying to cram in all the great things about yourself.) These are all ways to focus—or narrow down—your topics. (more…)
by j9robinson | Jun 2, 2013
College Application Essays
How Anecdotes Make Them Work
One of the best ways to learn what types of topics make the most interesting essays is to check out what other students wrote about. Especially if those students had the right guidance and came up with unique, compelling ideas. Like, say, my students!
If you are new to this blog, I always encourage writers to find mini-stories (anecdotes) that they can relate in their essays to reveal and share their broader ideas, passions and values. I also advise them that everyday (mundane) topics work the best.
The idea is that an anecdote is a perfect “grabber” for an introduction, since it hooks the reader’s attention with a compelling mini-story.
It usually shares one moment or focused image, event or experience, using a fiction-like writing style.
Here are five topics that my students came up with last year. I tried to sum up their anecdote and then how they expanded that moment or experience into an essay.
RELATED: How to Write a College Application Essay in 3 Steps
See if you find these helpful in understanding how you can use this format:
Anecdote: The writer described “the time” he hoisted himself up in a tree using ropes and his knot-tying skills, but got stuck.
Larger theme: He then wrote about how his passion for knot-tying reflected his ability to solve problems, using logic, patience and imagination.
by j9robinson | May 31, 2013
College Application Essays: Search For the Perfect Topic
It’s Closer Than You Think
I’ve learned a lot about what makes a great essay topic over the last six years I’ve helped students with their college application essays.
If you’re just starting the process of writing your essay, you might be surprised what I’ve discovered about the best topics:
They are not what you would expect.
1. The best topics do not include what might be considered your best accomplishments or achievements. In fact, the opposite is true.
2. They often are the very thing you think would never make a good topic.
3. Good ones can be right in front of your nose. In fact, they might be on your face.