by j9robinson | Aug 11, 2014
The middle of August is when I first notice a dramatic spike in visitors to Essay Hell. A few students get that early start on their college application essays at the beginning of summer, but the majority seem to wait until now through fall.
I thought I would try to offer some encouragement to any student just diving into the process by extending a hot deal on my guide books. I’m offering all three of my ebook guides for $9.99. Usually they would cost more than double that. (Sorry, this deal doesn’t apply to paperback copies, which only are available on Amazon.) (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 5, 2014
At the end of last year, I announced an essay writing contest. My goal was to find some quality examples of narrative writing by real students that I could include in my just-published collection of 50 sample college application essays, called Heavenly Essays.
About a hundred or so students generously submitted their essays, and most were very well-conceived and engaging. It was extremely difficult for me to pick the winners.
What I looked for were students who revealed a part of themselves in their essay by using narrative writing techniques, such as anecdotes, dialogues, descriptive writing, sensory details, an authentic voice, etc. (more…)
by j9robinson | Apr 27, 2014
I was watching the most recent episode of Modern Family the other night, and thought it was funny and telling that Alex Dunphy, the token brainiac of the family, was obsessing about her college application essay.
The family was on a vacation in Australia, and Alex kept annoying everyone by trying to find life lessons and metaphors from the trip to use in her essay.
First off, what does that tell you about how these essays are becoming more and more of a national obsession? (My last post was about David Letterman’s Top 10 Ways to Make Your College App Essay Stand Out.)
To me, it says that these dreaded essays continue to rise above the other parts of the college admissions process in terms of what can either get you into a top college or keep you out. (more…)
by j9robinson | Apr 24, 2014
If you are a Letterman fan, you know that I am supposed to list these college application essay tips backwards, and end with No. 1. But I prefer chronological order. You can watch the YouTube video, where he has the young man, Kwasi Enin, who was accepted to all eight ivies this year, count them down on his show. Some media have tried to pin Kwasi’s success on his essay—but that is pure conjecture (Kwasi is amazing on many levels). Anyway, if you are college bound, you might get a kick out of watching the whole thing.
If you are shy on time, I wrote out Letterman’s list here. And then I wrote my own list below. His may be funny; but mine works!
David Letterman’s Top 10 Ways to Make Your College Application Essay Stand Out
1. In the part where it says, “Office Use Only,” write: “Accept.”
2. Personally give to dean at home in the middle of the night.
3. If you’ve been to space, mention that you’ve been to space. (more…)
by j9robinson | Apr 16, 2014
Are you starting to think about writing your college application essay?
If so, you need to know what makes a great essay to know how to start brainstorming and writing your own.
You can often recognize a “great one” when you read or hear it—but it’s more difficult to explain what exactly made it that way.
Here’s my attempt to list the features that comprise a great college application essay.
Unlike other essays, these have a very specific goal that you must always factor in when you write a great one: To help your college application land in the “Yes!” pile.
Many of the elements of an effective college admissions essay further that goal.
A GRRRREATTT college application essay:
1. “Grabs” the readers at the start. I believe one of the best ways to do this is to start with an anecdote (real-life incident). Something happens.
2. Usually is written in a narrative (story-telling/memoir-like/slice-of-life) style drawing off real-life experiences.
3. Reveals a specific core or “defining” quality (creative, resourceful, fierce, resilient, driven, etc.) about the writer, rather than trying to describe many qualities. This is how to focus the essay. (more…)
by j9robinson | Apr 1, 2014
If you have already written your college application essays, and either know where you are headed this fall or are still waiting, why not enter them into some contests? Why the heck not? Some offer some decent cashola prizes.
Here’s the best one I found that looks like it’s worth the time it takes to send them in!
Extra Credit: Scholarships for Exceptional Student Writing. This contest will awards $5,000 to the three top winners! You can use essays you already submitted to colleges. The judge panel is amazing, including famous writers, such as Jeff Kinney (wrote Diary of a Wimpy Kid!), Wally Lamb (She’s Come Undone), Kelly Corrigan, Mary Roach (Stiff, about cadavers) and Anna Quindlen (famous New York Times columnist). It would be an honor just to have these brilliant writers read your work!
by j9robinson | Mar 24, 2014
I get a lot of students with my college application essay tutoring who fall into the “math/science” end of the learning spectrum.
In general, that means that classes such as Algebra II and Chemistry come relatively easy to them, and English and other humanities not so much.
Many think they are not strong writers and are mortified that their college application essay could pull so much weight in where they get into college.
This just doesn’t seem fair, especially when many of these students have off the charts test scores.
If it helps, I like to think that colleges understand this discrepancy and take the larger picture into consideration when deciding who to accept.
If nothing else, you math/science students should view your essay as a chance to set yourself apart from the pack, and also showcase your balanced personality at the same time.
(I don’t mean to stereotype, but math/science whiz kids sometimes get pegged as not as social or well-rounded as other students. You know, it’s that annoying nerd or geek thing.) (more…)
by j9robinson | Mar 10, 2014
Big changes in the new SAT test announced recently caused quite a stir, especially that they were dropping the essay component. I was most excited, however, that they also were going to stop emphasizing “obscure” vocabulary words.
Not only do I think it’s ridiculous to force students to memorize lists of long words no one uses, but I think it’s a huge waste of precious class and homework time.
After years of working with students on their college application essays, I have seen how the emphasis in English classes on these obscure words oozed into students’ writing–and made it pedantic (look it up. haha.) and dull. Most think they sounded smarter when they use words like “deleterious” and “cacophony” in their essays. (more…)
by j9robinson | Feb 8, 2014
I recently received an email from a student named Daniel Ryu, who is a sophomore at Harvard University. Daniel said he was stressed out his senior year of high school during the application process and had found my blog helpful. He offered to share what worked for him. No matter where you are aiming to get in, I would listen closely to what Daniel has to say. Obviously, it worked!
Here’s Daniel’s guest post:
4 Tips for the College Essay
So you’re a high school senior or maybe even a junior; the thought of applying to college has been on your mind for some time. It seems that every moment of your high school career has been building up to this point. Your GPA is mostly set and you are already involved in all the clubs and extracurriculars that you will ever join, at least in high school. There is now one thing that stands in your way. The college essay. (more…)