by j9robinson | Sep 11, 2015
in Your College Application Essay!
When writing narrative-style college application essays, I advise students to start by sharing a real-life story that illustrates one of their defining qualities or characteristics.
All stories contain some type of problem. It’s just the universal nature of all stories—there’s a conflict of some type. I call these problems.
Once a student shares a real-life story with a problem (either big or small), they are poised to explain how they dealt with it.
Then comes the most important part: What they learned in the process.
This analysis, reflection or questioning is the most important part of an effective college application essay. Why? Because this is where a student can show colleges how they think, what they care about and what they value.
It’s called “intellectual vitality.” (more…)
by j9robinson | Apr 6, 2015
Learn to Vet College Application Writing Experts
Read PART ONE on How to Find The Best Essay Help on College Application Essays first…
Here are other potential sources of help for writing personal statement essays for college admissions:
2. High School College Counselors: Remember that most of these counselors have literally hundreds of students to guide through the admissions process. If you are lucky, you might be able to bounce off topic ideas, find direction to other resources or even get them to read your drafts. This can be immensely helpful, since most of these counselors have a strong idea of what makes an effective essay. But you might have to seek out more help on your own. (more…)
by j9robinson | Apr 6, 2015
If you landed on my Essay Hell blog, there’s a strong chance you are in search of help on writing your college application essay.
Yes, that’s what I do, and I’m happy to help you.
But I was thinking of how I would advise a student or parent who is looking for someone to assist in the essay writing process (other than me).
There are many options—from private college counselors to teachers and smart friends.
Many “experts” claim to know their stuff, but it’s important to make them prove it.
I think the trick is to A. determine if your essay helper really understands what makes a good college admissions essay (a very specific type of writing), and B. has the experience and skills to help a student write or improve her or his own. (more…)
by j9robinson | Aug 19, 2014
I confess: I love anecdotes.
These are basically when a writer shares a mini-story about a real-life moment or experience.
Usually, they are plucked out of the past, and presented without much introduction.
Their power is that they draw you into a story, or college application essay, by starting with a punch of drama.
Anecdotes make awesome introductions.
The key is to get as close to the action as possible.
I’ve written tips and advice on how to write anecdotes, but thought I would try to model an example.
They seem so simple when you read them, but they are harder than you might think to craft.
The trick is to practice, and study how other anecdotes are put together.
The most common place to find them is at the start of longer newspaper pieces or magazine stories, or of course, personal (narrative) essays. (more…)
by j9robinson | Aug 14, 2014
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…)
by j9robinson | Aug 13, 2014
Oops. Wrong SUP. We are talking college application essay supplements here. Haha.
I just gave a workshop on how to write college supplement essays to a group of college-bound students yesterday, and wanted to share some of the advice and tips on how to make them stand out. We talked mainly about the most common supplement prompt you will find this year: Why you at our college?
On applications, this prompt is stated in a variety of ways, from asking you to tell them why you are a fit, or what you will bring or contribute to their school, or just why you want to go there.
This prompt, though tiresome, is worth spending time on, especially for your top pick schools. (more…)
by j9robinson | Jul 6, 2014
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…)
by j9robinson | Jun 30, 2014
When you write a college application essay, you want to “grab” the attention of your reader from the start.
My favorite writing technique to hook readers is to engage them with an anecdote, which is a real-life moment or incident.
You might have already written your essay, and not noticed that you have one of these magical anecdotes down low.
Chances are you started your essay telling about yourself in your essay, and missed the opportunity to reach out and grab your reader with a real-life anecdote that illustrates your point. (more…)
by j9robinson | Jul 18, 2013
College Application Essays
How to Write An Anecdote About Almost Anything
Before one of my college application essay writing workshops yesterday, I skimmed over some of the rough drafts the students had written last semester for their English classes.
The writing was solid, the ideas strong.
Yet the essays were all on the dull side.
If only someone had taught these kids how to use anecdotes, I thought.
They are the ultimate writing technique for Showing (an example) rather than Telling (explaining) about a point you want to make.
Nothing powers a college application essay like an engaging anecdote in the introduction.
Often, you can pull an anecdote ( a mini true story) out of what you’ve already written and instantly transform it into an engaging read. And it can be a very everyday, simple event or moment. (more…)
by j9robinson | Jun 13, 2013
College Application Essays: How to Answer Prompt 3 of the Common App.
Who or What Have You Confronted Lately?
When you read the five options for your Common Application essay, one prompt probably will appeal to you first off. Others you will skim and choose to ignore.
This is how I felt about the third prompt–“Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?”
It just didn’t inspire any topic ideas for me, and I assumed it was less likely than the others to work for you, too.
But when I gave this question a little more thought, I realized that I challenged a belief while I was in my teens. And it was a very big deal.
I was raised in a religion that is considered relatively radical and unusual, and when I started to think for myself (sometime around junior high) I decided it wasn’t for me.
I was not popular with my parents, some of my friends or my parochial school at the time, and it was hard sticking to my guns. Although rejecting my religion was challenging, painful and lonely, the process truly defined who I was and what I believed. It would have made an excellent essay topic.
So there. I have to eat my negative words about that third essay question.
I wonder what other possible topics could be for that question, besides challenging a religion that has been imposed upon you.
How about a gender belief? Or racial or cultural one? Could you stretch the meaning of a “belief or idea” into an assumption, opinion or prejudice? I think so, especially if you indicate that you have done that in your essay.
I also think if you try to think of a time someone or something first challenged you on a certain “belief or idea,” and then you challenged back, you might find more real-life examples to write about.
For instance, someone tried to hold you back just because you were a girl, and what you did about that (the belief you challenged: girls are inferior to guys).
Or someone kept you out of an activity or group just because of your race or heritage, and what you did about that. I’m imaging some type of confrontation or speaking up or fighting back (peacefully, of course).
I like that the prompt asks you pointedly to also include “what prompted you to act,” so you include some action in your essay.
It’s always a good thing when something actually happens in these college application essays.
The last question in this prompt, “Would you make the same decision again,” is meant to encourage you to look back and reflect, analyze and evaluate that decision to challenge the belief or idea.
A Sample Outline for Prompt 3
If you want to answer this prompt, here’s one way you could structure your essay to engage the reader with your challenging action, and go on to explain why you did it:
1. Start with an anecdote that describes a moment or “time” when you challenged the belief or idea you are writing about. This could simply be the conversation where you confronted someone about it, or some action you took to protest or react to that belief or idea.
2. After a paragraph or two where you described an example of a specific “time” you challenged the belief or idea (or assumption, stereotype, opinion, prejudice, etc.), then go back and give us the back story about this time. What led up to it?
3. Then start to explain how that incident made you feel, what made you decide you didn’t accept it, “what prompted you to act,” how you responded to it, and what you learned in the process. And of course, would you do it again?
The most important part of writing about this prompt, I believe, is to bring some action to your essay. It could be dull and long-winded if you only talk about your beliefs or ideas. Focus on a specific example where something happened and your essay is sure to be compelling.
The larger lesson here, at least that I’ve learned, in reviewing the five options for writing your college admissions essays for these new Common Application prompts is to try your best to think about and brainstorm ideas for each one. Even if one jumps out at you, give the others a chance. I think I could have written a great essay if I had thought more about my own time I challenged a belief or idea!
If are you ready to tell your story, check out my Jumpstart Guide and posts about how to find a great topic, tell a story and write an anecdote.
My new ebook, Escape Essay Hell!, offers more complete steps and advice on how to write these types of “narrative,” or storytelling, essays, if you want more help: