The Best Way to “Show”
in Your College App Essay
When I started as a young reporter at my first newspaper job in Illinois, I was assigned to cover a half dozen small farm towns.
I didn’t think much would happen out there.
But after about a month, there was a gruesome double murder in one of the towns on my beat. (more…)
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…)
Meet Jessica Peyton Roberts, who is a talented and enthusiastic private college admissions consultant from Tacoma, Washington. Roberts, of Aim High Writing College Consulting, recently wrote a comprehensive guide for students and parents called Navigating the College Application Process.
In her ebook, she has a chapter on writing the college application essay, and graciously allowed me to share part of her sage advice.
I talk a lot in this blog and my guide books about how to find and share your personal stories, usually in the form of an anecdote, to bring your narrative-style essays to life and reveal part of who you are.
I thought it might be helpful to type up an explanation of why I write my blog, the source of my intentions, and what I think about the dreaded college application essay. You might find it boring, but I wanted to get it out and all in one place. Here’s what I have so far:
The Essay Hell Manifesto
I believe college application essays can be fundamentally unfair. Most students have not been taught how to write personal statements, or other types of narrative-style essays. Some can afford outside help; most cannot.
At the same time, these essays have become one of the most important pieces of the college application process in deciding who gets into which schools, especially the most competitive ones. Some colleges also use them to help decide who deserves scholarship money. (more…)
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…)
A smart dad sent me an email recently asking how college-bound students could work in related achievements and accomplishments into their personal, narrative-style essay, without sounding like they were blowing their own horn.
It’s definitely a fine line. Students write these first-person essays as part of the application process to convince colleges to admit them.
How can they not strut their best stuff?
The whole challenge reminded me of humblebragging.
If you live on a different planet (or don’t use social media) and haven’t heard of this word for phony humility, it’s basically the fine art of boasting about yourself and making it sound like an accident.
The trick is to cloak your bragging with other comments, which make it seem as though the impressive part just kind of slipped out.
The more subtle, the better.
Did I mention how much my hand hurts from signing copies of my new book? (more…)
I love anecdotes.
Especially for starting narrative essays for college application essays.
They can take a little practice to compose, but what a deceptively powerful writing tool.
Actually, if you start almost any type of writing with an anecdote–from a college essay to a book report to a press release–your message will instantly rise and shine above other written messages competing for readers’ attention.
They are engaging, accessible and they have a wow factor. Even though you don’t mean to be impressive, people often think you are so creative and accomplished when you wield them. (more…)
College Application Essays
Humility Goes a Long Way
Many of the students I work with are from privileged backgrounds. (Hey, it’s expensive to hire a tutor!)
They live in affluent communities, go on extravagant vacations and enjoy pricey hobbies and activities.
There’s nothing wrong with being privileged (a humble way of saying wealthy or rich).
But when you are writing about yourself in your college application essay, and want to come across as well-adjusted and likable, it helps to know if you are.
That way, you can make sure you don’t include topics, or comments, in your essays that might imply that you are spoiled, snobby, materialistic or entitled (think that you deserve more than others). (more…)
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…)
One of the best ways to connect with your reader in your college application essay is through emotion.
In my new book, Escape Essay Hell!, I share writing techniques and devices you can use to bring pathos to your essay, and forge a bond with your reader.
(With my following suggestions, I’m assuming you already have an introduction—probably an anecdote or mini-story—for your narrative essay, and have moved on to explain what it meant to you.) (more…)