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…)
UPDATE: as of March 23, 2016 The University of California announced NEW essay prompts for 2016-17. Read about how to answer them HERE.
This post is now outdated. The information is no longer relevant!!
Looking for your World to answer the University of California Prompt 1?
A high school English teacher contacted me this week asking if I had any sample essays for the University of California college application Prompt 1.
She was using my guides and Essay Hell blog posts to help teach her students how to write their college application essays. (more…)
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…)
The winter flurry of letters is landing in mail boxes around the globe this time of year. I just heard from three ecstatic students who learned last week they were accepted into their dream schools–one was Harvard, another Wellesley, and a third Middlebury. I felt excited and proud for them. But I will feel equally excited for my students who will soon learn they will be attending schools in our University of California system, whether it’s Berkeley, UCI or Santa Cruz, or other state universities such as UW, Boulder and U. of O, and especially those getting into the small liberal arts colleges no one has ever heard of, but are true gems.
And I also can’t help think about those who are getting those awful cryptic rejections in the mail at the same time. They can really sting.
But if you are still waiting to learn where you will be attending college (or are still working on your college application and essays), just know that you will land in the place that is right for you. It may not be that dream school, or the one you couldn’t wait to tell your friends about getting into. But chances are you will attend a school that you will end up absolutely loving. It’s all about finding the right match–kind of like shoes, if they don’t fit right, they will hurt your feet. (more…)
You Already Wrote It.
Why Not Submit it?
Enter Your College Application Essay
in Essay Hell’s Heavenly Essays Contest!
One of the first things I advise students to do when they start working on their college application essay is read sample essays. There’s no better way to get topic ideas and learn how to write in a narrative style than by reading what other students have written. I usually direct them to a couple of my favorite collections of sample essays.
But after working with hundreds of students on these essays since 2008, I realized I have a source of wonderful samples. You guys! Many of you wrote your essays using my advice and guidance to find and tell your stories. And I know first-hand how terrific most of them are. It seems a shame that only a few people ever got to read them.
Cash Prizes! Become a Published Author! Help Other Students!
So…I’m starting to collect the best essays and publish them in a book this spring. It will be called Heavenly Essays: Sample College Application Essays That Rose to the Top. Do you like that? (I’m always open to suggestions!) Each essay will include a brief analysis of what I think worked, and why, at the end. (more…)
Tips for Writing Essays
College Admissions Folks Want to Read
While trying to think of topics for college essays, students often try to guess what the admissions officers are looking for, or what they want to read. It often feels like such a mystery.
But in a recent news article, three top admissions officers shared exactly what they like to read, and how students can find topics they love.
For those of you still doubting the value of a simple, true-life story or sharing a mundane moment to power your college application essay,
I hope this will help convince you about their effectiveness.
Read the entire article, From the Pros: Best College Essays Hint at Who You Are, by Ellen Ishkanian of the Boston Globe. Or check out some of the following highlights. (more…)
College Admissions Essays
It’s Official: Get Creative!
Colleges tell students that they want their essays to show them what sets them apart from the pack and what makes them unique. Yet most of the college application essay prompts do a poor job of helping students find topics that help them reveal their true personalities and character. The Los Angeles Times just wrote an article about how some colleges are finally crafting prompts that do a better job of encouraging students to feel comfortable taking a risk and showing their idiosyncrasies and quirks, rather than showcasing only their accomplishments and hardships. The main point of the article: Get creative!
This is an exciting trend, in my opinion, one I’ve encouraged for years now. My advice is to try to write about these more creative topics even when answering prompts that still aren’t creative. (Such as the list of Common App prompts, especially now that there will not be the Topic of Choice option.) I have lots of tips and advice all over my blog on how to find these types of topics. The point is that college admissions folks are starting to change their prompts because they are sick of reading about the same topics where students recount mission trips and sports victories. Take a risk. Get creative. Tell a story. Write about something mundane, rather than impressive. (more…)
College Admissions Essays
So you think you are done with your college admission essay or personal statement. Wait! You have worked so hard on that essay; it’s worth an extra few minutes to make sure it’s as good as you can make it. I know you are probably sick of it by now, so if you have time set it aside for a day or so. But before you send it out, give it at least one more critical read.
It’s fine if you don’t have all of these elements, but if you have some or most of them, chances are your essay will sing!
A grabber introduction. No? Try reading THIS POST and THIS POST to see if crafting an anecdote at the start will make it more compelling and memorable.
A twist. No? Try THIS POST to learn what these are and how to find them.
A universal truth or life lesson. No? There’s a good chance you already have one, but just didn’t recognize it yet. Read THIS POST to check yours.
A snappy title. No? My advice is to include a title if you can think of a clever one. Otherwise, just leave it out. Read THIS POST to help think of one.
Under word count. No? Read THIS POST to learn how to cut your essay and why it almost always helps.
DON’T PUSH THAT BUTTON YET!!
And make sure to read THIS POST on the steps to take to “fine edit” your college application essay and give it that winning polish!
I’m sure it’s perfect now! Good luck!
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.
I just read a memoir where the author shared a piece of writing advice that Toby Wolff gave her. Wolff wrote “This Boy’s Life,” one of the best memoirs out there. Anyway, memoirs are books written about yourself. In a way, college essays are like mini-memoirs. They could easily be a chapter in your own memoir, especially if you share a story in your essay.
All that said, here’s the little nugget of advice Toby Wolff gave the author, Mary Karr. (He sure looks believable to me!) It’s almost too simple to appreciate, until you try writing about yourself:
Don’t approach your history as something to be shaken for its cautionary fruit…Tell your stories, and your story will be revealed…Don’t be afraid of appearing angry, small-minded, obtuse, mean, immoral, amoral, calculating, or anything else. Take no care for your dignity. Those were hard things for me to come by, and I offer them to you for what they may be worth.
(A quote from Toby Wolff in the memoir entitled, “lit,” by Mary Karr.)
To me, the little secret in this advice is to just tell your story in a straightforward, honest way and a lot of your message or meaning or lesson will be naturally revealed. In other words, don’t try too hard to teach or preach your message.
Hope that’s not too heady. Like a lot of simple-sounding advice, it’s harder to do than you think. But worth trying.
I just found this link to a wonderful blog on college admissions sponsored by the New York Times, called “The Choice.” Here’s a post from another writer talking about how these essays are really like memoirs!