Burned in Essay Hell

college application essay

Image by Jim Cooke Via Gawker


I don’t know how I missed this. In April, a batch of nearly 70 college application essays written by the incoming class of 2017 at Columbia University were made public. It was quite the scandal. Many of the students who shared their essays among their peers, not expecting they would be shared with the world, felt they were being mocked and ridiculed. Some bloggers did have a grand time poking fun of their topics and language.

The exposed Google folder is no longer available, but you can still read various blog posts that quote from some of the essays. I actually liked many of the topics and snippets of writing (in the Wordle image above). It showed the vast range of subjects you can write about and various approaches. To me, they can help spark ideas for your own essays, and see how you are not alone in your struggle to dig deep into your self and recent past for meaningful stories to share with strangers who will decide your future.

Here’s what J.K. Trotter wrote about the uproar on The Atlantic Wire: (more…)

What Do Admissions Officers Really Really Want?


College Application Essays

Hot Writing Tips from The Other Side!


If you haven’t noticed, I have a lot of opinions about what makes a great college application essay.

But who am I?

I’ve never been an admissions officer, so how do I know what they like and want?

I thought it was time to ask a real live, breathing admissions officer who reads thousands of these essays–and uses them to decide who’s in or who’s out.

To find a great source, I went back to when I started tutoring students on these essays, and my very first client–my daughter.

When Cassidy was an incoming high school senior during the summer of 2008, I helped with her essays.

We had read the guide on finding terrific small liberal arts schools that are off the radar, called 40 Colleges That Change Lives, and she ended up going to one from that book, called Hendrix College in Arkansas.

Cassidy just graduated this spring, and her small college was every bit as wonderful both academically and socially as the book described (Five years in a row Hendrix has been on the “Most Up and Coming Schools” list for U.S. News & World Report).

I decided to ask their admissions officers how they select students using these essays. (more…)