by j9robinson | Mar 25, 2018
Let Lynda Barry Help You Find and Tell Your Best Stories!
Try One of Her Awesome Brainstorming Exercises
If you’re starting to brainstorm that perfect topic to craft your dreaded college application essay, I have a new writing technique you might find helpful.
I’m big on tapping mundane topics to inspire essays.
That means writing about everyday or ordinary experiences as opposed to those that try to impress or wow readers (aka college admissions folks).
Mundane topic example: My obsession with karaoke.
Trying-to-impress topic example: The time I played the star role in the school musical.
See the difference?
Which would you rather read about?
So when I discovered the brilliant writer and cartoonist Lynda Barry recently, and saw she also taps the mundane in life to help her students discover their personal stories, I couldn’t wait to share her ideas with those of you on the prowl for college application essay topics. (more…)
by j9robinson | May 21, 2015
Colleges Encourage Students to Write About $ and Work
in College Application Essays
The New York Times today published the seven college application essays it liked the best for its contest about writing on the topic of money.
Most of the winners wrote about their experiences facing various types of financial hardship and challenges.
They are worth reading simply as sample essays, which could give you ideas for topics of your own. (more…)
by j9robinson | Mar 31, 2015
The Five Prompts to Write your College Application Essay
for The Common Application
(Same prompts for 2016-17!)
The folks at the Common Application announced the five essay prompts students will choose from to write their core essay for the coming college admissions “season.” I’m sharing them below.
In general, I think they improved upon the options, and the prompts will elicit more interesting and meaningful college application essays. Bravo Common App!
If you are just starting this process, don’t even need to bother to know what the old ones were. Just focus on understanding these new ones.
For those in the college admissions industry who watch these changes as closely as I do, here’s a look at the new prompts, in a nutshell.
Bottom line: The main change was they replaced Prompt Four. The new instructions are in italics; my comments in red. For you college-bound students eager to get started on your essay, click each link for more details on how to answer that prompt: (more…)
“If you want to ‘show’ something, ask, ‘Can you prove it with an example?'”
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 | Dec 24, 2013
It’s almost Christmas Eve, just hours away in California. And we are coming upon another deadline–The Common Application–in January. If you are applying to colleges via the Common App, and you have yet to write your college application essays, I imagine you are starting to feel the heat of essay hell.
No use kicking yourself for waiting so long. I’m sure you have some good excuses. What does worry me, however, are students who might start to consider taking a “short cut.” Such as hiring one of those ubiquitous “Write Your Essay For You” online businesses that sell essays, or even worse, copying someone else’s. No matter how panicked you might feel at this point, it’s simply not worth it. For several reasons: (more…)
by j9robinson | Oct 26, 2013
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…)
by j9robinson | Oct 17, 2013
Students trying to submit their college applications–including their essays–to The Common Application are finding all sorts of glitches and problems this fall. Apparently, it’s a new system and some students have spent literally hours trying to make it work–and often without any luck. Some colleges have had to extend their deadlines.
The good news is that my friend, Lynn O’Shaughnessy, a renowned college expert from San Diego, has written a list of tips you can follow to try to avoid the nightmare–or at least find ways to deal with it. I love Lynn because she’s also a professional journalist who knows how to get the best inside scoop and communicate it well. (If you are trying to figure out how you are going to pay for your education, you should check out her web site, blog, books, workshops, and everything she offers that you can get your hands on!) (more…)
by j9robinson | Aug 31, 2013
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…)
by j9robinson | Aug 17, 2013
College Application Essays
Yes, You Can Go Too Far
Colleges are encouraging students to get creative with their essays.
This is great.
However, I think students should be careful of trying too hard to showcase their creative writing skills.
Rather, I believe they should put those creative writing tools to work to write an engaging, meaningful essay.
There’s a difference.
Some people think creative writing is a goal in itself.
They think it’s when a writer gets kind of wild, breaks the conventional English language rules, and cuts loose with what they have to say and how they say it.
The essays start to read more like rambling poetry.
The goal of a college application essay is not to create a “piece of creative writing.”
Instead, the goal is to use creative writing techniques to express yourself better. (more…)