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…)
I was watching the most recent episode of Modern Family the other night, and thought it was funny and telling that Alex Dunphy, the token brainiac of the family, was obsessing about her college application essay.
The family was on a vacation in Australia, and Alex kept annoying everyone by trying to find life lessons and metaphors from the trip to use in her essay.
First off, what does that tell you about how these essays are becoming more and more of a national obsession? (My last post was about David Letterman’s Top 10 Ways to Make Your College App Essay Stand Out.)
To me, it says that these dreaded essays continue to rise above the other parts of the college admissions process in terms of what can either get you into a top college or keep you out. (more…)
In my previous post, I featured a question and answer session with author Robert Cronk, who wrote a popular writing guide on how to write narrative-style college application essays. I found Concise Advise, which directs students on how to use movie-script writing techniques to bring their essays to life, a helpful resource.
I invited him to share more of his advice and tips here on Essay Hell, and this is the second part. (Here’s Part One in case you missed it.):
Me: What do you think is the most important part of a college app essay?
Bob: To me, it’s the element of character development, or transition, or transformation, or realization of something, even in small ways. The best essays start with a moment that led to that development and ends with a better, stronger, wiser person. (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’m Giving Away 100 Copies of My Popular Writing Guide!
10 a Day for 10 Days
Almost every day, I have students tell me they cannot afford to buy my ebook guide on writing college applications essays–Escape Essay Hell!--so I decided to give some away for free. I want as many students as possible to find help writing these dreaded essays, and I understand that ten bucks can be a lot for some people. That’s the main reason I started my blog!
So, starting tomorrow (Thursday, September 19, 2013), I am going to give away 10 copies a day to the first students who send me an email request–and I will send 10 copies a day for a total of 10 days. That means I will be giving away 100 copies total. (more…)
A student who I will call Ryan arrived for his tutoring session yesterday, and showed me what he had written for his English class.
His essay started with how he worked with Habit for Humanity and a trip he took to work with Native Americans.
Not the old mission trip essay.
Way too overdone. Usually dull as dirt.
So I suggested we start fresh.
Example of One of My Tutoring Sessions
I asked Ryan to jot down some of his defining qualities.
He wrote down conscientious, reliable, consistent and relaxed.
I noticed that several of his qualities overlapped, so I asked him about his sense of responsibility—fishing for his interesting stories, moments or small experiences that could “show” how or why he is “a responsible guy” in his essay. (more…)
Many of the students I work with have finished their core essays for their college applications, and are now asking for help on the supplements. For most, writing their personal statement-type essays wasn’t that bad, searching for their stories and unique topics to tell and share. But these supps are not nearly as fun. In fact, for most of the supplements I have seen so far, it’s a major drag.
So I ask: What’s the point? These supplements that want students to tell why they are the perfect fit for their school, or what they are going to give back to a university, or why they have selected a certain college. Most of my students tell me, “I have no idea what to write.” And why should they? Answering these questions is almost always an exercise in making up a bunch of stuff. (more…)
I already featured this list of my favorite books on how to write essays–narrative-style, “slice of life,” personal essays–at the end of an earlier post. These are exactly what you want to write for your college application essays. (Don’t let anyone talk you into writing a stiff, formal academic style essay for your college admissions essay!) I didn’t want you to miss them in case you want to learn more about how to write in this style.
Needless to say, I also believe my own guide on writing college application essays, Escape Essay Hell!, has great advice on writing these essays, because it’s specifically geared toward helping students find unique topics, and then write them using this story-telling style. But I drew many of my ideas from these other guides. When it comes to writing, you can never learn enough. (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…)