Need Help Starting Your Essays?
I have a Jumpstart Webinar THIS Saturday morning, June 22!
Only $30, includes my online essay writing course, too!
Webinar Details Click Here!
Keep Your Summer Chill!
Many of you are already out for summer, or at the finishing line. Yippee!!
If you’re now officially an incoming high school senior, or soon to be, it’s time to get cranking on your college application essay.
I’m sure you have heard that summer is the ideal time to start the brainstorming and writing process. If you can get them all done before the start of your senior year, all the better.
You most likely have heard these essays can be critical to your college acceptance chances.
Yes, it’s true they can matter, and sometimes tip the scales in your favor. No doubt it’s worth putting in significant time and effort on them.
But I believe it’s important not to fall for all the hype and madness around this application process.
I know when I’m stressed or anxious, my creative juices quickly shrivel up.
Once you start reading about college application essays on the Web, you most likely will find advice that uses intimidating words, such as “transformational” and “differentiating.” So-called experts like to say things like how it’s critical to “Be yourself” in your essay, and how these are your “Chance to shine.”
They aren’t wrong, necessarily. But all the ballyhoo isn’t very helpful if all you want to know is how and where to start, and what topic to write about, and how to craft it into an effective essay.
When you hear that a killer essay is one that shows you “transforming yourself,” that’s quite a directive. It means you had some type of dramatic change in your life, whether it was physical, emotional or even spiritual.
If you had that type of experience, good for you. And it could make a solid topic.
Most of us, however, by age 16 or 17 or even later, have not experienced that type of radical metamorphosis. So can you still write a great essay?
What I have found working with students on these essays and the search for the holy grail topic, is that the simple, everyday “mundane” ones usually work best. Same goes for life changes. They don’t need to be profound to be interesting and meaningful.
For instance, if you are rooting around for an interesting topic, and reflecting on ways you have changed in recent years, look for the smaller changes. Look for shifts, adjustments, alterations, smaller movements in your life. I believe the most interesting shifts come in your thinking, especially if you learned something new or unexpected, or saw something in a different light or context.
The idea is that your essay topic doesn’t need to be about a momentous change in your life. Instead, recall moments, incidents or experiences that happened in your recent past (high school years are best), and see if anything changed or shifted in your thinking (about yourself, about others or about the world) in the process of dealing with whatever went down.
That takes off the pressure to have had a radical life experience where you were one person, and then something happened, and suddenly you were an entirely different person. That rarely happens. Instead, brainstorm those everyday moments or “times,” and explore how your thinking changed. Even better, think about how what you cared about changed. Hint: those are called your values.
Colleges love to not only get a sense of your unique personalities in these essays, but they value seeing how you think, feel and behave, and what you value and learn, in these essays. You can write a “transformational” essay without having changed from a bad person to a good person, or a shy person to an outgoing person, etc.
You are changing all the time, and it can be hard to notice at the moment. Take a little time to think of things that have happened to you, and more time to examine how you responded to them. Another hint: best place to find interesting moments are those that involved problems.
Even if you are following me so far, you most likely are wondering what you do once you think of some of these personal changes or shifts, and how to spin them into a piece of writing.
I have written posts all over my Essay Hell blog on exactly what to do, and I also spell it out in my popular writing guide, Escape Essay Hell, and in my online writing bootcamp. I’m also walking students through this process in my Jumpstart webinars, which started this month. The next one is this Saturday, at 10 a.m., West Coast time, and I will have several more this month.
So many ways to get started on these essays. Pick one and get going!
I hope you are hearing my main point in this post: Don’t get freaked out by all the hype about what these essays are all about.
Like all the millions of students who have gone into Essay Hell before you, you will also find a topic and write a killer essay! Just buckle down at some point this summer, read up on what they are all about, pick what resources you think will help you the best, and you will find they aren’t that freaky after all.
Here are some of my best posts to get you launched:
What Makes a College Application Essay Great?
The Secret to a Killer College Application Essay
#Selfie: 5 Ways It’s Like Your College Application Essay
Land in the Yes Pile
Use The Unexpected
Essay Topics That Worked
How to Show Your Grit
How to Write Your College App Essay in 3 Steps
GOOD LUCK!! You got this!
One of my favorite student-run blogs on college admissions, The Prospect, featured this interview with me last week. I thought the writer, Oriana Halverson, did a terrific job, and flushed out some helpful information:
Essay Hell’s Janine Robinson:
Janine Robinson, Founder of Essay Hell.
By Oriana Halvorsen, Spring 2014 Community Outreach Intern for The Prospect
Name: Janine Robinson
Website: Essay Hell (She also has two e-books on sale on her website to check out, with a third on the way this spring!)
Social Media Links: Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.
To start off with a more career-oriented question, how did you get into the business of helping students write their college essays?
When my daughter was a junior in high school in 2008, I helped her brainstorm topics for her college essays—both for the University of California and The Common App. When I saw that these essays were best when written in a narrative (story-telling) style, I realized that my background as a journalist, writer/editor and English teacher almost perfectly prepared me to help her. So I started helping other students in my hometown of Laguna Beach, California. And it kind of took off from there. I also started my blog, Essay Hell, and published essay-writing guide books. (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…)
How to Conclude Your College Admissions Essays
Here’s an excerpt from my ebook guide on how to write a college application essay using a narrative, storytelling style. I pulled this from my chapter on writing conclusions. Some students find ending their essays a snap, others get a bit lost at the end and veer off track. What you want in your conclusion is to give your reader a sense of completion, and leave on a broad, forward-thinking note.
(These tips will make the most sense if you followed my loose formula for writing a personal essay, where you start with an anecdote to show your reader what you are talking about, and then go on to explain its significance in the rest of the essay. You can get a sense of this formula by reading my Jumpstart Guide post. If you want a step-by-step guide to this process, buy my instant ebook Escape Essay Hell! for about ten dollars either here or over at Amazon.) (more…)
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…)
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…)
At our local public high school in Laguna Beach, the English teachers assign juniors to write college application essays at the end of the year.
It’s a great idea.
For many students, this may be the only time they get any guidance on how to write these essays. (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…)