A College Application Essay Tutor Reflects

During the ten years I’ve been a college application essay tutor, I have always focused my blogs on practical ways students could improve their essays, and their writing in general. I have written about how to start an essay, end it, deal with the word count, describe feelings rather than events, and much more. (https://collegeessaysolutions.com/how-to-make-your-college-application-essay-the-best-writing-youve-ever-done-1-of-25/) In the coming months, I will continue posting blogs about writing the application essay but this one, my first of

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Craig Heller

The 2017 Common Application Essay Prompts – #7

[et_pb_section bb_built=”1″ admin_label=”section”][et_pb_row admin_label=”row”][et_pb_column type=”4_4″][et_pb_text admin_label=”Text”] Along with number six, the other new Common Application essay prompt for 2017 (https://www.commonapp.org/whats-appening/application-updates/common-application-announces-2017-2018-essay-prompts) is number seven, “Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.” This is actually a repeat of a prompt from several years ago, that the folks at the CA decided to take off the

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Craig Heller

The 2017 Common Application Essay Prompts

There were several changes to the Common Application essay prompts (www.commonapp.org) this year and I thought it would be helpful to offer a strategy for responding to them. I’ll start with the two new prompts (one is actually a revival of an older prompt), then circle back and offer some tips for answering the holdovers, and revised ones. The first new prompt is number six. “Describe a topic, idea or concept you find so engaging that

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Craig Heller

Finding an UNCommon College Application Essay Topic

Finding an uncommon college application essay topic is one of the biggest challenges facing high school seniors applying to college. And understandably so. Most high school seniors have a scope of experiences that is markedly similar. Interactions with family, friends, school, sports, and enrichment activities fill up the majority of their days. Essay topics, therefore, unless you happen to have spent your formative years in a tree house in the Burmese jungle… tend to fall

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Craig Heller

Knowing Yourself = Writing a Better College Application Essay

Most college application essay prompts ask students to reveal, in one way or another, who they are and what is important to them. Yet “knowing yourself” (https://www.prolificliving.com/the-greatest-discovery-of-all-getting-to-know-yourself/) is not that easy, especially for a young adult who is still learning about the world and his or her place in it.So, for this blog, let’s put aside talking about writing university admission essays, and try to better understand that fascinating person that is “you.” Answering these

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Craig Heller

MORE! College Application Essay Writing Tips

Here are two more guidelines that will help you write the best college application essay you can possibly write. Answer the Prompt While this may seem obvious, many students veer away from fully answering the essay prompt, and wind up hurting their chances for acceptance. Admissions Directors are expecting all aspects of an essay prompt to be addressed and anything less will be considered an inability to follow directions. Even if your essay is perceptive

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Craig Heller

Write Your BEST College Application Essay (#1)

Last year, I did a series of blogs called, “Twenty Five Ways to Make Your College Application Essay the Best Writing You’ve Ever Done.” The blogs included conceptual guidelines for writing an effective essay, as well as many technical writing tips. Longish title notwithstanding, response to the series was extremely positive. For this year, and at this early stage of the college application “season,” I’m going to abbreviate those pieces and incorporate them into a series

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Craig Heller

Writing the College Application Essay: The Parent Trap

Writing the college application essay is a family endeavor. Of course, this doesn’t mean that parents should actually write the essay, that job belongs solely to the student. But parents are part of the process and can help tremendously. Writing college application essays is stressful because … High school seniors usually don’t have much experience writing personal essays. Then, suddenly, they are told their future could depend on crafting a good one. They also have

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Craig Heller

Your College Application Essay “Idea List”

START BUILDING YOUR COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY IDEA LIST TODAY! One of the best, and easiest, ways to start preparing to apply to college is to create a college application essay “Idea List.” Whether you do it on your phone, computer, or in a dedicated composition notebook, this will be an evolving catalogue of potential essay ideas that might occur to you over the next few months. Once compiled, it will provide an easy way to

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Craig Heller

THE “#BLACKLIVESMATTER” STANFORD APPLICATION ESSAY

#BlackLivesMatter One Hundred Times For many years, one of Stanford University’s (www.Stanford.edu) college application essay prompts has been, “What matters to you, and why?” It’s a wonderful essay topic and has often been answered with passion and creativity. This past year, a student responded to the prompt by writing “#BlackLivesMatter” (www.blacklivesmatter.com) one hundred times. That was it, the entire essay. Because the student was ultimately accepted at Stanford, much has been written about this particular

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Don’t Get Hacky – Keep Your Standards High!

Don’t Get Hacky – Keep Your Standards High  What does writing your college application essay and writing an episode of Full House have in common? Well, frankly, not that much, unless you count the caffeine intake. Having spent a good deal of time in television “writers room,” however, I’ll share with you a writers’ expression you might find helpful: Hacky. The Television Writer’s Dictionary Hacky. As in, “of or related to being a hack.” And, in case

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Last Minute Essay Writing
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Craig Heller

Avoid the Last Minute Essay Writing Panic

Welcome, students and parents. Please come in and lie down on the couch.  I assure you, everything is going to be all right. October 1 is almost here and, students, you have not yet written your college application essays. You’ve entered the last minute essay writing phase of applying for college. Many of your friends have already completed all their essays, and are walking around your school gloating about it. You’ve begun to think you’ll never

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Craig Heller

Short Paragraphs Make the Best College Application Essay Format

Choosing the best college application essay format As you write your college application essay, pay attention to formatting! Don’t forget: your audience is human! So, use specific techniques like using short paragraphs and making your essay look inviting to keep your reader happy! Your College Application Essay “Audience” When writing the college application essay, students usually focus on what they want to say and the impression they want to make. In doing so, however, don’t forget

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Craig Heller

Don’t Let Your College Application Essay Topic Get Too Cute!

A GREAT IDEA FOR AN ESSAY, OR IS IT? Cyrus had a great idea for his college application essay. In answer to Common App Essay Prompt #4 – about an intellectual challenge he’d like to solve – he would write a question mark. That’s it, one giant question mark. For the entire essay. The more Cyrus thought about this idea, the more he liked it. After all, wouldn’t it demonstrate to colleges that he was

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Craig Heller

Outlining Your College Application Essay

Rolling with the College Application Essay Josh figured he’d write his college application essay like he did everything else – making it up as he went along. After all, wasn’t that how he became the freestyle skateboard champion of Bakersfield, CA? Bringing this approach to his Common Application essay, however, proved difficult. He would start an essay – he had decided to write about how many times he broke his wrist before perfecting his signature move,

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Craig Heller

Discovering the Essay Topic

Roger’s parents were determined he would write a college application essay that stood out. So they got him essay tutors, sent him to essay workshops, could not get through a family meal without peppering Roger with suggestions for his essay topic. But one day, Roger finally had enough. His mother burst into his room (always a questionable move with Roger) waving a sheet of paper. “Here it is, honey. The itinerary for your trip to

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Craig Heller

Danger! Application Essay Samples Ahead!

The truth about college application essay samples There are many books on the market, and websites online, containing college application essay samples. They might be sample essays by students who were accepted to Harvard or simply “outstanding application essays.” Reading a few of these gems can be useful and the conscientious high school senior should definitely engage in that exercise. And yet, there is… DANGER! Essays chosen for “sample” books and blogs are the absolute

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Craig Heller

Why Your College Essay Shouldn’t be Perfect

I would like to clear the air regarding a major misconception about writing the college application essay. There is no perfect way to write an essay. That’s right. There is no perfect college essay. Sure there are lots of experts generating lots of lists (I’m one of them) about how to write an application essay. And much of that information will be useful. But if you try to follow every single guideline you will wind

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Essay Dialogues #5: A Student Reads His Common App Essay In Class

In a high school English class, JACK, tall and confident, reads his Common Application essay in front of the class. JACK: “Helping that family rebuild their home after the fire was — ” SABRINA, knows everything, raises her hand. SABRINA: Ms. Arnold? Can I make a comment? MS. ARNOLD, sixties, was ready for retirement ten years ago, looks sternly at Sabrina. MS. ARNOLD: Let him finish, Sabrina. SABRINA: But his essay is all wrong. MS.

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Essay Dialogues #4: A High School Senior Meets With the School’s College Counselor

RANCE, a high school senior, meets with his school’s college counselor, MS. LEWIS. MS. LEWIS: Hi, Rance, how are you doing with your Common Application essay? RANCE: Solid. Making progress. MS. LEWIS: Can I read your first draft? RANCE: Sure, here you go. (Rance hands Ms. Lewis a sheet of paper.) MS. LEWIS: Uhm, this has one word on it. “The.” RANCE: Yeah, I know. I heard that the first sentence is important so I

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Essay Dialogues (#2): Parents Talking About Their Child’s Application Essays

MARC, fit, nervously watches his wife, ALEXANDRA, as she reads a sheet of paper. MARC: What do you think? ALEXANDRA: (she finishes reading, lowers the paper) It’s amazing… MARC: All right! (He lifts his hand for a high five. Alexandra doesn’t reciprocate.) ALEXANDRA: … if Schuyler was forty six years old, VP of Marketing for DeSoto Furniture Company and had chronic tendinitis in his elbow. MARC: What do you mean? It sounds just like him.

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Essay Dialogues (#1): A Couple of Parents Talking about College Application Essays

Starting a new series of blogs today called “Essay Dialogues.” Simple concept, people – students, parents, teachers, whomever – talking about the college admissions essay.  Here’s the first. I hope you find it enjoyable, enlightening, even comforting. (Hannah, efficient, crisp, the kind of woman you’d trust to pack your parachute, enters her local coffee spot, approaches her friend, Paige, sitting at a table.) HANNAH: I have no idea what I’m doing. PAIGE (laid back, adheres

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Essay Dialogues (#3): Two High School Seniors Talking About Their Admission Essays

Bart and Ian, 17 years old, stalwart young men, sit on a bench in the park. They are dressed in athletic gear. A basketball sits on the ground in front of the bench. Bart exhales. Ian looks up in to a tree. Bart’s right leg bounces up and down aggressively. Ian rises, stretches out his neck, sits back down. BART: Uhhh… IAN: Whew…. BART: We done? IAN: Yeah, man, I can’t talk about these essays

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HOW TO MAKE YOUR COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY THE BEST WRITING YOU’VE EVER DONE (#25 OF 25)

The final of my twenty five ways to make your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done could just as well have been the first. That’s because it can not only improve the quality of your essay, it can elevate the experience of writing it. #25. Use the writing of your essays as a journey of discovery. When starting to help students on their essays, I often tell them, this is a chance

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HOW TO MAKE YOUR COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY THE BEST WRITING YOU’VE EVER DONE (#24 OF 25)

In truth, there are probably a hundred ways to make your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done. And perhaps next year I’ll add another seventy five. But for now, here’s the next to last one for 2015. #24. Avoid being too general, or too complicated. The too general essay speaks in broad generalizations, clichés, and platitudes, and usually takes on a bigger subject than an essay can handle. It is short on

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HOW TO MAKE YOUR COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY THE BEST WRITING YOU’VE EVER DONE (#23 OF 25)

An interesting fact about written material is that everyone has an opinion about it.  After all, most people have at some time in their lives written something – anything – which they feel qualifies them to be the last word in literary criticism. But that shall remain a gripe for another blog series. Today we will be discussing Number Twenty Three of the twenty five ways to make your college application essay the best writing

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HOW TO MAKE YOUR COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY THE BEST WRITING YOU’VE EVER DONE (23 of 25)

Number Twenty Three of the twenty five ways to make your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done might seem merely technical, but it can contribute mightily to your chances for acceptance. #23. Respect the word count. As it relates to the Common Application essay, this one is easy, as the application will not allow you to upload more than 650 words. But for those students who are writing supplemental essays, or applying

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HOW TO MAKE YOUR COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY THE BEST WRITING YOU’VE EVER DONE (#22 of 25)

There is an old show business adage (attributed at times to both P.T. Barnum and Walt Disney), “Always leave them wanting more.” As it relates to your college application essay, however, I would suggest a slight adjustment: “Always leave them wanting you.” Easier said than done, of course (what isn’t?), but Step Twenty Two of the twenty five ways to make your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done might make it easier.

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HOW TO MAKE YOUR COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY THE BEST WRITING YOU’VE EVER DONE (#21 OF 25)

As a tribute to that time in my career when I was writing television soap operas, my previous blog contained a cheesy cliffhanger, stating that I would next reveal another important key to having your application essay achieve its objectives. And yet, dated tactics aside, Step 21 of the twenty five ways to make your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done is, in fact, one of the most important to the success

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HOW TO MAKE YOUR COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY THE BEST WRITING YOU’VE EVER DONE (#20 OF 25)

Number twenty of the twenty five ways to make your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done is often a tough one for students to accept. Simply put it’s… #20. Don’t sell yourself (at least obviously) Everyone, including the Admissions Committee member who will be reading your essay, is fully aware that you are trying to make a good impression. Yet students who come on too strong risk arousing “push back” in the

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HOW TO MAKE YOUR COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY THE BEST WRITING YOU’VE EVER DONE #19 of 25

There is no way to avoid the fact that writing the college application essay is a stressful process. Yet students occasionally make it even harder on themselves by getting caught up in unproductive emotional states. That’s why they need to take heed of number nineteen of the twenty five ways to make your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done. #19. Avoid Fear, Overconfidence and Inflexibility Yes, there is a lot at stake

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HOW TO MAKE YOUR COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY THE BEST WRITING YOU’VE EVER DONE (#18 of 25)

Your college application essay is not a book report, term paper, individual study project, blurb for the yearbook, or a short story for the school literary magazine. It’s a unique form of writing that many high school students have never done and the requirements are different. One of those is reflected in number eighteen of the twenty five ways to make your essay the best writing you’ve ever done… #18. Embrace your individuality. If you

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HOW TO MAKE YOUR COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY THE BEST WRITING YOU’VE EVER DONE (#17 of 25)

Like any other kind of writing, the more you work on your college application essay the better it will become. That’s why implementing Step 17 of the twenty five ways to make your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done is so critical. #17. Do more drafts. Keep working, adding, deleting, refining. If there’s a sentence you just can’t seem to get right, toss out what you have and start from scratch. If

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HOW TO MAKE YOUR COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY THE BEST WRITING YOU’VE EVER DONE (#16 of 25)

Number sixteen of my twenty five ways to make your college admissions essay the best writing you’ve ever done is good advice for life, as well as your application. #16. Be honest. Several years ago I worked with a student who told me he and his high school basketball team helped a family rebuild their house after a devastating fire. I thought it would make a good essay topic and he wrote a fine essay.

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How to Make Your College Application Essay the Best Writing You’ve Ever Done (#15 of 25)

“Reading begets writing.” Quasi-biblical tone aside, this means that, at every level and in every format, the more a student reads, the better his or her writing will become. Advanced writers of fiction are invariably voracious novel readers. Journalism students devour newspapers; poets consume Frost. Increased exposure to any type of writing will develop a student’s own skills in that area, which is why Step Fifteen is another important way to make your college application

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How to Make Your College Application Essay the Best Writing You’ve Ever Done (#14 of 25)

As both teacher and college application essay tutor, I have found that while nearly all students are familiar with the writing axiom “show, don’t tell,” many of them still don’t employ it. I thought it would be worthwhile, therefore, to include this concept in my twenty five ways to make your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done, along with some practical ways to put this concept into action. Step #14. Comb your

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How to Make Your College Application Essay the Best Writing You’ve Ever Done (#13 of 25)

Editing is a specific, hard to master skill that students are rarely taught, but are still expected to know. Self-editing can be even harder, as writers of every level can struggle with objectivity. Add the built-in stress of trying to get accepted to your first choice college, and editing your college application essays can be nothing short of terrifying. It would be difficult and probably counter productive to teach a crash course in editing skills within the

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How to Make Your College Application Essay the Best Writing You’ve Ever Done (#12 0f 25)

Here’s another of my twenty five ways to make your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done. #12. Include Personal Details and Specifics Of course, this is a basic of good writing but it does bear repeating here. When writing your application essays, don’t speak in generalities. Make your descriptions – whether they be of people, places, events, or emotions – pin point specific. Along this same line, don’t use the universal “you,”

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How to Make Your College Application Essay the Best Writing You’ve Ever Done (#11 of 25)

The next way to make your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done taps into a key difference between this particular form and most other writing you’ve done. #11. Mine your feelings In high school, most of the writing students are asked to do is objective. Book reports, term papers, and independent study projects usually call for an accurate recapitulation of facts. Not only that, teachers and school districts often have rigid format

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How to Make Your College Application Essay the Best Writing You’ve Ever Done (#10 of 25)

Here is another purely technical approach to making your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done. #10. Vary Your Sentence Structure and Word Choice This is basic “good writing,” but as students stew in the cauldron of stress surrounding their college application essays, it can be easily overlooked. To make sure your essay doesn’t fall into a pattern of repetitive sentence structures, focus at least one full draft to monitoring and improving that

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How to Make Your College Application Essay the Best Writing You’ve Ever Done (#9 of 25)

This method for making your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done is technical, yet easy to execute. #9: Keep paragraphs short There are a couple of reasons for this. First, shorter paragraphs make for a faster paced read. And it is better for the reader to reach the end of your essay before he or she realizes it, rather than silently wonder, “When is this thing going to end?” Visually, shorter paragraphs

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How to Make Your College Application Essay the Best Writing You’ve Ever Done (#8 of 25)

Have you ever noticed that today’s popular movies almost always begin with a compelling event, whether it’s based on action or a highly emotional moment? This is a calculated technique by filmmakers to instantly engage viewers and get them to start wondering, “What’s going to happen next?” It’s a highly effective tool, just like the eighth of my twenty five ways to make your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done. #8. Open

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How to Make Your College Application Essay the Best Writing You’ve Ever Done (#7 of 25)

Here’s the seventh of my twenty five ways to make your college admissions essay the best writing you’ve ever done. #7. Be Bold Your application essay is a chance to distinguish yourself from other applicants and walking away from that, by writing a “nice,” predictable essay, will be an opportunity missed. It might not hurt you, but if there is a decision to be made between you and a braver student with similar credentials, it

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How to Make Your College Application Essay the Best Writing You’ve Ever Done (#6 of 25)

Building on #5 of the twenty five ways to make your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done, here’s #6. #6: Follow the Basic Rules of Good Writing BUT… As long as it’s purposeful and you do it with flair, you can break some of the traditional rules of good writing in your college application essay. These rule-breakers include writing a one sentence or even one word paragraph (“My world fell apart.” “Panic.”),

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How to Make Your College Application Essay the Best Writing You’ve Ever Done (#5 of 25)

Everyone going to college already knows the fifth way to make their college application essay the best writing they’ve ever done. Yet, too often, aspects of this step are overlooked. #5. Brainstorm, Freewrite, Outline, Draft, Revise, Polish This are the basic rules of good writing in any genre and must be applied scrupulously to your essays. Brainstorm: I have posted blogs about brainstorming in the past, it could be helpful to check my archives and

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How to Make Your College Application Essay the Best Writing You’ve Ever Done (#4 of 25)

Here’s the fourth of my twenty five ways to make your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done. #4. Answer the Prompt While this may seem obvious, many students veer away from fully answering the essay prompt, and wind up hurting their chances for acceptance. Admissions Directors are expecting all aspects of an essay prompt to be addressed and anything less will be considered an inability to follow directions. If the prompt consists

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How to Make Your College Application Essay the Best Writing You’ve Ever Done (#3 of 25)

Here’s the third of the “twenty five ways to make your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done.” #3. Go Small Students sometimes feel that by associating themselves with a major societal issue – climate change, poverty, the cure for a horrible disease – they will be demonstrating their seriousness as a human being. And to some extent, this is true. The danger, however, is that the essay then becomes more about the

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How to Make Your College Application Essay the Best Writing You’ve Ever Done (#2 of 25)

Here’s #2 of the twenty five ways to make your college application essay the finest writing you’ve ever done. #2: Write Something Only You Can Write With the number of college applications increasing each year, there is, unavoidably, a great deal of repetition when it comes to the subject matter of essays. That’s why students need to distinguish themselves with the topics they choose, and write something only they can write. This does not mean

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How to Make Your College Application Essay the Best Writing You’ve Ever Done (#1 of 25)

This is the first in a series of twenty five blogs I will be posting in the months ahead, all under the title, “How to Make Your College Application Essay the Best Writing You’ve Ever Done.” The blogs are based on a workshop I developed for high school and community presentations and represent a synthesis of my beliefs about the essay. If students apply these recommendations to their college application essays, I am confident that

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THE THREE “RE’S” OF WRITING THE COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY

At the risk of oversimplifying, here are three “re’s” students need to keep in mind when writing their college application essays. Re-flect Unless a student was raised by wolves or comes from Pluto, it is rare that an outstanding essay topic instantly reveals itself. On the contrary, it takes time and serious self reflection to develop a concept that will be original, compelling and, most importantly, draw the attention and admiration of Admissions Directors. That’s

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WRITING THE COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY – REMOVING THE CLUTTER

There was an article in The New Yorker magazine this week about beloved non-fiction writing teacher, Bill Zinsser, author of the classic writing instruction book, On Writing Well. The author of the article, William Singer, was a student of Zinsser’s and states: “Our first imperative was to eliminate “clutter,” which Bill regarded as “the disease of American writing . . . unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills, and meaningless jargon.” This concept, I believe, can

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WRITING THE COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY: IT’S ABOUT MORE THAN COLLEGE

I was recently interviewed for an article in the Los Angeles Times “Mind and Body Section” (okay, the writer is a friend of mine) about writing as therapy. The writer wanted to know if I thought writing the college application essay could be therapeutic for high school seniors. My initial response: You have to remember, no high school senior ever woke up in the morning and said, “Wow, today I get to write my college

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Writing the College Admissions Essay – Three Techniques for Ending Your Essay

Like Rocky bellowing, “Adrian!” into the frenzied fight crowd, the ending of your college essay should be powerful and memorable. This is your last chance to make an impression on your reader, and you want it to be a positive one. To achieve this type of ending, you can use several techniques. The Call Back Have you ever noticed how, at the end of his act, a skillful comedian will “call back” a joke that

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Writing the College Admissions Essay – Six Tips for Choosing a Topic

Finding a suitable topic for your college application essay is one of the most challenging, and critical, aspects of the entire application process. Here are six tips that might make it easier. 1. Go small. By this, I mean, simple, clear, highly personal and revealing of your character. Your lifelong inability to tell a joke, for example, could make a wonderful essay topic, as long as other criteria were also met. One of those is,

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LOOKING BACK ON WRITING MY COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAYS by Shane Patterson

The following was written by a student I worked with last year. I asked him to try to capture the experience of writing his essays in a way that would give hope to seniors who are currently working on their own. I think he did a wonderful job! LOOKING BACK ON WRITING MY COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAYS by Shane Patterson With my sophomore year of college right around the corner, college application essays are a thing

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Writing the College Admissions Essay – Ending Your Essay

There are several techniques that will help you end your college application essay effectively. Some of these are The Echo, The Buzz Lightyear, and the Head of the Class, which I have written about in earlier blogs. Another approach is called “Apply Here,” which I have also found a good way to close out an essay. “Apply Here” is fairly simple to execute. Whatever points or concepts you have introduced and explored in the earlier

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Writing the College Admissions Essay: The Case for Literary Content

In his book, Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner writes, regarding a woman frying eggs, “She saw them solidify in the pan like golden-hearted, frilly edged flowers.” The line knocked me out – the visual accuracy, the alliteration (“frilly edged flowers”), the way he artfully captured something so familiar and mundane. And, because I take my job as an essay tutor seriously, I began to think about where this level of writing belongs in the college

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Writing the College Application Essay: More on Outlining

In my last blog, I mentioned outlining as one of the Writing Basics required to write an outstanding college application essay. But the subject is so important that it demands a blog of its own. Students will sometimes resist outlining their college application essay because they are eager to start writing and consider outlining a waste of time. In truth, however, outlining is a major time saver. By plotting it out before you actually write

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WRITING THE COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY: START WITH THE BASICS

In writing the college application essay, the focus is often on hitting a home run. Yet before you can do that, you need to perfect the mechanics of your swing (You have my word, that will be the last baseball analogy of the year.). So let’s review a few writing basics. Brainstorming Everyone knows what brainstorming is, yet too many students don’t fully commit to it. Not only do you need to brainstorm on your

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Writing the College Application Essay: Ten Words That Will Improve Your Essay , No. 2

This blog is the second in a series called, “Ten Words That Will Improve Your College Application Essay.” In each of the blogs, I’ll examine a key word as it relates to writing the college application essay, and describe how it can help you. The word for today is “resist.” There are several ways this word relates to your college application essay, the most important of which is, “Resist the urge to write.” In the

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Writing the College Application Essay: How to “Barbara Walters” Yourself, Part 4

In choosing the topic for your college application essay, keep in mind that the first idea you have is often the same first idea that other applicants have as well. That’s why you need to keep digging, pushing hard to find a compelling and effective topic. To help with that excavation, here are ten more questions to ask yourself. 1. You can have any job, any profession you want. What is it? Why? What’s second?

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Writing the College Application Essay: How to “Barbara Walters” Yourself, Part 3

Continuing on the path toward discovering a unique and compelling topic for your college application essay, here are ten more “self-interview” questions. What’s the saddest thing that ever happened to you? What did you learn from it? What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you? What did you learn from it? What is the purpose of life, i.e., why are you here? Have you taken any actions – no matter how small – to

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WRITING THE COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY: HOW TO “BARBARA WALTERS” YOURSELF, PART TWO

The topic of your college application essay is as critical as the quality of the writing. That’s why you need to carefully mine your experiences to find a topic that is compelling, reasonably unique (I recently read an article about high school seniors who wrote college application essays about their genitals, urinating in their pants and why they were so attractive to the opposite sex. Unique, yes. An asset to acceptance? Hardly.) and will present

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Writing the College Admissions Essay: How to “Barbara Walters” Yourself

The queen of interviews has retired so now it’s your turn to step up. In discovering a topic for your college admissions essay, “interview yourself” by asking a series of questions designed to expose your feelings and passions, spotlight important events in your life and reveal, ideally, what you didn’t know you knew (read that over a few times, I swear it makes sense). Below are ten of those questions and in my next few

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WRITING THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY – TEN WORDS THAT WILL IMPROVE YOUR COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY

This blog is the first in a series called, “Ten Words That Will Improve Your College Admissions Essay.” In each of the blogs, I’ll examine a key word as it relates to writing the college admissions essay, and describe how it can help you. The word for today is “audacity.” In my experience, the best college admissions essays have a sense of audacity about them, that sets them apart from safer, more predictable work. That

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WRITING THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY – YOUR JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY

It’s May! Springtime! The birds are tweeting (the old fashioned way), flowers are blooming and high school juniors everywhere are staring out the window daydreaming about… their college admissions essays? Uhm… probably not. And yet, writing the essay does not have to be a dreaded chore, especially if you treat it as a journey of discovery. In the process of mining their experiences for suitable essay topics, students frequently learn things about themselves or their

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WRITING THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY – RESIST THE URGE TO SELL YOURSELF

WRITING THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY – RESIST THE URGE TO SELL YOURSELF When writing your college admissions essay, keep in mind that you are not “selling yourself” in the traditional sense. Of course, that’s the underlying goal – “Can I interest you in an outstanding student for your freshman class?” But if you come on too strong or obviously in this regard, you do risk a bit of “push back” from the Admissions Committee. Everyone

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WRITING THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY – OUTLINING IS CRITICAL

Would a builder build a house without blueprints? Would a traveler set out on a cross country trip without a map or GPS? Would a chef bake a cake for the first time without using a recipe? Okay… enough analogies! The point (finally!) is, outlining is essential to writing an effective college application essay. Here’s why: It helps organizes your thoughts and concepts. Moving things around in outline form, experimenting with what works best, is

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WRITING THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY – DIARY OF A COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY #6

August 6th, 2013 First draft of my Common App essay…. Check! Finished it last night and feel really terrible about it, which is supposedly a good thing. Ms. Gaetano (AP English like I could ever forget) always said that whenever a student told her he thought he did a great job on a paper it turned out to be awful. The students who weren’t sure… solid A’s. Without fail! So I guess a little insecurity

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WRITING THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY – AVOID THE SUPER HERO ESSAY

An old joke about actors goes like this: An actor meets a man at a party and before the man can get a word in edgewise, or escape, goes on and on about every play, television show, movie and commercial the actor has ever appeared in. Finally, after about an hour, the actor winds down. “Well, that’s enough about me,” he tells his new friend. “What do you think about my work?” It’s a cute

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WRITING THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY – DIARY OF AN ADMISSIONS ESSAY #5

July 31th Am I weird? I love doing outlines! And not just bullet points which is not an official outline no matter what some people might say. Roman numerals, points A., B., C., then the subpoints 1,2,3, and if I’m really on a roll, sub subpoints, a, b, etc. Something about the way it looks on the page, the way it pushes you to think and plan ahead… I enjoy that whole process. So then,

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WRITING THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY: FINDING A TOPIC

It’s tough to write a strong essay on a weak topic. That’s why, when preparing to write your college admissions essay, you need to be absolutely exhaustive in exploring potential essay topics. Often, although there are exceptions, your first or second topic choice is the same one that many other students have chosen. So you need to keep digging in and reaching out, exploring and probing. One way to do that… interview yourself! That’s right,

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WRITING THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY: DIARY OF AN ADMISSIONS ESSAY #4

July 27th, 2013 I am so proud of myself! Starting my admissions essay early was pure genius because once I realized that my original topic was not what I wanted to say, there was no problem throwing it out. I still had plenty of time to come up with another one! Oh, first let me back up… The more I thought about my “canceling my FB account” essay, the more I realized it wasn’t right.

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WRITING THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY – DIARY OF AN ESSAY #3

July 8, 2013 Well, the first draft of my college admissions essay is done!  It meant saying no to Dina and Bree about shoe shopping, and telling Michael to go to see The Lone Ranger with his friend Nick (no interest anyway, that story is from a million years ago) but it was definitely worth it. So now I am right on schedule.  I will do three more drafts of the Common App essay, then

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WRITING THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY – GUIDELINES FOR CHOOSING A TOPIC

I have recently read a number of articles about subjects to avoid in writing your college admissions essay and have reached the following conclusion: There is no suitable subject for the college admissions essay. From legitimate family tragedy to your high school basketball team’s double overtime championship game, college application experts have put a strong warning label on a wide array of essay topics. This one is too sad; that one is too boring. Be

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WRITING THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY – DIARY OF A COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY #2

July 2, 2013 I have not stopped thinking about my college admissions essay. My original schedule had me finishing a first draft by the 4th of July but that is not going to happen so I have redone the spread sheet; you have to be flexible. Besides, the Grandpop Walker idea didn’t go anywhere. It just sat there saying “No, this will not get you into Swarthmore.” I considered (for a second, that was it!)

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WRITING THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY – DIARY OF A COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY 2013

This is my first blog of the 2013 college admissions essay season.  I hope that you will find the knowledge I share and my insights on the essay writing experience worthy of your time and, ultimately, of value. Last year, among other work, I wrote a series of blogs called, “Diary of an Application Essay,” consisting of the fictional diary entries of a high school senior as she evolved toward a completed essay.  The feedback

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FIVE THINGS I LEARNED FROM THE 2012 COLLEGE ADMISSIONS SEASON The college admissions “season” runs generally from mid summer to the end of the year, although applications are certainly filed during other months. The 2012 season was a fantastic experience for me; here are five things I learned. 1. The students moving on to college in 2013 are smart, aware, courteous, creative, concerned, honest and highly moral. During the year I assisted seniors from every

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The Holiday Season Can Inspire Your College Admissions Essay

If you’re still searching for a topic for your college admissions essay, try getting inspiration from this emotional holiday season. Family, gratitude, the spirit of giving, travel, commercialism, spirituality and over eating are all in the air and can wind up being potential subject areas. During the coming holidays, therefore, no matter which of them you celebrate, find a few moments between sugar plums (whatever they are) to think about why this time of year

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Writing the College Admissions Essay: Last Minute Changes

The day students submit their college application essay brings intense feelings of accomplishment , joy and yes, relief. But it is also a time of danger. As they read their essay one last time, students are sometimes tempted to make one last tweak, change one last word, delete a phrase that never felt right to them, or even redo the entire ending. Yet, while this can certainly work out fine and improve the essay somewhat,

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Diary of a College Admissions Essay

November 25, 2012 Sunday after Thanksgiving. More supplementals today, almost finished. Still trying to be “original,” without being totally bizarre. Like today, I wrote one where I said that when I toured Bucknell I was amazed to learn that I spoke their language. I was fluent in “Bucknell.” What was important to them, was important to me. I understood what they meant, I speak… “Bucknell.” Pretty proud of that one. English test tomorrow. Do I

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Writing the College Application Essay: Guidelines for Writing Emotionally

Many of the best college application essays have a strong emotional content. They express and reveal the emotions of the writer – the applicant – and they stimulate emotion in the reader – the college Admissions Director. This fact is one reason many students find writing the essay so challenging. Throughout high school, students are asked to write in a primarily informational, often tightly formatted style. Some papers, of course, require subjective analysis, but the

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WRITING THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY: Diary of a College Admissions Essay

November 1, 2012 Started working on the short essay on the Common App. “Elaborate on my extra curricular?” Okay, not only am I on the volleyball team but I look really hot in my uniform. Uhm, that’s probably not it. Okay… more brainstorming. I guess I could talk about how I am absolutely sure that I’m going to keep horseback riding for my entire life. Because, sitting in that saddle, preparing for a jump, I

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WRITING THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY: SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAYS: Why That School?

Many colleges request supplemental essays, in addition to the Common Application or other required essays. Subjects range from one word responses to page and a half philosophical explorations but one of the most common is the simple question, “Why (Your School Here)?” In answering this prompt, one of the keys to a good essay is to avoid sounding totally generic. “Your outstanding faculty, world class facilities, and study abroad programs will give me everything I

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WRITING THE COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY: Diary of a College Application Essay

October 26, 2012 Finished my essay about two days ago, then let it “cook.” Didn’t read it, tried not to think about it although it seems that’s all anyone at good old SoLa is talking about these days. Then, the big moment… I read it again and… I liked it! Well, most of it. There were parts that still needed work but by taking that little break, I was able to see them really clearly.

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Writing the College Application Essay – MANAGING THE FEEDBACK

Once you’ve completed your college application essay, it’s always a good idea to get feedback from other people. But who those people are, and how you manage their feedback, can often be the difference between a good essay and a great one. Here are six ways to manage that feedback, and use it to your greatest advantage. 1. Be sure you are reasonably happy with the essay before you show it to anyone. This doesn’t

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WRITING THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY: HOW TO HANDLE THE WORD COUNT #2

Here are five more methods that will help you wrestle your college admissions essay to the appropriate word limit. 6. Cut adjectives. In the desire to write descriptively, students will sometimes load their essays up with too many adjectives. Faced with the need to cut, look for places where you might have used two adjectives when one would suffice, or where the adjective can be eliminated completely. 7. Experiment. Using a computer allows a writer

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THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY: Dealing with the Word Count

Dealing with the word count for your college essay can be tricky. You’ve worked hard, love what you’ve done and don’t want to lose a single word. But College Admission Officers have a very good sense of when an essay is too long, so you really don’t have a choice. Some ways to handle your cuts include: 1. Take out large chunks first. Depending on how many words you’re over, it’s usually best to omit

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The College Admissions Essay – WHAT TO DO IF YOU HATE TO WRITE (Part 2)

For those seniors who don’t love writing (yes, there may be a few), here are five more methods to make facing that empty screen less daunting. 1. Be comfortable with your subject. Make sure that you are enthused about writing this essay. 2. Prepare. Do as much pre-writing work as possible. Make sure you create an outline to follow. 3. Believe. Keep telling yourself you’re a bad writer, that’s what you’ll be. Instead, tell yourself

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YOUR COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY: SIX WAYS TO CREATE A MEMORABLE CLOSING

The old show business expression goes, “Always leave them wanting more.” In writing your college application essay, the rule should be, “Always leave them wanting you.” One way you can accomplish this is by ending your essay strongly and memorably. Here are six methods that can help you do that.   1.  “The Buzz Lightyear” Remember Buzz’ trademark line, “To infinity and beyond?” That’s where you will take the reader with this technique. Whatever subjects

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From the New York Times – How to Solve a Career Cliffhanger – By Craig Heller

The numbers didn’t add up: Ten years of writing soap operas on network television. Four Emmy Awards. One Writers Guild Award for script of the year. Then four months out of work. And zero job offers. Craig Heller in his home office in Los Angeles. The soap opera genre, it turned out, had begun its descent into irrelevancy, and the situation wasn’t going to improve. After years of honing my skills to become a television

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Writing the College Admissions Essay: SIX WAYS TO CREATE A POWERFUL OPENING

Admissions Officers at most universities read hundreds of application essays each year, many of them responding to the same prompt. That’s why, to set your essay apart, it is critical that your essay grabs the reader’s attention, right from the beginning. Here are six ways you can do that. 1. Pose a question that the reader wants answered. This does not mean you have to write an actual question, although there are times when that

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Writing the College Admissions Essay: SIX WAYS TO CREATE A POWERFUL OPENING

Admissions Officers at most universities read hundreds of application essays each year, many of them responding to the same prompt. That’s why, to set your essay apart, it is critical that your essay grabs the reader’s attention, right from the beginning. Here are six ways you can do that. 1. Pose a question that the reader wants answered. This does not mean you have to write an actual question, although there are times when that

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DIARY OF A COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY

At this point, many of you have started to write, or started to start to write, or are thinking about starting to start to write, your college application essay. I thought, therefore, that it might be beneficial to create a fictional diary of a student who is currently working on her college application essay, so that everyone could see that they are not alone in struggling with this complex task. I’ll call this made-up student,

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DIARY OF A COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY

At this point, many of you have started to write, or started to start to write, or are thinking about starting to start to write, your college application essay. I thought, therefore, that it might be beneficial to create a fictional diary of a student who is currently working on her college application essay, so that everyone could see that they are not alone in struggling with this complex task. I’ll call this made-up student,

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Writing the College Application Essay – The Common Application Prompts (4-6)

Continuing from my previous blog… The fourth prompt for the Personal Essay on the Common Application Prompt reads: Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you and explain that influence. In answering this prompt, rather than using references that are overly familiar, try to write about something that is a little bit out of the mainstream. That’s not

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Writing the College Application Essay – The Common Application Prompts

Many colleges and universities (nearly 500) use the Common Application. I thought it might be helpful, therefore, to offer some input about the Application’s essay prompts. Short Answer: Please elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (150 words) One hundred fifty words doesn’t seem like much but if you give this essay a sharp focus, it can be more than sufficient. Rather than describe the actual “extracurricular or work experiences,” keep the

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Writing the College Application Essay – Slow and Steady Wins

In the desire to complete and submit your college application essay, there is a tendency, at times, to hurry. This can be particularly harmful because, in general, the longer you work on the essay, the better it will become. So here are three areas where you might have the impulse to rush, and a number of ways you can avoid this mistake. 1. Resist the urge to write Many students get an idea, bounce it

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Writing the College Application Essay: Your “Audience” Awaits

I often encourage my students to think of their college application essay as a short movie starring them. Taking that analogy to the next level, a school’s Admission Directors – those hard working folks who read hundreds of essays each week – become the essay’s first, and only, audience. It is vital, therefore, to write the essay with an eye toward pleasing your “audience.” Some ways to do that include: 1. A strong opening Today’s

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Writing The College Application Essay – Four Mind Sets to Avoid

For most high school seniors, writing your college application essay is a difficult, if ultimately rewarding, process. To make sure that you don’t make that process even harder, here are four mind-sets that should be avoided at all costs. 1. Fear Writing the application essay can be intimidating. But what we all know about handling the high school bully also applies to the essay. Fear can be paralyzing and destructive and will only make matters

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Writing the College Application Essay: No Salespeople Allowed

When writing their college application essays, students will sometimes feel compelled to spell out exactly what they are thinking, which is often some variation of, “I’ve got great test scores, a 4.2 GPA, and I served Thanksgiving dinners at the local shelter every year. How can you not accept me?” While this feeling may be justified, and your qualifications may be truly outstanding, you need to take a step back from that approach. One of

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Writing the College Application Essay: Your “Audience” Awaits

I often encourage my students to think of their college application essay as a short movie, starring them. Taking that analogy to the next level, a school’s Admission Directors – those hard working folks who read hundreds of essays each week – become the essay’s first, and only, audience. It is vital, therefore, to write the essay with an eye toward pleasing your “audience.” Some ways to do that include: 1. A strong opening Today’s

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Writing the Col…

Writing the College Application Essay – Finding a Topic: Ten More Questions to Ask Yourself 1. Is there anything you would fight and die for? What? Why? 2. Any person? Who? Why? 3. What’s your dominant positive quality? How do you think it was developed within you? 4. How has that quality been revealed in your life? 5. Do you have obsessions? What are they? How did they develop? 6. You’ve got access to a private

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Writing the College Application Essay – Finding a Topic for Your Essay: Ten Questions to Ask Yourself

In answering the following questions, be completely honest, don’t edit yourself and allow each question to take you where it will. Try not to simply read through the list and answer the questions in your head.  Instead, write your responses down as fully and expansively as you can. Then read your answers back and see if they don’t lead you to a compelling essay subject. 1. What’s the smartest thing you’ve ever done?2. The dumbest?3.

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Writing the College Application Essay: Don’t Lock in Too Early

It’s nearly August, high school will be in session again soon, and the thoughts of seniors are beginning to turn toward writing their college application essays. No doubt, as conscientious soon-to-be graduates, many of you have already spent a lot of time contemplating a topic for your essay. You might even have decided on one and feel that you are ready to go. And you might be right. Or not. It’s great to get an

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Writing the College Application Essay – Embrace Your Individuality

Many high school seniors have difficulty recognizing their own uniqueness. After all, the last four years have been tough. There was the volleyball team you didn’t make, that “A” in Calculus you missed by a point, that boy you couldn’t get to notice you. But the fact is, every high school senior is brimming with distinctive talents, skills, original ideas, and a view of the world shaped by his or her not-to-be-duplicated background. Part of

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Writing the College Application Essay – What to Do If You Hate to Write

There are many successful people whose writing is less than stellar. Not everyone excels at writing; not everyone can cook a fluffy omelet. Yet whatever your strengths, everyone applying to college still has to deliver a well written application essay. So what can you do if writing isn’t your thing? Here are ten ideas that might help. 1. Keep it simple. Use short, clear, sentences, and words whose meaning you know well. 2. Write in

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The College Application Essay: Authenticity is the Key

A recent survey among New York colleges found: Authenticity is more than twice as likely to fall within the top three criteria used by admissions professionals to evaluate college application essays as grammar and punctuation. Authenticity is also more than three times as important as a student’s ability to relate impressive experiences or credentials. Admissions officers place “fit for their undergraduate community” as a top criteria. So what do these findings mean to you, as

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»Writing the College Application Essay – Brainstorming on Brainstorming

Writing your college application essay is going to require some brainstorming so I thought it might be helpful to put forth a very clear, usable definition of what is generally meant by this term. Simply put, brainstorming is the act of coming up with lots of ideas in a short period of time. Although it’s possible to brainstorm strictly in your head (after all “brain” is half the word), it is more effective to eventually

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Seven Ways to Prepare Yourself to Write Your Application Essays

Many students want to know what they can do over the summer to prepare themselves to write their application essays. Here are seven simple answers to that question: 1. Become generally familiar with the essay prompts for the Common Application and your top three schools. 2. Develop a few subject areas that you think would make effective essays. Sit with them for awhile, discard the ones that don’t continue to hold your interest. Add more

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Diary of a College Application Essay

At this point, many of you have started to write, or started to start, or are thinking about starting to start, your college application essay. I thought, therefore, that it might be beneficial to create a fictional diary of a student who is currently working on her college application essay, so that everyone could see that they are not alone in struggling with this complex task. I’ll call this made-up student, Judy Franklin. She is

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Diary of a College Application Essay – Entry #2

September 15, 2011. Talked about the essay with the college counselor at SoLa Beach. He gave me some brainstorming techniques like, to think about a topic for my essay right before I go to sleep or as soon as I wake up in the morning. And it worked! I woke up today and my topic jumped into my head. I’m going to answer Prompt #1 on the Common App., Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk

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Diary of a College Application Essay – Entry #3

September 16, 2011 I hate my topic! Teaching a kid how to dive? It’s pathetic. Who cares? What does it say about me? I have a lot of free time on my hands? I know how to keep my chin tucked? It’s okay, I’ve still got plenty of time. I’ll come up with another one. Gotta go brainstorm.

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Diary of a College Application Essay – Entry #4

September 22, 2011 Got a new topic for my college essay. Drumroll…. B-d-d-d-d-d-d! I’m going to write about last summer when I decided I would take photographs of all the older people in our neighborhood. Then I framed the photos and gave them to the seniors as a gift. I know I’m not the greatest photographer in the world but every single person was so happy to get their picture when I was done. Learned

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Diary of a College Application Essay – Entry #5

October 4, 2011- Morning Got up early in a panic today, cannot believe I’m so behind on my essay. First the SAT’s (I did better!), then Homecoming (the SoLa football team won, I lost Dylan at the dance but that’s okay, the guy was out of control creepy and you know what I mean), English paper due, blah, blah, blah. But I am on it now and ready to go. Will talk to my English

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Six Ways to Instantly Improve Your College Application Essay

You’ve written your college application essay, shown it to parents, friends, teachers, even that neighbor down the block who once worked on the television show, Full House. Everyone’s signed off, told you it’s great. And yet, you wonder, are there any ways I can still improve it? Here are six of them. 1. Read the essay out loud. This technique is extremely valuable and yet, unfortunately, often ignored. But reading the essay aloud will usually

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Diary of a College Application Essay – Entry #6

October 16, 2011 Finished my essay about two days ago, then let it “cook.” Didn’t read it, tried not to think about it although it seems that’s all anyone at good old SoLa is talking about these days. Then, the big moment… I read it again and… I liked it! Well, most of it. There were parts that still needed work but by taking that little break, I was able to see them really clearly.

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Diary of a College Application Essay – Entry #7

October 25, 2011 Common Application just about complete, essays totally under control. Except… Many of the schools I’m applying to want supplemental essays. More writing, but at least they’re shorter. Some schools want to know, “why you want to go there” and isn’t it obvious, it’s a good school and maybe you’ll take me. But you can’t say that because, well, like I said, it’s obvious. And I’m really getting the idea that in every

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Diary of a College Application Essay – Entry #8

November 10, 2011 Still working on my essays. Couple more to go but you know what they say, the last ones are the hardest. (Do they really say that? I think I’m confused.) Anyway, Elyse keeps coming in and asking me how it’s going and even though I usually throw a pair of gym socks at her, I’ve been wondering what I could say to her about writing the essays. She’ll be going through this

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Writing the College Application Essay: Using the Same Essay More Than Once

First things first… There is nothing wrong with using an essay you wrote for one school and revising it to fit another school’s prompt. It’s your work, you can do with it what you like. Plus, given the time and effort spent on getting your applications out (slightly less than landing a spaceship on Mars), it’s more than all right to save yourself a little work. But there are some guidelines. 1. Concede at the

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